“Be an expert!”, say the advice blogs and Q&A sites… “Share your great knowledge! That’s how you become an influencer”. But if this were true, lone dudes who spend their lives solving difficult problems on help forums would all be influencers. And they’re not. They have no influence at all. Being an influencer has nothing to do with subject knowledge or expertise.
A lot of the people who write articles on how to become an influencer are trying to become influencers themselves. They don’t want you competing with them, so they’re not going to tell you the true secrets. They’re going to give you a little giftwrapped blob of bull, then sit back while you waste your time trying to compete with them, using a system they know doesn’t work.
In this post I’m going to document what really lies behind a Twitter influencer’s success.
Before you start, there are some pre-requisites. You will need…
A PUBLIC FACE
It’s incredibly difficult to become an influencer whilst hiding behind a veil of anonymity. Influencers incorporate an element of celebrity, so at the very least, people will need to feel like they know the influencer as a person.
It’s possible to build a bond with people simply by replying to them on Twitter. The problem is that interacting with people individually, one by one, is not scalable. So influencers need a means of forming a personal bond with a large crowd, all in one go. The most powerful options are video, and live, on-camera streaming.
Visual communication reassures people that you’re not running a fake profile, and inserts you into their lives as a living personality. They’re much more likely to remember that than a static bio. Visual communication also increases people’s attention span. They’ll consume a 15 minute mission statement on video. They’re not, realistically, going to sit tight for 15 minutes’ worth of reading matter on Twitter. There are just too many distractions. But most importantly, visual communication makes connecting scalable. It gives people the illusion that they know you, without you needing to talk to them all individually.
The disadvantage to an influencer if they can’t be seen and heard as a physical person, is immense.
A PUBLICIST’S MENTALITY
You’re not going to build yourself into a household brand just from tweeting. If you want a massive audience, there’s only one place you’re going to get it, and that’s from people or orgs who already have massive audiences.
Influencers kick-start their presence by taking their ideas to the media, to massive blogs like Buzzfeed, or to ready-made communities such as those on Reddit. Ideally, all three, and much more. The media and the megablogs will want sensational stories. Communities will want the chance to grill the budding influencer. Broadly, in the early stages, the influencer provides free value to well-known online outlets, in return for publicity. But, why not just advertise instead?…
- With the publicist approach you don’t have to pay.
- With the publicist approach the self-promotion is typically permanent and is not taken down as soon as the money runs out.
- Many influencers can’t advertise through mainstream channels because their messaging breaks the network’s advertising code. Indeed, influencers normally want to establish their profile in those shadier areas of marketing, because promotion will eventually be part of their own revenue model. They’ll have a much tighter grip on their promo market if their potential clients can’t simply buy Twitter ads instead.
- Conventional advertising is bad for an influencer’s credibility. When you see an individual person (i.e. not a company) in a promoted tweet, let’s face it, you think: “desperate”.
Influencers are built on entitlement and self-aggrandisement. Many of us are brought up to believe that modesty is a virtue, and that singing our own praises is an ugly trait. We may even be reminded of that explicitly if we get too full of ourselves on the social web. But unless you’re going to pay or otherwise artificially motivate someone to do it, the only person who will ever really mount a concerted effort to promote you to the world in a glowing light, is you.
So influencers must first of all believe they’re better than other people, to the point where what they have to say is the most important, and outranks whatever anyone else has to say. And secondly, sing their own praises, oblivious to the criticism that such behaviour is likely to attract. Until there’s a big enough crowd accepting that the influencer really is someone special, the influencer is going to look like a conceited, over-confident git to the majority of people they encounter, and they’ll inevitably be told so. They have to be able to weather that phase, with a very thick skin and unshakeable self-belief. If you shut down in the face of criticism, you’re not going to be an influencer.
THE INFLUENCER’S MANIFESTO
Okay, so you can satisfy all of the above. How do you turn that into influencer status? Here ‘s the manifesto…
Decide what you stand for. Influencers tap into a belief. A strong, existing belief. In truth, you don’t influence your audience. Your audience influences you, and you simply feed what they already believe back to them, in a manner that makes them feel proud of that belief. The cooler you can make their existing belief sound, and the more ways you can find of assertively validating that belief, the more they’ll retweet you.
Polarise everything. Speak only in black and white. It either is or it isn’t. As soon as you get into “might be”, YOU ARE HISTORY. No one will put their faith in a person who says “might be”. Never tell anyone it’s not that simple. It is that simple. If it’s not that simple, you’re not doing your job. Jesus didn’t say: “I suspect… I assume… It’s probable/possible/feasible that…” He said “This is frickin’ this, and that is frickin’ that”*. Deliver your message the way Jesus delivered his.
*Actual Bible may differ.
Shower your audience in emotional reward. Even if they don’t deserve it. In fact, especially if they don’t deserve it. Everything you say should remind them how good they are (even if they’re categorically obnoxious), how many injustices they’re facing (even if they’re drowning in privilege), how hard they work (even if they’re too idle to tap one hyperlink), and how evil their perceived enemy is (even when it’s bending over backwards to be civil). It doesn’t matter how much shit you talk, as long as it makes your audience feel good about themselves. That is your priority, because the only true common denominator in a massive social media audience, is self-interest.
Never, ever admit you’re wrong. Learn how to reliably win arguments on social media.
Don’t stray from the script. It’s boring repeatedly raking over the same crap day after day, but online audiences have an incredibly narrow focus, and you will not interest them in something they don’t inherently regard as important. Once you discover what gets the Likes and Retweets, that’s your niche, until such time as the trend dies out.
Prioritise your one-to-one communications based on who can do the most for your visibility. You’re not prioritising the “nicest person”. “Nice” normally equates to fake on social media anyway. You’re prioritising the most connected and visible person.
Actively employ double standards, which treat people differently depending on their status. You won’t be competitive without those double standards. I’m not telling you how to be a good person in this article, by the way. I’m telling you how to be an influencer.
Outreach by email, because that’s how professionals make connections. If you try to forge new connections with luminaries by tweet…
- They probably won’t notice you.
- The general public can see all your failed attempts to connect, and will associate you with failure.
- Email detaches you from a visible “track record”. If you try to connect via social media, the recipient of your message can instantly inspect your profile, see how many fans you have, who doesn’t like you, how little engagement you get, etc. Especially in the early stages of your progress that can deter important relationships before they have chance to start. But with email, all the recipient sees in the first instance is the content of your message. You’re walling out your current status and focusing on your vision.
Take the credit for everything your audience likes. Blame their greatest perceived enemy for everything they don’t like.
Before you block anyone, remember the following…
- All replies to you, good or bad, help your Twitter account build visibility and grow. If you block a lot, or (especially) are using block lists which stop a large volume of people from replying, you’re hampering the general visibility and growth of your Twitter account.
- Anyone you block is likely to tell others you’ve blocked them. Even if they only have a small Twitter audience, they can use very large forums to spread the word far and wide. It is not in your interests for people to know you’re handy with the Block button. It will deter some of those you haven’t blocked from mentioning you or trying to connect.
- Blocking is normally taken personally, and it deeply antagonises some people. If they’re of a vengeful nature, they may mount attacks against you in future. That could cause you trouble – especially if they gain high visibility themselves, or have hacking skills. Cancel culture is the number one danger to influencers, and the more people you antagonise, the more your chances of being ‘cancelled’ rise.
Encourage people to talk about you either on or off Twitter, by maintaining an approachable, tolerant demeanour, and composure at all times. Accept people’s right to disagree with you. NEVER try to restrict criticism, and NEVER, EVER publicly threaten or humiliate an individual who said something about you which you didn’t like. Actual libel against you is a different matter from mere criticism, but it should be countered with a professional, formal statement and legal action. Not with a tantrum or personal attack. Ultimately, if you start publicly humiliating or threatening individuals, a lot of people will come to fear saying anything about you at all – even those with good intentions. Given that most of an influencer’s third-party publicity eventually comes from public discussion, you can’t afford for that to happen. Criticism and praise are just two variants of exactly the same thing. And since no one really knows how you’ll interpret their comments, if you discourage one, you’re also discouraging the other.
Understand the law of libel, and take it seriously. If you’re going to make up bullshit anecdotes (and if you want to compete with other influencers, you probably will need to make up bullshit anecdotes) DON’T NAME ANY OF THE INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED. Not even off the record.
Never forget that when it comes to electronic transmission, there’s no such thing as a private conversation. If you can’t afford for it to be published, don’t say it, to anyone, ever.
Fully read, assimilate and memorise the Twitter rules. No influencer who read, properly understood and abided by the Twitter rules ever got suspended. The ones who get suspended are those who think they already know the rules, instinctively, or that “it’s just common sense”. No. If you don’t know the actual rules, you’ll probably get suspended once your profile attracts enough attention and enough people decide they don’t like you. Many influencers get suspended first, and then read the rules. That’s gonna create a hell of a lot of unnecessary extra work.
From the security angle, don’t just set strong passwords. Read up on how hackers operate, and be on 24/7 alert. Hackers will often head for a fintech account as a first port of call, because it’s the one area where people have to set up using their real personal information. The number of hackers who “donated $1” and then destroyed an entire business venture, continues to grow. For this reason, using a collection of consumer fintech services (like PayPal) is not very safe. Pro influencers will normally set up a company and run merchant service payments through that. Aside from being more secure, it gives them far greater control in the event of payment disputes.
The typical influencer’s recipe incorporates many ingredients. Physical presence, attitude, chutzpah, observational skill, business acumen, entitlement, masses of flannel, and definitely the ability to run a me-first priority system while pretending to care only about other people. As an influencer, you’ll probably end up highly stressed, and unless you can afford to pay and train personnnel to cover in your absence, you can never realistically take a proper holiday. Stop posting for two weeks and the attention you lose to rivals could destroy you. The world won’t wait for you to come back. It will just focus its attention elsewhere.
The influencer role is a job that requires a lot of drive, and it’s definitely not something a ‘coaster’ can do. If you don’t get up every single morning thinking “how can I make this campaign bigger, more sensational, and more spectacular?”, and then answering your own question, your audience will quickly get bored.
The make or break moment for any Twitter influencer is the point at which they start to monetise. Once those regular, ‘sellout’ promotions start to go up on the Twitter timeline, the audience is going to think much harder about whether they still want to follow. There has to be a very strong impetus to keep their attention in the face of repetitive advertising, ‘shoutouts’ or whatever, on a platform that already serves its own ads. The core content must stay plentiful, fresh, incisive and full of promise. Otherwise, at some point, the bottom will drop out of the whole thing. And when it does, you won’t be able to put it back in again.