Want to be an influencer? Build your brand using these 9 simple steps

1. Choose A Platform

There’s TikTok for teens, Facebook for groups, Twitch for gamers, Instagram and YouTube for everybody—especially beauty, fitness and lifestyle gurus—so how do you choose? Maybe you don’t have to. “I like all platforms equally,” says Taylor R who, with 1.12 million subscribers, is one of Hong Kong’s most popular YouTube personalities and the founder of fashion and lifestyle brand Toat. “I think it’s important to post content everywhere because people consume differently on different platforms. I’ll always take a main channel video that would be in a long, more detailed version on YouTube, and I’ll cut it down to a shorter version for Instagram. I like to cross-post content. It’s not more work for me, and you can grow different audiences. It’s interesting because a video that won’t do well on YouTube will do super-well on Instagram, so you never know.”

See also: The New Asia: The Most Powerful, Influential & Stylish People To Know In 2020

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Above YouTuber and Mixed Makeup founder Susan Yara (Photo: Sarah Orbanic)

2. Find Your Niche

The more laser-focused your output is, the more engaged your audience will be. “It’s really important to narrow down who you are online,” says Susan Yara, founder of Mixed Makeup, a beauty YouTube channel with 1.16 million subscribers, and FAM (For All Moms), a parenting-focused YouTube channel and podcast. “We all have many talents, but followers need to know what they can get from you specifically. Once you have the following and your audience feels invested, then you can add scope. A good example with my channel, Mixed Makeup, is that I started more broadly—covering beauty and wellness—but as I narrowed the subject matter down to skincare as its main focus, the following grew faster.”

See also: The Psychology Of The Glow-Up: How Makeup Can Help Lift Your Mood

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Above Former Clout House influencer Alissa Violet (Photo: Getty Images)

3. Small Can Be Mighty

Just like in real life, bigger isn’t always better. “We’re seeing a growing trend of micro-influencers,” says Vin Ng, business development manager at Spread-It, an agency that engages more than 20,000 KOLs across Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand. “Engagement rates of top-tier influencers are starting to diminish—their posts and feeds are becoming more and more saturated by brand endorsements and even conflicting messages as they cash in on celebrity status. Micro-influencers are more authentic and engaging than top KOLs.”

See also: How to Win (or Buy) Friends and Influence People

4. Cultivate A Community

It’s not how many people you know, it’s who you know. “I’m a firm believer in staying true to yourself to find your people,” Taylor R says. “I find Asia is really focused on niche markets, which helps people find their tribes. In Japan, for example, you have Niconico—it’s a dancing platform and it’s good for gaming. There are different platforms for different niches, and it works so well. A community of 200 people that really supports you and engages with you and grows with you is better than 1,000 people who just see you as pure entertainment and don’t actually care about you—you’ll rise and fall very quickly like that.”

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Above YouTuber and Team 10 founder Jake Paul (Photo: Getty Images)

5. Collaboration Is Key

In Los Angeles, the juggernaut of the corporatised influencer industry in America, collaborations and revenue go hand in hand. KOLs live in investor-funded residences—with names like Hype House (TikTok stars) and Clout House (YouTubers)—or hang out in little gangs like David Dobrik’s Vlog Squad and Jake Paul’s Team 10 (which also has a house), churning content together, 24 hours a day. Pooling audiences among peers is a surefire way to expand your reach—especially when starting out. “You either have to have patience and build your content slowly, or ride coattails,” Yara says. “Most of the biggest influencers knew someone who was already popular. Even before Instagram, for example, there was Paris Hilton—and back in the day, she had a buddy named Kim Kardashian.”

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Above Vlog Squad members David Dobrik, Zane Hijazi and Todd Smith (Photo: Getty Images)

6. Be Consistent And Understand The Algorithm

In 2016, BETC, a Parisian ad agency, invented a character called Louise Delage and, over the course of a one-month social-media campaign promoting awareness of alcoholism among young people, grew her Instagram account to 65,000 followers by posting two or three carefully curated images each day during peak traffic times and strategically following and liking posts from influential teenagers.

The metrics and engagement were off the charts—and the Louise Delage campaign became a case study for what’s possible in terms of targeted micro influence. For an ordinary person, the takeaway here is that a studied aesthetic based on target audience demographics and preferences combined with a consistent posting schedule can be the difference between zero and 65,000 followers in one month.

7. Throw Money At The Problem

If you can’t wait to grow your reach, there are plenty of pay-for-play services online that can deliver big numbers in a pinch—including buying followers and likes or even acquiring already-established accounts. Instagram handles with between 10,000 and 1 million followers can range in price from US$300 to US$200,000. Similar to the domain name market, accounts can be bought and sold at auction or from private dealers who sit on multiple handles spanning a variety of popular content categories, such as fashion and food.

But there are drawbacks to this quick fix. “It’s possible to purchase both followers and engagement,” says Victor Tang, VP of Marketing at Lumen5 and adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. When advising brands who are engaging influencers, Tang warns clients to steer clear. “While this is typically expensive and more difficult to check for, there are some key tells here. This can come from erratic engagement rates across posts or erratic spikes in followers over time for a given social-media profile. You can also tell from posts with significant likes from accounts that appear underused.”

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Above Hong Kong-based YouTuber and Toat founder Taylor R (Photo: Mitchell Geng for Tatler Hong Kong)

8. Choose Authenticity For Long-Term Success

Every expert we spoke to agreed that authentic content from a personal point of view is the way forward. “While the KOL and influencer industry has shown amazing growth in the past five years, it’s eroded the integrity behind online media and reviews,” says Tang. “Today, anybody can start a blog or write a review for a restaurant or store, and not necessarily reveal that their review was paid for. This, unfortunately, mars the credibility and integrity of a peer-review system, as well as undermines online trust.”

The internet is vast—and social-media platforms serve as tiny corners of the universe where communities are built and relationships are fostered. “I think there’s a space for everyone [on YouTube],” Taylor R says. “Literally there’s everything you could ever be into on YouTube and everyone has their own community. So I think it comes down to people who are just being themselves. If you focus on numbers or if you try to follow a trend—I think you can use someone as inspiration, but you can’t copy someone. It can help you be successful in the short term, but mentally it’s a nightmare. You have to be really true to yourself, speak to people, not focus on numbers, not look to be perfect or for approval, and find your tribe of people who want to listen to you.

It’s like a marriage—some people get married quickly and that works for them, but most people need to take time to nurture and grow the relationship and build trust and loyalty, and then it lasts a long time. Anyone can do it as long as they’re being themselves and creating something that they’re happy with while being authentic.”

9. Social Media Is About To Get Really Good

If we could sum up 2019 in influencer trends, it would be called the Year of the Flex—one-upmanship across all platforms: brazen, logo-flashing clean-out-the-mall shopping sprees; five-star, ends-of-the-Earth, year-long, round-the-world private jet expeditions; sparkling new gated community McMansion tours; sherbet luxury sports car acquisitions and giveaways.

But as the world grapples with the Covid-19 crisis and comes to terms with a new normal, KOLs are pivoting hard—towards minimalist lifestyles, rural living and home cooking. Even Instagram eyebrows have gone soft. “Influencers now are aware of their audience and the power they have and they’re taking more responsibility in what they produce,” Taylor R says. “I think after the coronavirus, everyone is realising more than ever what’s important and that it’s the simple things in life that really matter. It’s becoming more apparent—what we actually really need and what we actually want to watch and what we actually want to put in our lives and do to the Earth.”

See also: Instagram Through The Decade: Best Hong Kong Tatler Instagram Moments

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