The most exciting part of any creative project is the end — when you can finally share your hard work with friends, family, and random strangers on the Internet. But more often than not, the response is lackluster. A like from college buddy, a retweet from a bot, and a phone call from Mom.
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Rarely do we get the viral social media response we’re hoping for, even when we put in the hours and the content is good enough to warrant it.
And to make matters worse, while your content that falls to the bottom of the feed, Kim Kardashian posts selfies to a skyrocketing following. Clearly, your current strategy isn’t working.
“Keep your head down and do good work.” That’s the advice they’ve been telling us for years. But anyone who’s been on the Internet for more than five days knows that isn’t enough.
The sad truth is that mantras like “content is king,” “if you build it they will come,” and “you have to build a product first and audience second” are hollow. Building a large social media following requires a lot of hard work in addition to the hard work of creating valuable content (which I’m sure you’re already doing).
In his review of 2015, Brian Harris made the key observation that building a product (or writing a Medium article, posting Instagram photos, etc) is a meager 1/10 of the process.
via: Bryan Harris
I’ll admit, it’s a vital 10%. If the thing you’re building is awful, no one is going to want to stick around after they discover you. But it’s clearly not all there is to it.
So what else is there?
6 more steps, actually.
So who wants more likes, favorites, retweets, double-taps, recommends, pins, and shares?
I thought so. Let’s get started.
Step 0: Figure Out If You’re Already Famous
Give yourself a long, hard look in the mirror and be honest — are you already famous? Are you incredibly handsome? Did your latest film break the box office?
If so, then congrats. You’re famous, and all your social media posts will be gold.
If not, then I’ll dispense with the satire and give you some real advice.
Step 1: Pick Your Platform
Before you can get famous, you have to figure out what you want to be known for and choose your platform accordingly. Writers have Medium. Photographers have Instagram. Comedians have Twitter. Video producers have YouTube or Vimeo. And there’s Snapchat if you’re under 16.
Notice that I didn’t mention Facebook. That was intentional, for two reasons:
Facebook is a multi-purpose platform without a focus. People are there to see their friend’s vacation photos and stalk their exes, not read your writing (like they are on Medium) or watch your sketch comedy video (like they are on YouTube). You want to put your content in a place where people are specifically seeking out that type of content.
Facebook is built to connect you with friends and family, not help you build an audience of likeminded fans outside of your social circle. It can be a powerful engine for amplifying your content from other channels, but it’s a not the best place to put all your focus.
Step 2: Choose A Theme
Now that you’ve chosen your platform, you need to drill down further and decide what kind of content you’re going to publish. I typically write self-improvement, creativity, and improvisation articles. That’s the content my audience followed me to see, and it’s what they’ve come to expect (if those sorts of articles interest you too, you can get my weekly newsletter right here). If I posted a fiction story next week, my audience might get confused and unfollow me. That’s wasn’t what they signed up for.
If you’re going to post photos on Instagram, what is your subject matter focus? Cityscapes? Landscapes? Portraits? Classic cars?
As much as we’d like to post whatever we feel like and define our target audience as “everyone,” doing that will ensure that your audience is no one.
Choose your niche and build a following of people who are equally passionate about that topic.
Step 3: Show Up Consistently
As you begin your journey to social media fame, determine how often you plan on posting. Just as your audience is expecting a type of content, they’re also expecting a schedule.
I have blogs I look forward to reading every Monday and podcasts I expect to download on Thursdays. Whether it’s daily, a few times a week, or weekly, determine a realistic plan and stick to it.
Consistency is the biggest driver of growth.
Step 4: Post Quality Content
Here it is, finally, Step 4, that all-important 10%. If you’ve followed the first three steps and then produce garbage content, the audience you’ve spent all this time gearing up for isn’t going to want to stick around or come back.
Obviously, you don’t want to put in all the work of getting people to show up only to have them leave faster than they came.
Step 5: Get Social IRL
No matter how great you are at your chosen craft or how popular you get on social media, there will always be other artists who are more talented and more popular.
The easiest way to improve your own skills and grow your following is by getting social in real life. Figure out a way to get in touch with other creators in your niche — over coffee or over Skype.
These people are not your competition — they are your greatest allies.
As you grow your social network in real life, you’ll grow your network on social media as well. They’ll help you improve, they can introduce you to their audience, and they can connect you with other creators they know.
Step 6: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Gaining a following of fans who appreciate your work isn’t easy. If it were, this article would have shown up on the front page of Fast Company and HuffPost. But every week, I get a few more readers, a few more newsletter signups, and a few more recommends. Every week, I find a few more people on the Internet who find value in what I’m writing — which makes the entire creative process worth it.
It’s been said that it takes 10 years to make an overnight success, and social media is no different. But remember that those 10 years will be over sooner if you start today rather than tomorrow.
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