When it comes time to start a new business, many entrepreneurs will look to social media platforms as their primary sales channels. Ten years ago, this was a pipe dream. Today, it’s a reality. And the inconvenient truth that must be confronted is that it’s now really, really hard to build an organic following in any niche.
If you’re starting a new business, the end goal is almost always profit; direct sales. If you’re turning yourself into an influencer, the reason why is not always clear. Sure, making money can be an indirect result of instafame, but one’s personal brand is rarely social media influencer, your brand–your vocation–is instead what will make you popular. Having a social media presence allows you to amplify interest in what you do, but an engaged social media following rarely proceeds being a talented, prolific content creator.
What I’m saying is that few people are instafamous for being instafamous. People may argue that it’s easy to do because look at the Kardashians they didn’t do–be quiet. In the real world, people who are “famous for being famous” almost always 1. Have access to vast amounts of social capital and family wealth and 2. Manage to capture the public’s attention in a novel, meaningful way. If these points are true for you, then congratulations, you have a massive advantage in building your social media brand. In any case, keep reading, as you too can benefit from what I have to say.
The biggest mistake people make is signing up for every social network under the sun. In general, you should have 1-2 primary networks where your content lives and then 1-2 secondary networks used mainly for authentic promotion.
Many years ago, I ran a Tumblr blog dedicated to wristwatches. I posted pictures of watches that I sourced from all over the internet and eventually started providing descriptions of the history of the timepieces and what I liked about them. I posted almost daily and used Reddit and Pinterest to help drive traffic. This was before Instagram was popular.
The website was a massive failure. Nobody seemed to care about my watch pictures or what I had to say. Around the same time that I threw my hands up and stopped posting content, Hodinkee spectacularly ascended to be the leader in watch journalism and tastemaking. Before Hodinkee became extremely popular, Reddit r/Watches was the most cohesive community of watch enthusiasts. I was right that a niche needed to be filled, but I went about it all wrong. Whereas I would have gained some traction by starting real website with a proper blog, I took the easy way out and tried to let pictures of watches be the centerpiece, not my writing.
Let the lesson be that, not only do you have to pick your social media channels carefully, but that it’s hard to passively build a brand unless you are able to showcase a prolific work history. You need to be active; you need to live it. Whatever it is. When Benjamin Clymer built the Hodinkee website, he had a master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia and already was an expert on horology. You can be right about an opportunity, right about an audience segment, right about how to capture an audience, but if you don’t execute with passion and tact, you will always have to settle for second place.
In some markets, second place isn’t so bad. In some markets (personal finance blogging), twentieth place is cause for celebration. When you start building your social media following, you need to know who you are competing with and you need to try to get an idea of how they are monetizing. Some people advise checking Google search engine keywords to estimate market share; some businesses make it easy to understand how many customers they have. Some of Tree Frog’s competitors use Proof and I’ve been able to scrape the daily results in order to build a cohesive picture of market share.
Aside from the adages you’ll read on all the other blogs that have been written on this same topic, I advise that you test your market before you start spending money, whether on a service like Tree Frog’s or even on Facebook ads. If you’re a musician, first understand that the business you are in is mission impossible, and then determine if people, aside from your friends, actually want to listen to your music. Remember Rebecca Black? Singing shouldn’t have been her vocation–at least, she was years of practice away from being a compelling singer–yet her parents paid a ton of money for songwriting and production and mixing and mastering and the result was Friday. This metaphor extends to every possible thing you could showcase on social media. If you make ugly pottery, don’t spend $10,000 on ads. If you make cute pottery but don’t know how to deal with $1,000 worth of orders, don’t spend $50,000 on ads. There’s nothing wrong with getting critical feedback, but when the (boosted, inorganic) exposure you get outpaces your talent and ability to conduct business, it hurts you more than it helps you.
In closing, the time for you to start building your social media empire probably isn’t right now. But while there will always be someone better than you, eventually you have to dip your toes in and take a shot. While Tree Frog can act as a great primer and proof-of-viability for new accounts, sometimes people invest so much money in fake followers and Facebook ads alongside our service and end up disappointed. Make sure you’re offering something novel and endearing before trying to scale.