Anyone can be a social media influencer and make a successful career out of it. You don’t have to look a certain way, or put out only certain types of content. What you should focus on is to create authentic content that connects with your audience, be persistent, and learn from other creators. There’s no magic formula, but small and consistent steps make all the difference.
You may not know what you’ll need to do to become an influencer, but reading this guide is a great start. Below, find useful tips that’ll help you get started as an influencer and earn your first dollar.
7 Steps to becoming a social media influencer
While the exact path to becoming a successful influencer differs from one person to the next, there are certain steps you can take to put yourself on the right track.
1. Choose a topic you’re genuinely interested in
You shouldn’t worry too much about niching down at the very beginning — that’s something most creators figure out along the way. Rather, prioritize publishing content on topics that genuinely interest you and showcase your true personality. You can create content on just about anything — from fashion and lifestyle, to dad jokes and spirituality, or even tips for managing Excel spreadsheets. So don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
“Usually, people get clarity as they go. A lot of people don’t know exactly what they want to focus on early in their influencer journey,” says Folasade Daini, a content marketer and creator. “Don’t be pressured to niche down too early. Explore your interest and see what gets your audience’s attention.”
Helen Maria Faliveno, the founder of My Mindful Movement, takes a similar position. “I personally don’t think you need a niche to become a successful influencer. I feel the niche is ‘you’ and your personality. Being true to who you are will attract the right audience,” the fitness instructor says. “I have tried to niche down in the past, but I ended up alienating a lot of loyal followers, so I reverted. And although I may seem like a jack of all trades, my core beliefs and my personality is still the common thread.”
You need a clear “why” to guide your choice of content topics. For example, Malvika Sheth creates fashion and beauty content to empower individuality for young women of color, especially South Asian women. When you share content around topics you’re passionate about, you demonstrate authenticity and originality — two important qualities for earning trust online and building a loyal following. Your audience is smart — they can easily tell the difference between creators who genuinely care about what they share with their community, and those who are just chasing the numbers.
It also helps you stay consistent. In the early stages of your creator journey, your content might not get a lot of traction. If you aren’t genuinely interested in the content you’re putting out, you’ll get discouraged and quit early.
2. Choose one channel to focus on
Trying to grow your social presence across multiple channels at the same time and pace is like trying to catch two rabbits at once. You’ll waste more time and more energy, and you might not catch any of the rabbits at the end of the day.
To scale fast without burning out, focus on growing an active presence on one platform first, rather than spreading yourself too thin. You can still have social media accounts on multiple platforms. However, you’ll benefit from zeroing in on one channel, and dedicating more time and effort to creating content and building a following there.
The exact channel you choose depends on the type of content you’re putting out and your target audience. Here are a few things to consider:
Some social media platforms are optimized for specific content formats. For example, Instagram and TikTok are better suited for fashion creators, because these platforms allow you to share bite-sized visual content. On the other hand, YouTube works well for travel and lifestyle creators who want to share longer vlogs.
Publish your content on the platform where your target audience is most likely going to see and interact with it. For example, if you’re targeting Gen Z, you’ll probably have a better chance at connecting with them on TikTok, as more than half of Gen Z consumers are now on the platform.
When you start gaining momentum on one platform, you can leverage it to expand your influence to other social networks. For example, Folasade Daini started her influencer journey on Instagram, but she has now expanded to grow her audience on YouTube. Similarly, while Kat Norton (Miss Excel) started on TikTok and quickly reached viral status on the app, she has now amassed an equally large following on Instagram.
3. Create a content strategy
A content strategy is a high-level plan that spells out the goals for your content, the target audience, the type of content you’ll put out, and how you would measure its success. With a detailed content strategy, you’ll find it easier to come up with content ideas that meet your audience’s needs and align with your brand goals.
While the general rule is that you should have a content strategy before you start putting out content, this isn’t always the case with the creator ecosystem. You can publish content first and use the engagement metrics — likes, shares, comments, and saves — to guage the type of content your audience prefers to see on your page.
For example, in the beginning of her creator journey, Folasade Daini was sharing content primarily about relationships and godly dating. However, feedback from her audience has helped her diversify the types of content she produces.
“When I had my daughter, I shared the testimony about being sick in pregnancy, and it blew up. And I noticed that a lot of people were engaging with my content,” Daini recalls. “So, I just really applied that knowledge to try to find out ‘what are my audience’s pain points? What are things that they would like answers to?’ And I started creating content intentionally about these subjects, and I began growing rapidly.”
Apart from content engagement metrics, you can gather valuable insights for your content strategy through ways such as:
Direct feedback from your audience through polls, surveys, and direct messages
Travel content creator Alexa Renee says, “I often use my Questions Sticker on my Instagram Stories to survey my audience on the content they’d like to see, or the questions they need answers to.” Kat Norton also uses polls to find out what her audience really cares about.
Check out the pages of other influencers to know the type of content they’re putting out, and apply these learnings to your own page.
4. Create and publish content consistently
Successful influencers don’t publish content once and call it a day. Publishing quality content consistently helps you build momentum and engagements for your social media channels. Essentially, the more you publish content, the higher the chances of the algorithm getting your content in front of your target audience.
Consistency is hard and takes lots of effort. The trick to achieving it is to set a regular cadence for creating and publishing content, and to document this schedule in a timetable. For example, if you’re an Instagram creator, you can record a new Reel every Tuesday, edit it on Wednesday, and publish it on Thursday. You can also have an accountability partner that keeps you on track.
Alexa Renee, a travel content creator with a combined following of over 113,000 on Instagram and TikTok, says that consistency has been a game-changer for her influencer career. “I post at least every day on TikTok and at least 2-4 times a week on Instagram,” she shares. “With consistency comes growth. And I’ve established trust with my audience. My best advice for someone who’s new is to just start creating. People get so caught up on the platforms and the aesthetics, but ultimately to be successful, you need to have content.”
Renee adds, “Try to stick to a posting schedule and show up for your audience. If you have a creative block, find 10 influencers that you like or look up to, and review their profiles. See what content they’re making and what performs well for them. Don’t copy, but let their profile and content inspire your own. Add your own twist for your specific audience.”
5. Engage with your audience
Interacting with your audience helps you build trust and strengthen your bond with them. That’s because content creation is a two-way street. As you publish posts on social media, your audience might leave comments under your videos, or reply to your Instagram Stories. Respond to them so it doesn’t seem like your audience is screaming into the void.
“There’s that version of people who only want to be influencers because they’ve heard that influencer marketing pays. They don’t interact with their audience or respond to them when they send a direct message,” Folasade Daini says. “If you want to be a successful influencer, you need to really offer value to your community — not just grooming them because you want them to buy the things you recommend.”
Here are several ways to engage with your audience:
- Send a personalized welcome message when they connect with you.
- Send periodic messages to thank them for engaging with your content.
- Reshare their content when they tag you.
- Like and respond to their comments.
- Like their content and follow them on social media.
- Give community shoutouts on your social media page.
6. Invest in content creation equipment
Having the right tools will help you create high-quality content. Investing in content creation equipment gives you extra confidence to charge your worth, too — because you’ve spent money on your craft.
At the beginning of your influencer journey, functionality should be your priority. In other words, you need tools that can get the job done. For example, if you’re a YouTube creator, you can shoot and edit videos on your smartphone. But as your channel grows, you might want to purchase a more professional camera, lighting equipment, a microphone, or an editing software to improve the quality of your videos.
7. Learn from successful influencers
Learning from other influencers is the best way to grow your audience, monetize your content faster, and minimize trial and error. The successes of other creators can teach you how to engage your community, price your services, pitch brands, negotiate rates, plus the latest trends in content creation and influencer marketing, among other things. Oftentimes, you can learn about these things for free by checking out other influencers’ posts on social media, or reading their interviews with different publications.
Malvika Sheth, a fashion and beauty creator, says, “After I got my first deal from Reebok, I was so stoked that I kind of made it more my mission to learn about how other creators monetized. … I would watch YouTube interviews of other creators, read articles on how other creators monetize, listen to podcasts. And I still do that today.”
Sheth elaborates, “I’m constantly seeing how other creators are leveling up their businesses because I think it’s really important, and the influencer industry is always changing. So staying up to date is quite important.” She adds, “You need to know if there are influencer platforms where brands can connect with creators, and how people are [writing] their emails when pitching brands. Things like that.”
If you want to take things a notch higher, you can enroll in paid classes, buy books, and sign up for paid consultations that these creators offer. Folasade Daini says, “I’m actually a stickler for paying for value when I see it. When I saw other people who were already successful influencers, I paid for their courses. They shared their templates with me, and I bought their books. I paid for sessions just basically to understand the quality and standard for content creation.”
Daini adds, “For example, before my first client, I didn’t have a rate card. I made a rate card after speaking with people who were already successful influencers. They shared rate card templates I could use when pitching brands.”
Tips for earning your first dollar as an influencer
When you’ve built a substantial following on social media, you can then start making money as an influencer.
Send partnership pitches to businesses
When you’re just starting out as a creator, you’ll have to do a lot of outreach because many brands don’t know you yet — and they probably won’t trust you enough to pay you. Your job is to convince them that working with you will generate significant return on investment for their business.
“If you’re scared to pitch brands; if you’re nervous and you don’t know what to say, it’s okay. You’re not the only one. Even creators who have been in this game for over a couple of years still face this. There’s no perfect formula for pitching,” Malvika Sheth shares.
The most important thing is you’re honest about the value you can deliver to the brands. Here are a few tips for making the pitching process easier:
Conduct detailed research
Prepare a detailed list of the companies you want to pitch, their industries, and the contact information of a relevant decision maker — someone who can directly hire you. As an influencer, your work is most likely relevant to the company’s marketing department, so you should be pitching the head of branding and marketing, not the human resources manager or engineering lead.
Be clear on why you want to work with the brand
You should only pitch a brand if it aligns with your mission, and if you’re genuinely excited about partnering with it.
“Ask yourself, why am I reaching out to this brand? And what’s the potential value I could provide to them? Be completely honest, even if all you have is, ‘Oh, I posted a story, and I tagged your brand.’ Or ‘I visited a store, and I found your product really interesting. And I would love to share it with my followers,'” Sheth says. “At the end of the day, the brand can sense when there’s any sense of dishonesty, or if you’re trying to over-exaggerate.”
Have a rate card
A rate card lists the services you offer and their corresponding prices. It standardizes the pricing for your influencer marketing services, helps you close deals faster, and reduces your chances of getting lowballed by a client. You can easily find free, customizable rate card templates on the internet or create your own.
Share your content results
If you’ve worked with a similar brand, share some of the numbers you helped them achieve in a media kit. If you haven’t worked with a similar brand, you can share key results from your past influencer campaigns that performed well.
Use a brand pitch template
A brand pitch template gives you a head start and makes you more efficient. Instead of writing your pitches from scratch, you can personalize the templates and send them out to different brands.
Work with an influencer agency
An influencer agency can help you negotiate brand deals and send pitches while you focus on creating content and engaging your audience. The Black Girl Digital and NYCxStudio are examples of influencer marketing agencies you can partner with.
Consult with other influencers for recommendations on the best agencies to collaborate with, and the ones you should avoid. And when you find one, make sure you thoroughly review the contract terms and conditions before signing under them. Don’t rush into entering any agreement — you can hire a lawyer to help interpret complex clauses in the contract.
As you review the contract, consider the following questions:
- How much commission is the agency charging? 10-15%? 20-25%?
- How long will the contract last?
- What are the steps for terminating the contract on both ends? Is there an exit clause?
- Is there a non-compete clause? Can you pursue solo brand deals while signed by the agency?
Become an affiliate marketer
According to Zip Recruiter, affiliate marketers in the U.S. make more than $150,000 annually. As an affiliate marketer, you earn monetary commissions on every sale that happens through your custom links or referral codes.
There are several affiliate programs you can join, depending on your niche or content focus. For example, Malvika Sheth is a member of LTK, a top affiliate network for fashion and beauty creators. She is also an Amazon affiliate.
“A lot of people in my community would ask me, ‘Where did you buy this? Or where did you shop this?’ And I’ll share my affiliate links with them,” Sheth says. “Being able to directly give people those links sometimes does really help. And it adds up to a decent amount of income.”
Earn from social media platforms
Most social media platforms pay creator bonuses for the content they share. For example, YouTubers earn between $0.01 and $0.03 per ad view on their videos, while Instagram pays Play Bonuses for Reels.
Here’s a pro tip from Sheth: “Sometimes, social media platforms need to promote a new feature, or promote their platform itself. So they’ll hire you, and they’ll say, ‘Post X amount of videos or X amount of photos on our platform, and we’ll pay you per post.”
Sell digital products
As an influencer, you have a community who knows, likes, and trusts you. When you have an engaged audience, it’s a lot easier to get their buy-in for things that you promote, including your own digital products.
Digital products are any virtual item that customers can download instantly upon payment. They can range from paid community memberships and eBooks, to downloadable prints and templates. Selling digital products not only allows you to earn passive income, but it’s also a way to provide additional value to your community beyond the free content that you share online.
When you’ve created a digital product, you can sell it on creator store platforms such as stan.store and Gumroad. To direct your followers to shop your product, don’t forget to share your store link in the bio of your social channels.
Want to grow faster as an influencer? Diversify!
Focusing on one channel and revenue stream only serves you at the beginning of your influencer career. As you grow, you’ll need to explore new social media platforms and create multiple income streams for your business. You can start from posting on Instagram, then build a following on TikTok, and eventually launch a paid newsletter or a membership site.
An influencer’s career ebbs and flows. Growing your presence on multiple channels, as well as having extra streams of income can help you pull through tough months, when things don’t go so well with your main revenue stream or social platform.