Got a Social Media Following? You Can Turn It into a Business. Really.
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If you’re like most Americans, or at least most professionals, you’re already somewhat active -- or very active -- on social media. You probably have personal accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, plus connections/followers on each. And you probably occasionally post content that keeps you more or less engaged with those audiences.
True? If so, then consider this: What you’re already doing at a personal level isn’t that different from a commercial one.
In fact, you're already posting what a full-fledged social-media marketing campaign would be posting. The only differences are direction, intention and scale.
So, what if you started scaling-up your personal efforts? What if by doing so you accumulated an audience of thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of followers -- then turned those inexpensive social-media efforts into a full-fledged business that made you money? It’s possible! And with the six strategies that follow, you’ll see how.
First things first
First, a caveat: Not everything can be a business. It you want to make a profit, you need to offer something valuable. Otherwise, almost anyone can start a business -- even if that means professional services, like consulting or independent contract work. So, do some brainstorming before you attempt the actual conversion process; you’ll need a clear business plan before you proceed.
The conversion process
With a business idea in hand and a social media foundation in mind, you are read to take the six steps that will lead you through the conversion process:
1. Start with a personal brand.
A personal brand is optional, as you can build a business with a corporate brand at the center of your social media strategy. But a personal brand will make things easier; you’ll retain your reputation even if the business goes under. You’ll engage on a more personal level with your audience. And you’ll cultivate more trust in the meantime.
Make a set of “brand standards” for yourself, and adhere to those standards across the board. Get a professional headshot, and commit to developing your social personality in line with your vision for the business.
2. Develop expertise.
Next, you’ll need to develop expertise in the area of your business; only when you have this pre-existing expertise, will your prospective customers trust you enough to patronize you in the early stages of your business development.
It can take a long time to build this expertise, so the sooner you start, the better (and if you’ve already started, great). First, choose a niche: The more specific you are, the better; having a specific niche means less competition and a faster rise to the top.
Importantly, you can always expand to more general areas later. Turn your profiles into a kind of resume of your achievements in this niche, and start promoting content and engaging in conversations that show off your knowledge.
3. Build meaningful relationships with industry influencers.
Next, identify key influencers in your industry. These can be other individuals (personal brands) who are known as thought leaders or publishers or known simply for their brands.
The only requirements are that they be active on social media, have a large following and carry significant influence. Start and engage in conversations with these influencers, exchange value with them and build relationships. These will come in handy later.
4. Get published.
Leveraging the expertise you’ve already built (along with, quite possibly, your influencer connections), go to the next step: Get your content published by external sources. If you have a website set up, use inbound links to funnel referral traffic and gain authority in search engines within your industry.
Start with niche publishers, or any publisher that's reputable and easy to get published on. Then work your way up to more significant, broader publishing channels. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get published on external publications.
5. Launch your core product or service.
At this point, it’s safe to launch your core product or service -- the claim to fame for your business. Distribute a press release, launch a content strategy and push your promotions across all your social networks.
You may even want to do a lead-in for the few weeks leading up to your big launch, to build suspense and mystique around your products and services. In any case, you should be able to attract a significant initial audience, and if your influencers share or cover your announcement, you’ll stand to benefit even more.
6. Tap into your networks to expand.
Your trajectory should be constantly moving forward in the social media world. Engage with higher-level influencers. Get published on bigger, higher-traffic publishers. Keep engaging with new audiences to expand your following. The more you engage in these expansion efforts, the more authoritative and powerful you’re going to become, and both your customer acquisition and retention will improve.
Building a business isn’t easy, no matter what kind of runway you build for yourself or what mediums you enlist to help you along the way. Be prepared for this eventuality.
Your social media audience, if tapped to its full potential, can give you a massive head start in terms of customer acquisition, but it’s still up to you to deliver the best-in-class products and services that your audience will have come to expect from you. Be a businessperson first, and a social media guru second; that’s the only way you’ll survive.