How to Become a YouTube Influencer

Entrepreneur Network partner Kelsey Humphreys chats with Connor Franta about how he built his YouTube channel to 6 million subscribers.
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Forget becoming a movie star -- it seems everyone today wants to achieve the coveted title of “Influencer.” Understandably so, since influencers command giant social media followings and get paid large sums for speaking engagements, collaborations, brand spokesperson jobs, product placements in their videos, shout outs from their instagram accounts and more.

As the online social space gets louder and more crowded, and attention spans dwindle, becoming an influencer takes patience, persistence and a few other key tactics I learned from YouTube superstar Connor Franta.

Related: How to Build a Brand on YouTube

Franta, 24, uploaded his first video to YouTube in August of 2010. Since then his channel, featuring lifestyle vlogs, comedy sketches and inspirational videos, has gained more than 393 million views and over 5.62 million subscribers. In 2014, Franta released a compilation album of curated songs from up-and-coming musicians, which led to the creation of his record label, Heard Well. The following year he launched Common Culture with a line of coffee products, which has now expanded into the umbrella brand for all of his products as a “lifestyle brand offering superior clothing, premium coffee, and a variety of undiscovered musical talent.” He is also a New York Times bestselling author, and is currently on tour with his own traveling art installation, a companion piece to his recently released book, Note To Self.

Clearly, the young Minnesotan has much to teach us. I sat down with him while on his book tour to discuss his amazing career. After I got over how old I felt, and the fact that he has the largest following of all of my guests -- including multimillionaires like Tony Robbins and mega television personalities like HGTV’s the Property Brothers -- I loved our candid conversation. Here are a few key lessons from building an influencer brand from Franta, who currently has over 14.3 million social followers.

Experiment at first.

Franta explained that it’s important to work to find your own voice. When he started, he tried many different topics, videos and styles, thinking, Oh, the world is my oyster, I can do anything. YouTube was still a very new platform, and since he “didn’t know where to begin,” he naturally took inspiration from the big YouTubers of the time. The inspiration from others, along with experimentation in multiple videos per week, eventually led to his own unique style.

His advice to aspiring YouTube creators? “You can do anything, whatever you find that [is your passion],” he shared, adding, “Share your art and be proud of what you make and adjust it. No one starts out being perfect. It takes time to become better at what you do. And the best part is you'll never be perfect, so you just work towards it.”

Related: Top 10 Live Video Influencers to Follow

Focus on quantity in a crowded market.

Initially, Franta put up as many videos as he could each week, hoping for feedback and interaction. He admitted it almost felt like an addiction, waiting and responding to the comments. “As the audience got bigger, I started following into kind of a format situation, so everyone knew that I would upload every single Monday, almost like a TV program,” he explained.

He does recommend consistency, but advises that frequency is more important today, as YouTube gets more and more crowded.

“You need to practice and maintain an audience by giving them fuel, giving them videos. I definitely recommend uploading as much as you can.”

Another example of this advice is from another amazing guest on the show, Gary Vaynerchuk, who has recently been advising musicians to put out almost a song per day if they can. All markets today are oversaturated markets, so quantity is the name of the game until one of your songs -- or videos, blog posts, Facebook livestreams, infographics, etc. -- becomes a hit.

Which means you need to . . .

Love the work.

The only way you’ll be able to keep up with the level of production required in today’s market is to truly love the work. Franta set his sights on becoming a YouTube Partner for the channel customization options and features. The money that started to come in was just “a cool added bonus.” This was after about three years of steady creating and publishing with zero financial return. 

Related: How to Build Your Business by Connecting With Influencers on Twitter

Many of us start a new venture because we want the end result, without loving the process to get there. If you don’t love blogging every day, recording videos, monitoring and responding on Twitter, stop and assess. Adjust as necessary, so that you love the work day in and day out, ensuring you’ll have the patience required to build a successful influencer brand.  

Cultivate community.

Like many influencers I interview, for the first few years Franta responded to every single comment. When the amount of comments became overwhelming, he gave up on responding to each of them, but would still randomly reply to some. To this day, he will tweet to an unexpecting fan or reply to a comment online. This explains his millions of passionate fans -- so passionate, in fact, people were literally climbing the shelves at a Note To Self book signing event and actually broke the shelf.

Building a personal brand is basically a full-time job of its own. Becoming a social media influencer requires that you actually be social. If you already have a demanding career or a business to run, prepare to put in the time before and after your current workload. Set aside time and energy for cultivating community and appreciating your audience.

Related: How to Build Powerful Relationships With Influencers

Focus on quality and creativity.

Even when you’re trying to publish content daily, you need to remember to make a plan and execute well. Though vlogs may seem thrown together to an outsider, Franta plans ahead and gives himself a day for producing a regular weekly installment and at least three days for longer, more creative videos.

When it comes to writing bestselling books, for example, give yourself a year or more. After Franta’s first book, A Work in Progress, his publishers put on the pressure for a second. “‘How about not? Let's calm down. It's not like I can just plop these books out . . . ’” he joked. “It's not that easy, it takes time. So, I found myself just writing down, over time, notes to myself, poetry, taking photos, writing short essays through a rough period of my life . . . . After about six months of doing that, I thought I should tell my publisher that I had accidentally written half a book.”

Get vulnerable.

One of Franta’s biggest pieces of advice for creators is to be authentic and prepare for criticism. “Be vulnerable with whatever it is that you're creating in your art and definitely share it with people and take criticism. You're never going to get more successful if you don't share it with people.”

When it comes to sharing very raw, personal content, such as Franta’s famous "Coming Out" video, make sure you’re ready. He reiterated what Glennon Doyle Melton reminded us in her Pursuit interview: Write from scars, not wounds. Franta had already started the coming out process with those closest to him before posting online.

Related: How to Identify the Perfect Influencer for Your Business

Though he was terrified to publish the video, he wanted to inspire and support others with his platform. He had watched other coming out videos for encouragement and knew how powerful they could be. 

"I wanted to utilize my platform and hopefully help someone else who was that little kid in Minnesota that was terrified to come out, and I still think it, to this day, is kind of the best thing I've ever done with my career. And still people bring it up almost every single day.”

Follow the momentum.

How did he go from YouTube to book deals, music albums, a coffee company and now a clothing line? “It was a natural progression,” he explained. He didn’t even think about it as a business -- he just had music he wanted to share. He loves coffee, so he became interested in the coffee industry. The fashion arm of his brand developed after the success of a limited run of designs in collaboration with Junk Food Clothing in June of 2015. He didn’t feel like he was trying to force his way into new industries.

“Then it became slowly, ‘Oh, [Common Culture] is my brand name.’ It was a natural progression into a business and I think that was just the direction that I found myself going in naturally.”

As your platform grows and your mission and message evolves, you can be flexible and add on new extensions of your current brand.

Build a support team.

Just because you are the face of your brand doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. Find people who are strong in your weakest areas. When discussing his brand and his business, Franta often mentions his agent. He also has people helping with his websites and the ins and outs of his various businesses. “My team is essential to what I do and everything I do. They connect me with the right people. They talk me through different processes. I'm not as good at that,” he said.

“I wouldn't be where I am or who I am without my amazing team that I have behind me. It may seem like it's just me, but there are little people behind the scenes.” He added, “Although the filming and editing and all that stuff is still 100 percent me.”

Be prepared for pressure and responsibility.

If you want to build a platform with millions of followers, prepare yourself for a long haul, especially on social media. Franta explained that unlike an actor or musician, he doesn’t have breaks between projects.

If you look online, you don't see a YouTuber just stop for a month or two months or let alone six months. That's kind of that hardest part is knowing that there's not really an end unless you somehow figure out to have one, or at least a break.”

In addition to the schedule, there’s the knowledge that millions of people are looking for your opinion, waiting for your content and asking for your advice. That burden is also the biggest blessing.

“That's kind of hard to deal with, but [it’s also the best part]. It's just the level of connectivity and having a voice in a generation that needs young voices, and young voices of diversity, so someone like me who's in the LGBT community, I'm very proud to speak up and support the community as much as I can.”

Watch in-depth interviews with celebrity entrepreneurs on The Pursuit with Kelsey Humphreys

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