Normal people can do it too—without “selling out” or becoming someone they’re not in the process
So you’re not as hip as a Kardashian or as naturally gifted at video as Casey Neistat. That’s okay — me neither.
And when you hear the word influencer or influencing people, you think of mind control the same way I do.
Yet you still would like to build a following on social media to be useful, entertain others, pursue a passion project, generate some extra cash, inspire people with your stories, or perhaps one day write a book. There’s nothing creepy or dirty about any of those goals.
The typical social media advice is not tailored for normal people like you and me who have one of these more simplistic goals. The typical social media advice is about becoming famous or rich or powerful, and normal people like us aren’t quite that obsessed with ourselves.
In 2014, I accidentally fell into this whole social media game when I started writing. (Writing was my aim, not social media — but the two go together.)
On LinkedIn, I can easily rack up millions of views on a post in a single day.
On Medium, I can write an article that makes it to the homepage or the popular list.
On large traditional publications like Business Insider, I can get published and reach many millions of people.
I don’t tell you any of this to impress you; I tell you because it was never my intent and I’m a pretty normal dude, which means you can replicate a lot of what I did without being super smart or gifted with tech.
Last week, I bumped into a guy on the tram who recognized me from LinkedIn. It was slightly creepy, so I just rolled with it. He had read a lot of my work and called himself a fan.
We had coffee together and at the end, he asked for a selfie so he could “cherish the moment.” It felt weird because I’m not the selfie kind of guy due to my resemblance to the famous character Dumbo and his giant, beautiful ears.
These experiences, though, happen when you put yourself out there and they don’t make you a sell out or inauthentic whatsoever. It all comes down to your intent.
In the rest of this article, I’m going to show you how to build a large audience on social media with practical steps, and how to use the audience for perfectly good intent without selling out or becoming someone you’re not.
The First Year
Not a lot happens in the first year when you decide to get serious about social media. Like anything, it starts off slow.
Think of your first year as one big experiment. The following will likely happen in the first year:
- You’ll find topics you like talking about
- You’ll find your voice
- You’ll find out what you have to say
- You’ll see how an audience will react to your message
These are all excellent outcomes and will give you the rocket fuel to dominate on social media later on.
The #1 Overlooked Strategy
I want to cut straight to the chase here and give you the best strategy upfront. The biggest mistake people make when it comes to social media is thinking that everything has been said or they have nothing interesting to say. This is incorrect.
The best strategy for social media is to add your own experience. Plenty of people have spoken about writing a book, but we haven’t heard about your experience trying to do exactly that.
There are plenty of articles on starting a business, but we haven’t heard your experience. The subtle differences and little anecdotes you share with an audience is where the value lies.
The way you stand out on social media is by adding your experience to everything you publish. This is the strategy I use every single day when my thoughts tell me I’m repeating a common idea, or I’m not good enough, or there is nothing to say.
Today I posted a video from a drone that has been done a million times. What was different about my post was that it mentioned how my girlfriend bought a drone and our experience as a couple flying a drone. That’s an example of what I mean by adding your own experience.
Here are my practical strategies for building a social media following.
1. Be Yourself
Normal people don’t seek to be influencers and the way to achieve that is to be yourself.
In every post you put up on social media, act the way you would in public. When I read your writing or watch your video, does it feel like we’re in the same room together? Is the person on social media the same as the one in real life?
This is a question I ask myself every day and it has helped me to connect with a wider audience by being a regular dude from Australia.
2. Gravitate Towards Ideas You Can’t Stop Thinking About
The idea you have for a social media post that you can’t stop thinking about is often the best one.
When people ask me about personal brands, my mind races for the next three hours full of ideas. These are the stories you want to tell because the content will come out of you with little effort and it will be the most helpful in that exact form.
The thoughts you can’t escape hold the best content ideas.
3. Avoid Einstein Quotes
Every man, woman, and Insta-child are sharing quotes to look smart. The quotes are typically from Oprah, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, or the worst one of all: Einstein.
A simple trick for normal people like us is not to follow the crowd. When it comes to quotes, the easy solution if you really want to share quotes is to find ones that are uncommon.
I typically take quotes from people like Jessica Wildfire or Michael Thompson, who are known on platforms like Medium but completely unknown on other social media platforms like LinkedIn or Instagram.
Avoid overused quotes and give people normal quotes from people they don’t know.
4. Don’t Follow Influencers
There are so many rich peeps from lucky countries, with white skin, who will tell you how to live your life and call themselves influencers.
Their social media pages are full of their face and they even have their own hashtag. They talk down to you, make you feel like shit, and appear as though their life is perfect and they win every day. Avoid following these people.
Following influencers and copying what they do is the worst strategy I can think of. What is often hidden from plain sight is that many of these influencers cheated to get where they are.
Behind the camera or off social media, they are total assholes or would never help a single person — not even a hungry four-year-old child that approached them on the street and asked them for some food.
Having met many of these influencers, they did do one favor for me: they showed me what I will never be like and the pitfalls of a bit of attention. Influencers will give you a clear picture of what not to do.
My advice would be to do your thing and don’t worry about what everybody else is doing.
Do you, be you.
5. Tell Stories
If social media had a form of crack, it would be stories. People love stories and that’s the business you want to get into.
- Tell stories from your life
- Tell stories about your career
- Tell stories from people you admire
- Tell stories from people in your life
Tell us as many stories as you can and get creative in how you do it. Start a story mid-sentence. Or leave us on the edge of our seat halfway through telling us a story. Use weird grammar or odd ways of inserting conversation into your story.
People love stories on social media, especially the ones that make them feel like they can be anything they want after hearing the story.
6. One Platform
In the first year, focus on one platform. Many perfectly good people in my network seek to build social media audiences. Then I see them put up a post and it has links to Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, LinkedIn, and Medium.
You don’t need to be everywhere on social media and you’ll burn out trying. It’s why I quit Youtube and stopped updating my Facebook page (although Facebook reminds me regularly to start posting again with annoying notifications — no thanks Zucks!).
The other strategy that has become common is to take an audience from one platform and bring them over to another platform. A couple of people I follow on LinkedIn have started putting links to their Instagram pages in the comments section of their posts. They spam their audience with these links and they are mostly ignored.
Respect your audience and don’t try to shift them around to every platform, thus diluting all the good work you’re doing.
7. Know That You’re Helpful
Normal people like you and I often don’t up our game on social media because we foolishly believe we can’t be helpful.
When I started posting on social media, my career was nothing more than working for a bank with a small paycheque. Every day the thoughts of being nothing more than a banker, that no one would listen to, plagued my mind.
It was only when it became clear that the difference between people who do well on social media and those who don’t, is something so very simple: the people killing it on social media believe they have something to offer.
They don’t let their circumstances or their “normalness” hold them back; rather it’s what they use to show up every day and post.
8. Resist the Fear of Judgment
You will be judged on social media no matter how empathetic, compassionate, normal, helpful, or gracious you try to be.
An angry dude who had a bad day is going to find you, hunt you down, and try to spoil your social media post with a hurtful comment.
A guy from the UK found my work on LinkedIn. Every day without fail, he would leave me harsh comments and make up stories about me. He would then tag his friends and do everything he could to attract more hateful comments. It worked and pretty soon, I had loads of comments from people who wanted me dead.
It nearly made me quit social media altogether.
But I didn’t quit. I researched the ring leader of this group of trolls and found out that he had sold his business for millions of dollars, and then the day after he was kicked out of his business because of his attitude.
He sat at home with his millions of dollars, and in a Youtube video, he admitted that he was bored out of his brain. That’s when he decided to go on social media, find a target, and shoot them down to relieve his boredom.
The hateful comments you may encounter often have nothing to do with you. Disconnect from being judged and focus on being helpful instead.
9. Pick Your Content Type
Everyone has their one type of content that works for them. For me, it’s writing because video makes me procrastinate and I can’t speak a complete sentence without messing it up.
Play to your strengths and choose video, audio, the written word, or photos to share your message with the world.
10. Get Into a Group Chat
About two years into my social media game, a lovely man named Michael Chapman invited me to a group chat. In this group chat, I got to meet other content creators and bounce ideas off them.
Group chats are one of the best ways to expand your knowledge of social media and get around people who are just like you.
The social connections from this group chat have been one of the most rewarding parts of social media for me.
11. Stay Clear of Personal Branding Mumbo Jumbo
This one makes me want to punch a wall sometimes. Personal branding is total BS and it will only cause you to lose focus on the main goal: to tell stories and be helpful in the process.
Here are the key issues with personal branding:
- It makes your intent selfish
- It elevates you from normal to unrelatable
- It makes you think you’re special
- It tells strangers that you are better than them
- It switches the focus from sharing stories and experiences to making people worship your name, which is your brand
- It turns your name into a company designed to make money
You can make money from posting on social media without getting lost in the magic fairy dust of personal branding.
You don’t need personal branding whatsoever.
12. Post Daily
If you can, post on your chosen social media platform daily.
The quickest way to build traction on social media is to up the number of times you are posting rather than look for ways to hack social media or take shortcuts.
When I went from posting once a week to posting every day, you’d think it was my audience that got bigger. That’s not what happens, though.
Posting daily allowed me to get clearer with my message and the way I spoke and that eventually allowed me to reach more people.
I went from the dreaded “Speaker, Entrepreneur, BlockChain Guy, Finance Specialist, Sales Professional, Keeper of Wisdom, Best Selling Author” to a succinct and crystal clear “Writer — inspiring the world through personal development and entrepreneurship.”
That level of simplicity is how people will be drawn to your work and what you have to say.
13. Answer Questions From the Audience
There is this concept known as “a raving fan.”
In simple terms, a raving fan is someone that follows everything you do, comments on your social media posts, advocates for you, battles the trolls on your behalf, and shows up at an event to hear you speak.
One raving fan is worth one thousand normal followers.
The little strategy that is rarely practiced is to create raving fans. How do you do that? One way is to answers messages and emails from your audience. Taking just a few minutes each day to talk with people from your audience builds loyalty, trust, and makes you real.
When your audience can see you are the same person in your social media posts that you are in real life, you become uncommon and that leads to the creation of the holy grail known as raving fans.
Talk to people and answer their questions.
That’s How Normal People (Like Us) Can Build Large Social Media Followings
Now it just comes down to whether you want to create an audience on social media to support your passion project, create passive income, share stories or be helpful — and perhaps leave a piece of yourself behind for future generations (my personal favorite).
If me, Dumbo the Elephant, can take a selfie in a coffee shop with a reader and not vomit from embarrassment and the potential of being labeled a dreaded influencer, then you certainly can too.
Normal people like us can build a large social media following and not sell out or become someone we’re not in the process.
Normal people like us can use social media with perfectly good intentions and help people while we’re at it.