So, for the final time, please feel free to read the whole back story of this little series! Parts one, two and three (and my little bonus one) are all some background and context to this, so this should hopefully make the most sense if you have read them first!
We left off part 3 by establishing that yes, social media platforms use algorithms... but not in the way they were discussed in part 1. Algorithms are not a set of rules you have to follow... they are a set of rules built into a computer, that the computer has to follow so that it can learn our behaviour and encourage us to spend more time on the platforms by giving us more of what we want. Therefore, the set of rules we need to follow are based on what people want, as the computer follows the behaviour of the people... not the other way around. You with me? So, how does this effect marketing strategy? And how do you create a strategy to use social media effectively?
I want to caveat this by saying... There are many different social media strategies and the best strategy for you will depend on your individual goals and the preferences of your particular audience. I am just going to give the best overview, based on a common example, that I can for the most common answers I received from my audience.
Step One - Define what you are looking to achieve
The biggest flaw in all marketing activity is not having a defined vision of what you want to achieve. How can you decide where to shoot if you don't know what direction the goal is in?! It is a waste of time and effort if you don't know what you want to get out of it.
So, when I asked you all on my Instagram "Even if its not your primary aim, what would you like to achieve with your social media?" - every single answer fell into one, or crossed all three of these categories:
To educate others on horse related things through sharing experience
To create or expand a business (in this context, I include being an influencer as a business!)
To spread or gain awareness for issues you feel passionate about, both horse related and non-horse related
Now that is the basis of our strategy to become a successful influencer. That's what you were all talking about that no one wanted to say, so lets just say it: How do I become an Influencer?
Why did the answers that came up tell me to create an influencer strategy? Well most of my followers are individual people, looking to utilise their socials to influence in some way, shape or form. Had a asked the same question on a board of small business owners, the three categories of aims would have been different (e.g. increase sales, increase brand awareness, diversify my business) so the strategy would be different... work out first what your aims are before you do anything! :-)
Step Two - Research what has worked before in more advanced industries, and monitor what's working now
The equine community is not unique in these three aims! Most individuals who successfully use social media fall under the category of being an influencer. It's not a dirty word, it doesn't just mean doing paid posts for fast fashion/a job for people with no other skills but they've been on Love Island... it is a legitimate career for a lot of people and can mean things ranging from education, public speakers, activists etc... its multifaceted and across many industries! Only difference is, most industries have been utilising this for about 10 years... we may have some catching up to do, but this works in our favour as we can learn from their formula!
Let's take a case study of an industry that was probably the catalyst of the explosion in influencer market; The beauty/make-up industry.
Most beauty influencers started just like some of us in the equine community, they were just a person with a hobby and a camera. So in most cases with any industry, each person unknowingly starts by focussing on aim 1 - sharing our interest. For these first generations of influencers, it was as simple as sitting in front of a camera and putting some make-up on your face whilst talking about it... whether its the technique you're doing, the products you're using or make-up as a whole, they were just sharing a window into their passion to find other people who shared their interest and that was it, nothing more! At that time, "influencers" weren't a thing so no one was aiming for anything more than genuinely sharing what they loved with likeminded people to create a platform for themselves... a voice among their peers.
Through that, they connected with the audiences, would try more products that people wanted to see, or focussed on teaching technique... whatever it was that connected best with their audience (aka performed best in their insights), they did more of! From that, the algorithms pushed their content more because people wanted to see it, they grew... in an almost empty landscape, some (those who connected best) grew very quickly and so they naturally changed to aim 2 - creating or building this into a business. This comes initially from monetizing what you're doing that works (e.g. monetizing YouTube videos tutorials testing affordable make-up), then building that form of business deals; sponsored posts/videos from drugstore make-up brands, brand collaborations/collections etc with those brands. They have monetized their platform to establish themselves as the brand, a voice in the industry, based on genuine trust from their audience and proven results as/with a business.
Finally, a lot then use their platforms for spread awareness for issues or following your passion. These are often more narrow things than "make-up" as a whole, or even "drug-store make-up" as their secondary bit... so this normally comes last as sadly, as its the most narrow so its the most risky. You do not build a big audience on a narrow message. Everyone has their own opinion on most issues and so strategically, the best option is to establish a solid broad audience and platform based on a big base (e.g. make-up) and allow those people to trust you first. Your audience or businesses trust you enough to put their money into you and you have paid that back to them in value. Then, you can hone in on a narrower issue. For this example, say setting up your own make-up business or being part of a brand collaboration. This cannot be your primary primary aim from the start as people won't trust your opinion in the first place if you seem to have an ulterior motive, or businesses won't invest in a collection with you if you haven't proved your ROI. But if you have done step one and two well... these influencers have then utilised their own personal brand as the foundations to a standalone, fully functional, professional business or platform - a voice that speaks for others.
Step Three - find the common themes that work time and time again, and utilise them for yourself
Now, we've cheated a bit as I have put the common themes from the above example in italics... but just to recap/add some detail.
Genuinely share what you love to find a group of likeminded people to create a platform, become a voice among your peers. This requires you to be relatable and genuine, so people connect with you. We went over this in part 2... the success of any social media strategy will ultimately be determined by if people connect with you. So being someone else or doing things because you feel you should won't create genuine connections unfortunately... nor will running before you can walk, so selling to people who aren't bought into you as a person is a sure way to get them to distrust you. Do not be what you think people want you to be, be yourself.
Establish yourself as the trusted voice and build your platform around your voice and your influence, therefore the YOU are the brand. Once that is built, you can monetize it. You have built a platform of people who follow you can trust you, so do you want to give that away for free? No. You can monetize most social platforms in one way or another, either directly or by selling your influence to brands, so find out how by looking at other industries or with a trusty Google. However, again, your connection with your audience is the most important thing, do no get greedy and sell-out your audience for short term gains.
Utilize what you have built in steps 1 & 2 to a narrower focus, this will depend on your personal goals but will be possible if you have done the first bits well. If you want to educate people or bring light to an issue, perfect... you already have a platform, create a course or start seeking out public speaking opportunities. Want to set up your own business? Perfect, your audience will be your first customers! This is where you become more than just one voice of many, you can become a leading educational voice, a voice for your own or someone else's business, or a voice for those who don't have one.
*You're doing it... You're influencing!*
Now... did any of that say "jump the biggest fences" or "buy a new flashy horse"?... no. No it didn't. It is based on building a connection with people and then utilising that connection in a clever way to fulfil your aims, without ruining the connection ofc. For some it takes a long time and your platform is small (but no less influential!), for others it doesn't... it's quick, the platform is huge and its big bucks. There's pros and cons to both... Go back to part 2... sometimes its unfortunately, who gets what is just luck.
So that was in quite big picture terms... so finally, in practical terms, what do you do on a day to day basis to achieve this?
Well that's up to you! Its based on what you want to achieve and who you are as a person. You have something unique to bring, you just need to get it out there. Be consistent, be genuine, be confident. You might have to try a few things, different platforms etc and some things may connect and some may not... but you do not need to be, or become, someone else.
Also, research. Keep up to date with what social platforms are doing... there are hundreds of thousands of free blogs out there (e.g. one here) by professionals that will help. Research within your own audience, ask them what they want to see. Or your peers, what do they like in a social media person? What turns them on or off an individual? Read my poll results here if you want, or do your own? Basically, learn.
If you have business aims/budget behind you then maybe hire a professional (just make sure they know what they're talking about first!)... if you don't have that then thats fine, you can 100% do it yourself. Decide your aims, research what strategies worked for others, translate those concepts to your individual circumstances. Make a marketing plan.
However, the key learning from this is that you do not need to feel like you are not good enough. Social media is a really helpful tool and can give some great opportunities if you want it to, but it should not ruin your mental health and it should never make you feel that you are not good enough. There is only one of you, so comparing yourself to others is not a fair comparison, you are not the same. You have your own aims and your own audience and most importantly your own personality, doing what everyone else is doing is not the key to success. The industry has not reached full saturation, there's plenty of room at the table, I promise. There are people out there who will connect with you, you just ned to find them, and you will :-)
Social media is hard work, so if you want to fully throw yourself into it then great! But make sure that if you are putting that time/effort/resource/money into things to further your social, make sure you are basing those decisions on facts not fallacy. Find out those facts from trusted professional sources, not the rumour mill, and then fact check them again. If you're putting effort and its not working, check your research, check yourself... either your connections aren't quite there and you haven't found your niche etc, or you are following the wrong advice.
If you don't want to or can't put in that effort then that's also SO fine. Just don't get swept up into something you don't need to. Put in what you can, if you get benefits from that then great, if you don't then that's okay too as its not your aim.
Basically, this whole thing has been a way of me saying... social media can really negatively harm your mental health if you let it. That doesn't mean its evil, it is not, it is a very good tool and can create beautiful connections and help you find a place in the world that you're accepted. But... please, just don't take it too seriously. If you want to make a career out of it then sure, take it seriously in the "I'm pursuing a goal" sense... like we all do with competing our horses! But don't let it rule your life/decisions/finances/self-worth... I don't get a cricket score at a BE90 and then beat myself up that I'm not getting a Olympic gold medal, or put myself in debt buying an Olympic horse, or sit alone at home and compare videos of me riding to Oli Townend and give up because I'm not where he is... He's a bloody professional for christssake and I'm just doing it for fun! If nothing else, just have a bit of perspective and self-awareness... we're all just doing this for a bit of and a bit of a laugh! So with social, just like with riding... if it's not going to plan then, have some lessons, learn some proper ways to improve, practice them, get better and try again... but also think about how lucky you are to do the sport you love, have laugh with my friends about it and don't take it too seriously!