Personal Branding - How I Got 3,000 Targeted Followers in 3 Months Using 3 Minimal-Effort Steps
For businesses and people alike, getting attention from the right crowd is always extremely lucrative. When I started PRProfessor as a hub to connect communications professionals with new academic ideas, I decided to launch and develop my presence on Instagram - not only because I have strong reasons to believe that Instagram will be the most dominant digital platform for engaging a professional and educated audience, but because Instagram happened to be the platform that best suited the format of content I wanted to create.
Since I launched @theprprofessor on Instagram a little over 3 months ago, I've been experimenting with many different strategies to grow my following. Now I have 3,000 followers, almost all of which are students or professionals in the communications industry. A lot of strategies didn't work (most strategies didn't work), a few strategies were a complete waste of time, but even fewer strategies were actually worth it and paid off. The fun part of building a personal brand like PRProfessor is that I can actually put the strategies I write about to work for myself and publicly demonstrate that they work. The proof is all right here.
The marketing and advertising online communities are absolutely flooded with 'social media experts' who have guides to sell you, key insights that you can only get through their webinar, and all sorts of outlandish and sketchy claims and calls to action. I didn't read or engage with any of those - these findings are the raw organic result of trial, error, and a lot of tinkering. Luckily, I found a 3-pronged strategy that worked well for me and that I know can be adopted across the spectrum to anybody's blog or business;
1. Content Strategy
The most obvious part. Also the hardest part. The goal of a content strategy is to provide a stream of content to incentivize people to follow you and stick around. The key here is absolutely ensuring that you content is bringing tangible, actionable value to your target audience. The more valuable your content is, the more followers you'll get. If you don't know your target audience well enough to understand what would bring them value, then you need to spend more time getting to know your audience. A sure and simple way to determine whether your content is good enough is to litmus test it with members of your target audience. To be frank, unless you're already a major influencer, nobody really cares about your updates, pictures of yourself/your company, or generic motivational quotes. Those don't drive actionable value and they're way too common.
Shoot a direct message to a random member of your target audience. Ask them what they want to read about. What interests them? What are they curious about? Then create a piece of content that captures that interest or answers those questions thoroughly. The piece of content that you're reading right now is an example of that concept at work. Before writing this post, I asked random people if this is something they'd like to read about it. Then, I took it further by A/B testing my title - I would come up with two versions of a catchy title and ask which resonated better. I discovered that an unexpected perk of this strategy that ended up being extremely rewarding is building this connection with random followers. People appreciate it more than you think when you ask for their opinion. It shows you value them individually. Having productive conversations with people establishes a connection - it creates a loyal follower, a true fan.
2. Targeted Follower Aggregation
Without question, the best way to get people's attention and to accrue followers is by following people. When you follow someone, it's the equivalent of sending that person a free customized ad in the form of a notification on their screen saying 'check out my page, see if it's for you.' The trick here is to be very careful who you follow. Social platforms like Instagram will only allow you to follow a limited amount of people every hour, so you have to spend your follows wisely.
Find popular accounts that your target audience would already be following. In my case, I looked up the accounts of famous agencies and top university departments. Then I went to the most recent post and followed the people who liked the most recent post. Using this strategy, I'm guaranteeing that the people I'm following are both active on Instagram and involved participants in the industry I'm targeting.
This approach is truly simple, minimal in effort and has a great impact. On every trip to work, walk to lunch, and break in between exercises you can follow at least 50 people and watch the follow-backs pour in.
3. Keep the Ratio in Check
This is the most nuanced step but is an absolute essential if you're to use this follower aggregation strategy. Your follower ratio is the number of followers you have vs. the number of people you're following. As a best practice, the number of people you're following shouldn't exceed the amount of followers that you have. Here's why;
If an Instagram account follows you, and they have 500 followers but are following 5,000 people, it looks like a spam account. There's nothing special about this account following you because they're following so many other people. The odds that you follow them back become significantly reduced, and I've seen this effect happen first-hand. It's shocking and immediately noticeable how many more people follow me back when my ratio is in check (meaning I have more followers than the amount of people I'm following).
This means unfollowing a mass amount of people once your ratio gets skewed. Over time, this gets tedious and annoying, I get it, but it's an important detail that ensure you get maximum follower-return from the amount of people you follow. Also, there's nothing inherently wrong with unfollowing all the people you follow - the point of your page is to present free content that brings value to your followers. If that's not enough for them to stick around and keep following you, then your content isn't bringing enough value and you need to circle back to Step 1. To make this easier, there's actually a mass-unfollow tool that you can download from the app store called Cleaner - over the last 3 months this tool has saved me an insane amount of time and I highly recommend it to anyone pursuing this strategy.
As always, I hope this helps and don't hesitate to reach out with any questions.