It’s funny how certain topics resound globally irrespective of where they’re focused on.

I wrote Part 1 last week with a UAE audience in mind, however after the UAE the most hits I got to the blog post were from Australia, South Africa and the United States (collectively, those 3 countries got me 3,000 hits in 4 days). Seems like this issue is global, and brands are struggling everywhere to rein this in.

That got me to reflect on part 2. I have just a few more points of advice to offer potential or budding social media influencers, and I’ll use my reflections to add value to them. Remember, these are MY thoughts and advice, which may differ from your own experience. Please feel free to correct me or offer your own advice, suggestions and experiences in the comments.

Here goes:

6. Flag your post as sponsored/paid

“WHAT? And tell people I was paid to write this?!”

Yes. That’s exactly what I’m telling you.

In most countries where digital marketing is an established and mature set of channels, it is common practice and in some cases law to ensure content from a brand or blogger clearly mentions it is advertising or paid content.And yet, none of those brands or bloggers lose their fans or followers.

You KNOW Nike, Pepsi or Top Shop pay for professional advertising companies to create content that makes you want to buy their products, and yet you still go and buy. Why? Because your experience with that product or brand has been of good quality. You trust their paid content.

Why? Because it doesn’t matter if it’s paid content if it guarantees a good experience.

Right now, your target audience and PR firms both have come to the consensus that most so-called influencers are getting freebies or money to engage their channel. The problem is, you’re not saying you’re doing this, and hence you’re being seen as a cheat, a hack or just someone who’s in it for the gifts and not the actual quality of content.

The integrity that comes when you use the words ‘Advertisement’, ‘Sponsored’ or ‘Promoted’ in your blog post, Instagram pic, tweet or FB post is something you cannot imagine right now. You’re still thinking of it from your perspective of looking like you’re unbiased to your viewer.

Yet, you’re not unbiased, are you? If you aren’t saying you were given something for free in exchange for a review, you’re in essence fooling the viewer.

Break out of this line of thought. Tell your viewer by using the words above and you WILL see an uptake in views and respect for your work. Why? Because now, viewers will know brands are willing to pay you to review their products, hence you’re a key opinion leader. You’re someone who matters enough that a million-dollar brand is paying you.

Imagine the clout that brings to your platform.

Here’s how you do it:

Instagram post? Add ‘Sponsored’ or ‘Advertisement’ or ‘Promoted’ at the beginning of the caption.
Tweet? Add ‘Adv’ or ‘Spn’ at the start. You lose 5 characters if you include the colon and the space but you’re a social pro, you can write shorter if you want 😉
Blog post? Don’t say it in the header but being your post with ‘This review was written after a sponsored trip to (insert hotel name)’.

See? Easy.

7. Learn the tertiary skills essential to your offering

Too often I’ve seen great posts on a travel destination or restaurant marred by really bad photographs or shaky video. Too often have I also seen great photographs or videos of a new fashion line killed by a review which failed to capture what was special about the line.

Your cult as an influencer depends on the whole package. It isn’t just your words or your images or any other medium, it’s all of them.

If you’re great at writing and have excellent command of the language, grammar, tact and nuance (as I referred to in part 1) but aren’t adept at good social photography/videography, here’s where you can start:

Smartphone camera users:
First, invest in a smartphone lens kit. For the iPhone, the best you can get in Dubai is the Olloclip, available at all Virgin Megastores. It’s a 4-in-one clip-on lens which includes a fish-eye, a wide-angle and 2 macro lens the size of a USB stick. Easy to carry, it gives your photography a range you didn’t have. Costs vary from AED 300 to 600 depending on the type.

Android users, the Olloclip may not work with your cameras, but never fear. Merlin and other brands are here! Virgin carries these other brands which range in cost from AED 70 to AED 500, all of which are perfectly fine since.

You’re not shooting for National Geographic, don’t get too hung up on getting the most expensive just because you think it’ll be the best.

Second, download the following commonly available free apps:

VSCO – my favourite and most powerful image editing app
Pixlr – quick-editing app with a ton of filter options and random fonts
Priime – editing app with tons of professional filters created by seasoned photographers
Typorama – the ‘go to’ app for powerful typography options
Snapseed (Android & iPhone) – ‘Drill-down’ editing options, allowing you to go deeper than any other app
Hyperlapse – timelapse app offering simple point-and-click shooting options

These apps are what I use, and I’m sure there are others out there that are as good or even better. If you know of any, let me know in the comments. Meanwhile, if you go through my Instagram you’ll see these apps in action. Experiment with them in various ways, including editing the lighting and shadows and of course HDR and other filters.

If you use a DSLR, do the following:

Don’t. Don’t carry a DSLR to food outlets that you’re using. You don’t need to take professional grade photographs as that’s not the intent. Your intent is to provide accurate images of the food you’re reviewing the way they would see it with their own eyes. A DSLR doesn’t allow that, and if you’re not trained in using a DSLR at a professional level your photographs will not look as good as they should and you’ll waste too much time editing them.

The only time you should use your DSLR is if you’re reviewing a travel destination that features sights that have intricate features such as historic buildings or art. In my travel blog and instagram page I never, ever use a DSLR unless called for. 90% of the images you see there were taken with an iPhone 6S.

I also urge you to register for free iPhone/smartphone photography classes. They’re online, and some are on Youtube too!

Here’s one that I really recommend:
iPhone Photography School. This is one of the best free online sets of courses you can take to hone your skills in iPhone photography. Run by Emil Pakarklis, it’s helped me tremendously in getting my own skills upgraded.

8. Patience

If you build it, they will come. This is as true as the day it was said. Once you begin building or creating something of value to a target audience, the target audience will find you if you make it easy to do so. Don’t worry about numbers and growth. It took my 5 patient years of work on Twitter to reach close to 10,000 followers, 100% organic. I never bought or inherited followers, neither do I want to. Yet, these 5 years of work have paid off. My marketing and travel posts get the engagement I desire and I don’t need to spend money to promote them. People respect my opinion and that’s what I want. My Instagram handle has taken 3 years to reach 5,000+ followers, yet the engagement I get with this organic growth is through the roof.

Growth takes time. Don’t be in a hurry or you will make mistakes you will regret. Quality is never rushed. Don’t fall for the notion that influencers are here today but will be gone tomorrow. That’s just crazy. Influencers have been around since the dawn of advertising and in fact before that. Anyone who has the ability to convince someone else to buy or experience something for the first time is an influencer. If your friends listen to you for movie advice or restaurant ideas when you hang out, you’re the influencer in that group. It’s just that the medium or channel might change, but not so soon. Email has been around since the early 90s and it’s still the most effective form of digital communication. You don’t see that dying out very quickly, do you?

If you really want to see quick results, however, study. Go online and search for advice on how to make Instagram posts popular, or how to get your tweet seen by more people without spending on promotions. If your posts are effective, it ‘doesn’t matter’ how many people actually follow you. Your post will reach them anyway.

9. Collaborate

Remember the list of great marketers I listed in previous posts? Notice how a few have more than one author.

It is quite common for thought-leaders to share space on content. In fact, they look forward to it because quite frankly it adds to their clout. This is by design, not just by altruism. When you collaborate with another known name or with a known name that would like to be associated with, you are telling people that influencer considers you an influencer too. You ‘made it’.

This underscores my point from the previous post where you need to focus on quality. Remember, you’re asking someone who’s already respected by your target audience to choose to share their space with you. They will only do this if they like what they see in your posts.

How do you do this? Simple: Find two or three of the best examples of your work, and by best I mean what got you the highest engagement. A photo you feel is your best work but got very little engagement will mean nothing to them, yet one which is relatively good however got you tons of visible engagement will make them take notice. Once you’ve found these, prepare an invitation to them in the form of a simple direct message on Twitter or Instagram, or an email, depending on what contacts you have of them. You can also ask a mutual friend to introduce you to them with the intentions clearly stated.

If they like what they see, they’ll reciprocate. If not, move on to someone else. There are many fish in the sea, don’t worry.

Finally, I’d like to say just one thing:

Being an influencer is hard work. You are setting yourself up as someone who people respect on a particular topic. You are also, by extension, accountable to the industry you’re claiming to be an influencer in. An artist never abuses his work, never cheapens it nor sells it off for convenience.

Treat everything you post as something that you KNOW will add value to the viewer and you are on your way to becoming an influencer.