In May 2019, influencer @arii made headlines because despite her 2.something million followers, her newly launched clothing line failed to sell a minimum of 36 items.
No that’s not a typo, yes you read that correctly:
Someone with over 2 million followers on Instagram –
Failed to sell –
36 items of her own new clothing line.
We won’t get into the math of it all, but I think we can all agree that this is an abysmal conversion rate.
And though we’ve all heard that follower counts are just vanity metrics, the sheer numbers in this case force us to really come to terms with the fact that while IG Experts and Coaches will sell you on the importance of growing your audience, those numbers will only go so far.
Which comes to what marketing experts and social media managers largely missed in their speculations that the age of the IG influencer culture was over: the fact that despite being labelled an influencer, there was never a strong sense of community built into Arii’s brand.
There are the influencers who have simply amassed a large following and influencers who have a tight-community behind them.
There’s a significant difference between someone espousing a lifestyle and becoming an online icon for their gorgeous vaycay pics and last-minute-jetting to Paris, and someone who has built a business that influences as a business model.
It’s the why someone with 2-point-something million followers can fail to sell 36 pieces of clothing, while a significantly smaller account of say 40k followers can sell-out their merch within hours of it’s debut: it comes down to the relationship the influencer has cultivated with their following.
Having a large audience and having a COMMUNITY are not one and the same.
Here’s why your audience is just a group of followers and not yet a community:
1. Your values aren’t clear – and you’re not entirely sure what your audience values either.
If you haven’t gotten clear on your personal values yet check out this guide on how to understand your core values (we’ll still be here when you get back).
Shared values create a sense of belonging and safety. They shape the culture of any organization, especially online spaces where other physical signals (body language, tone, experience of physical space, etc) aren’t present. When we know what others in our group value, we feel more comfortable sharing vulnerably.
Ask yourself: how am I demonstrating what I value? Do I know what my followers value? How can I create a space where shared values and different values are welcome equally?
2. Your content lacks a sense of reality.
For the purposes of this piece, let’s use a broad definition of influencer: anyone who has an online presence that impacts the lives of those in their audience. This means that follower count is irrelevant; it’s about the impact.
When your content documents your life and your craft – influencing those in your audience consuming your content – connection is built when there’s a strong relatability quotient. When folks in your audience can see what you’re posting and sharing as relevant to their life in relation to their own experiences.
This is also the major pitfall of the brands we love to hate on: faux vulnerability. And boy do we love to come for the celebs that really don’t know how to play it out on social.
Look, Kendall Jenner, I’m sure your acne woes were indeed painful AND ALSO you have more money to spend on skincare than I’ll probably ever see in my lifetime.
Please don’t try to sell me on an acne experience that is in no way shared without acknowledging the difference in our circumstances.
On the flipside of faux celeb vulnerability, we have Chrissy Teigen who not only has been incredibly open about her infertility, her misscarriage, and her mental health struggles, she also posts things like “I ate fun dip with my fingers and Grammys are tomorrow. I’ve tried everything please help”
Similar to Jenner, Teigen is indeed pointing out an occasion most of us will never attend – the Grammys – but the difference is what the shared point of connection is: stained fingers before an event. Teigen’s success with social media is witty rapport and incredibly honest commentary COMBINED WITH her consistent acknowledgement of her privilege.
So yes, we all know IG is curated, and we still love when a celeb or influencer acknowledges that this is not the way for everyone.
Building community rather than followers is having a sense of when to celebrate what you have in common with your audience vs acknowledging privilege, circumstances, and perspective.
3. You’re asking for a comment not a discussion.
Yes, we all know a strong engagement rate is key to a strong social presence, and if I read one more “how to write a powerful CTA to guarantee a comment” I will turn into Nick from New Girl doing his “leaping”:
Please believe me when I say I’ve seen accounts with 20k followers with a lower conversion rate than accounts with “only” 700 followers.
The difference is a strong CTA (which is sometimes a “comment your fave —-” or “gimme a 👍🏻 if you feel me” but not always).
Every post doesn’t need to change the world; there needs to be a combination of posts for shits & giggles as well as opinion pieces. Think the variety section in the newspaper (remember those?): meet folks where they’re at while also pushing their perspectives and understandings on what you do. By being judicious about when you directly ask for a reaction you allow folks the space to process for themselves, whether on the app (hey comments and engaging discussion in the DMs) or with each other in their own lives outside your community.
Which is a perfect segue into our final point on why your IG followers aren’t necessarily a real community:
4. We have no idea why you do what you do
This gets a little bit at values, but it also gets to your mission and vision: why are you doing the work that has garnered you attention or followers?
How do you see your work changing the world at large?
What are your personal benchmarks for impact?
First off, you should definitely be able to answer these for yourself, regardless of being able to articulate them to your audience. If you’re not, slow your roll on growing your following, and go back to the foundation of why you do what you do and for whom do you do it.
It’s no small thing to give someone a spot in the gallery of content we create for ourselves when we follow, like, comment, and DM someone. Make your content worthy of the space it takes up by asking yourself how it adds to our feeds. Why it deserves to be a part of our scroll.
This is where posting for the sake of the algorithm doesn’t do much for you in the long run – we can all smell that forced BS a mile away.
What this really comes down to is cultivating a number of touchpoints for your followers to deeply identify with you and each other.
And by cultivating the shared values of your following, you can curate the community you’re building.
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