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The 3 Key Factors to An Online Business That People Want to Follow

entrepreneur on social media

Ever opened up the Instagram app hoping for a few minutes of mindless scrolling and instead get hit with a truthbomb you aren’t emotionally equipped to process so late at night?

My unhelpful phone habits aside, here’s what struck me the other night: “My peers are not my competition.”

Which is nothing new, per se, and I couldn’t tell you why it hit differently, but it did.
[Probably because I’ve been thinking about these 3 factors for some time now and I saw a connection to a blog post draft.]

At any given moment there are hundreds upon hundreds of folks building their own businesses, serving diverse audiences, doing their best to build a career that serves them exactly how they see fit.

At the most basic level, they all do versions of the same thing.
Processes may vary.
Price points definitely do.
Ideal client personas have some differences.

But it all boils down to distinct basic functions of business – so why do folks show up for YOU specifically?

There are 3 key factors for why folks want to follow *you*: brand identity, brand presence, and brand loyalty.


core values and how you express those values to followers and fam; the manner in which you present yourself to the public;


how you show up, where you show up, and how you interact with those around you (followers and peers);


established shared values in the name of your brand’s mission; building a relationship (and setting expectations);

While these external characteristics are not a formula for if your brand will have a strong following or not, they are solid indicators of whether or not you’ve got humans behind the numbers or just some vanity metrics that look good on paper.

But we all want to know a formula!
We want that control and certainty!
We are, after all, only human.

And that’s where these intangibles come in.

When we focus on strengthening brand identity, brand presence, and brand loyalty, our businesses transcend the numbers game of vanity metrics.

If you want to build a business with human impact, you need to refocus from fueling a fan base to building a Brand Fam. 

For a rundown on followers vs community, check out this previous post.

For the sake of brevity, a following (rather than a community) is characterized by:
1 – a clear lack of values;
2 – disconnect from the reality of the audience vs the reality of the content creator;
3 – attitudes rooted in vanity metrics (aka just gimme the likes);
4 – an unclear purpose for content creation;

Obviously no one I want to hang out with sets out to build a brand online with the characteristics listed above, but the pressure to build-grow-build-grow-hustle-hustle-hustle sometimes gets the best of us (totally understandable – I cringe to remember my early IG days).

There were times where all I wanted was to see that follower count go up, regardless of my engagement and actual use of the app (ahhhhhhhhhh vanity metrics – the softest stroke for the ego).

But ultimately – and we all know this! – it’s far better for the success of a business to grow it slow and steady and consistently with the right people (aka Brand Fam)  than to have a flash-bang of followers who aren’t invested in whatever it is you do (aka Fan Base).

Let’s look at these three factors and play out what each looks like within a Fan Base and a Brand Fam.


your brand’s core values and how you express those values to followers and fam; the manner in which you present yourself to the public.

Neither corporations or brands are people but let’s think of brand identity in this context as we understand personal identity: the fact of being who we are as perceived by others.

Recognizable brand identity ranges from visual cues to language and is all rooted in your core values.

  • Visuals: expression of both your values and the values of your customer
  • Language: both the words used and how they are used to create an impression on those that read them

Folks want to follow someone who KNOWS who they are, knows what they do, why they do it, and the impact they want to have on the world.

We love a confident CEO.

So while yes, there is a lot of internal work at play here, the key to brand identity is laying a strong internal foundation to shape and mold the perception of your work from the outside.

For a brand focused purely on a Fan Base, their brand identity is built around their vanity metrics.
Sense of worth, expertise, and success is rooted in those numbers.

But guess what clients, collaborators, and sponsors are starting to care more and more about: values.

Brand identity in a Brand Fam means folks automatically link you to shared values and your brand name comes up in the context of those values.

Struggling with identity? Check your values.

free download Values Check example pages


how you show up, where you show up, how you interact with those around you (followers and peers);

You know those folks who step into the party and you just naturally gravitate toward them?

That’s presence, my friend. And your brand presence is one of the things that brings folks back for more.

HOW YOU SHOW UP: your presence is the manner in which you show up online

WHERE YOU SHOW UP: where do folks know where to find you and where can they refer others to you

HOW YOU INTERACT: this is both with your followers – the folks in your audience eager for your thoughts – as well as your peers. Just being a friend to your audience, and not playing nicely with your peers, will only take you so far.

Your brand presence is the external footprint of where you hang out and in what manner (tied closely with identity).

When we’re mired in the minutiae of drumming up fans, we’re far less concerned about the quality of our presence. It’s about checking off the boxes of presence: did I post x-times per week? Am I getting enough comments? Have I sent an email this week?

On the flip side, with a well cultivated Brand Fam, brand presence is rooted in the quality of how we show up for our audience as well as our peers.

We want to leave a positive footprint, yes, but we also have clear and authentic connection with our audience and peers.

Struggling with presence? Discover your archetype for how you best connect with your audience.

archetype quiz


established shared values in the name of your brand’s mission; all about the relationship (and setting expectations).

There’s a certain amount of brand loyalty that isn’t in your control no matter what you do.

HOWEVER in the context of what you can cultivate in terms of brand loyalty, it all starts with shared values. 

When we buy small we do it because we know the face behind the biz, we know the human at the helm, and we want to support that person. Values are one of the best ways to build rapport and give folks a look at who you are.

You don’t need to say you value something, you need to SHOW US through your identity and presence

The other half of the brand loyalty equation that you have some measure of control over: setting community expectations.

You let folks know what you stand for with your identity and presence, and while you’re showing them, let them know how they can exemplify those values too.

You laid the groundwork for connection with your presence; now lead by example with how folks can interact not just with you but with each other.

Cultivating brand loyalty isn’t about frequency, it’s about consistency.

If we’ve faltered with identity and presence, odds are our fan base is loyal when we’re top of mind, but kind of forgettable when we’re not right in front of them. Because there’s not great clarity, there’s no reason to be loyal to use and there’s no expectation for what we want.

And loyalty is where the Brand Fam sings: when you’re cultivating a Brand Fam, loyalty naturally grows exponentially because there are clear expectations and folks are highly invested in YOU and the brand.

Struggling with loyalty? Show that you’ve got some skin in the game and bring a new level of authenticity to your content with a One Sock Session.

Let’s bring it all together: the Fan Base vs the Brand Fam:


  • Vanity metrics are king [brand identity];
  • Few discussions or meaningful interactions [brand presence];
  • Top of mind when interacting but kind of forgettable when not confronted with the brand… [brand loyalty].


  • Recognizing your influences and bringing your name up in spaces of shared values [brand identity];
  • Consistent interaction with you AND EACH OTHER [brand presence];
  • Regardless of followers, high engagement rates indicate investment in your brand and your message/mission/product/work [brand loyalty].

If you want to grow a business folks love to follow, don’t fuel a fan base – build a brand fam for a biz that lasts through every pivot.

Fan bases have a blind, singular, tenuous loyalty.

Brand fams grow, expand, and share between families.

And THAT’S why that IG post hit just a little different – because if you’re really growing a brand fam, you know there’s more than enough to go around.

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  1. […] Ahhhhhh yes, one of my favorite topics in online business: community [pssst: I’ve already written about building an authentic community and how to define values that attract your dream peeps.] […]

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