February 4, 2021 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The foundation for Influence on social media is followership. This tussle for followership has all but crippled the influencer marketing industry before it has fully taken off. Everyone has probably encountered some smart con on social media aimed at getting them to follow some influencer or the other.
Bots and follower-sales are now randomly used to bloat followership metrics and the worst part of the entire situation is that when we look under the hood, many of these “influencers” have no message and no demonstrated expertise in anything.
However, on the other end of the aisle, we see the influencers who have built followership based on a clearly demonstrated insight, knowledge, and empathy in their field and for their audience. Names such as Felix of PewDiePie and Lena of Panthere_Instyle immediately come to mind after having garnered millions of followers, doing very simple things professionally.
The path to an enduring social media influence is built on expertise, skills, charisma, and empathy. In the absence of empathy, it is easy to erode all other indices along the way. If influence is the foundation for building a great social media presence and business, then influencers should be paying more attention to all of these indices.
Empathy is the difference between delivery and connection
As the world battles with the Covid-19 pandemic and the attendant lockdowns, we have seen a startling rise in social media usage and even more so from older demographics who didn’t seem interested in social media until now.
Creating engaging content requires substantial skill, but maintaining loyal followership requires more than skill. It requires delivering the content with a consistent level of empathy for your audience and why they follow you. The tendency of Influencers to keep switching motives, strategy, and message in a bid to grow their base or to just jump on trends often translates to followers as desperation.
Pathere_Instyle’s over 4.2 million followers experienced rapid growth in 2020 when Lena, the Ukrainian-American fashion Influencer who runs the massive platform, began opening up about her almost 24-year struggle with chronic illnesses and how it affected her fashion styles and general outlook on life. Her willingness to be vulnerable and to give hope, especially in the times we found ourselves in with Covid, endeared thousands more to her platform. They might have come for the fashion, but they stayed because of her empathy and vulnerability.
Fame comes when you are not trying to be famous, but when you are trying to be kind. The Panthere_Instyle enigma’s slogan seems to be spot-on not just for life, but for business as a social media influencer. To truly connect with your audience you need to bring intentional value, be transparent, and be willing to be kind to your audience.
Learning your audience is key to empathetic delivery
In the last three years, we have seen Influencer Marketing agencies sprout up to offer influencer research services amongst other things and pairing businesses with the right influencers.
The core of a marketing campaign is ensuring that you are marketing to the right people. There are too many businesses that have wasted marketing dollars through the wrong influencers, and what is more startling is that many influencers do not even know their own audience and have never studied their audience demographics.
This absence of knowledge makes Influencer Marketing less precise as a marketing strategy.
Empathy cannot be practiced if you do not know who you have in your audience. It is not uncommon to find that what is empathetic to one person might even be offensive to another. One of the strongest foundations on which you can build a strong social media business is in-depth knowledge of your base and this is exactly the same reason why regular businesses need customer research.
Often times, the inability of influencers to connect properly with their audience on social media and thus the inability to utilize their platform to good effect for marketing purposes is because they do not really know their audience. It gets tougher when they have gained their followership by loads of arm-twisting and manipulation.
Empathy is the difference between mere followership and building a community
People come to social media for fun, they come to learn, to laugh, and to blow off some steam. Empathy involves being aware of why they are on your platform. Imagine walking into a PC store to buy a new PC and getting a SmartWatch marketed to you. That awkwardness you are feeling right now is exactly what social media users experience on some influencer’s platforms.
It is perfectly okay to sell on your platform, that is your business by the way, but the beauty of influencer marketing is that people don’t follow you because of the products you market, but the value you bring to them continuously.
In Lena’s words, “If you are an excellent salesperson, you will make money, if you truly love people and seek to give them value, you will build a community.” Lena’s drive to teach people how to deal with chronic illnesses and her bold fashion style and ability to enjoy life in the face of her health challenges has bought her multitudes of goodwill amongst her base.
A community is bound by value, love, and empathy, it feels like family. It is an ancient business reality that people trust and buy from family more than anyone else.
Influencers who get it right are often those who separate marketing content from their generic content and present it for what it is. Your generic content, and your respect and empathy towards your audience, is building a great store of goodwill amongst your followers that you can then draw from when you do business with them.
The more the massive social media platforms become more and more a marketplace, the more people will be put off by it and seek alternatives. At times like this, influencers who are empathetic in their approach and affixed on giving value over making money will stand out more clearly.