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How to Turn a Social Media Following Into a Business

There’s a good chance you have a significant social media following. You might be an amateur photographer with tons of Instagram followers, or you might manage a Facebook page with thousands of engaged fans. You might even have a few thousand Twitter followers thanks to your sarcastic jokes and wit.

For the extrovert or social enthusiast, these followings are valuable on a personal level—they entertain you or give you a sense of accomplishment. But did you know it’s actually fairly easy to convert a social following like this into an actual business? Imagine making money from the efforts you’re already taking with just a subtle twist to your current approach. It’s not a fantasy; thousands of entrepreneurs have already seized their moments, and it’s more than possible for you to do the same.

How to Turn a Social Media Following Into a Business

The Basis for Income Potential

If you’ve ever wanted to make extra money online, you need to know it all starts with either informing a population, entertaining them, or giving them something practically valuable. Any of these things will be able to attract a sizable stream of traffic to the source of your choice. Once you have traffic in place, you can monetize that traffic in almost any way you choose.

When you have a following in place, you’re already halfway there. You can take that audience and earn money from them, whether that’s directly (by selling them something) or indirectly (by selling advertising that they’ll eventually see).

There are a few more steps to the process, but by now, you should see the potential.

How to Transform Your Following

That sounds nice in theory, but how are you actually going to turn your followers into paying customers, or otherwise monetize their interest?

#1. Identify your market

First, like with any business, you’ll need to identify your target market. Who are you really appealing to? How big is this potential demographic? For example, let’s say you post images of food at local restaurants and give brief reviews of the food you ate; your target audience would be food lovers in your city. How many are there? Why do they like your posts? And most importantly, what can you do to keep them happy? The more you learn about your demographics, the better you can serve them.

#2. Research the competition

Next up, you’ll need to research the competition (again, just like with a normal business plan). What other restaurant reviewers are currently capitalizing on your audience? What’s important here isn’t necessarily having the least number of potential competitors—instead, it’s about finding a way to differentiate yourself from the competition. What makes you different? How can you appeal to a different niche?

#3. Come up with a way to monetize

This is the big question since there are many different directions you could take: how are you going to monetize your traffic? Are you going to sell some of your premium content or sell subscriptions to view your content? Will you offer your content for free and instead sell advertising or use affiliate links to monetize? Would you consider consulting or selling your services directly? Research the options here and think carefully. You’ll want to choose an option that allows you to make a profit. For example, if your readers wouldn’t pay for an eBook, it’s not worth the time to write it. If your affiliate links wouldn’t get clicked, you wouldn’t end up making any money. Run test scenarios and conduct surveys before you invest too heavily in any one method, and pay close attention to how much of your time each method takes for ongoing maintenance.

#4 Brand yourself

Next, if you haven’t done so already, you’ll need a brand. This could be the title of your blog or company, or your own personal brand—what’s important is having a consistent identifier that your followers (and eventual customers) will be able to recognize and grow familiar with. Consider your image, voice, and realm of expertise, and concretely define those characteristics—for example, are you outgoing or reserved? Is your voice precise and professional, or casual and laid-back? You’ll need to consider your audience’s needs carefully here, as their desires should dictate your angle.

#5. Build out a website

Social media is a good place to cultivate follower relationships, but it’s hard to monetize there. Instead, flesh out a website (again, if you haven’t already), with your branding in mind. Create multiple pages rich with content, and show off some of your best work. From there, you’ll be able to integrate your monetization strategy—whatever that might be—and once you launch, you should be able to start making money by forwarding your traffic with syndicated links and other traffic conduits.

#6. Develop your audience

Once step five is out of the way, you’ll have the foundation for a steady business. These last two steps are for ongoing development. Your next step should be building your audience to new heights; consider reaching out to new people on your social network of choice or expanding to other networks. Encourage your users to share your material more than usual and consider advertising to promote yourself. The bigger your audience grows, the more money you’re going to make.

#7. Test and refine

Finally, remember that your revenue stream isn’t going to be perfectly optimized from the get-go. Experiment with different tweaks, such as changes to your content lineup, different design elements on your site, or even targeting new demographics, and see what supports the growth of new income. You can even try multiple monetization strategies at once to see which ones work best.

If you have a social media following, you’re already doing something right. With only a handful of steps and a respectable effort, you can reasonably turn that following into a thriving, stable business. It may not allow you to retire early or quit your day job right away, but with the right attention, research and growth, there’s no upper limit to what you’re able to earn.

Image: Shutterstock


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Jenna is a freelance writer and business consultant who covers business, technology, and entrepreneurship. She's lectured for several universities, and worked with over 100 businesses over the course of the last 15 years. Follow her on Twitter.

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