Building a large social media following can transform your life. With access to a huge network, you can unlock resources, revenue streams, and, of course, the potential to get your big ideas out into the world. Establish yourself strongly in a specific market—and become an “influencer”—and brands will even start seeking you out (and hooking you up with free swag) in hopes of getting some love in your social streams. Of course, ascending to social media royalty isn’t easy. It’s a vast battlefield out there. But with a strategic plan of attack, and the best technology, you can capture your niche and reign over it with pride.

Pick Your Battles

The British tried to rule the whole world and eventually failed in spectacular fashion. Remember this as you consider your personal social media strategy, because you can’t engage on every front. If you try creating content for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, Tumblr, and Vine individually each and every day you’ll find your kingdom collapsing around you. Either you won’t have time to do anything else, or your efforts on each platform will be weak and unfocussed.

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Start by identifying the type of content you’re primarily producing and sharing already. This can be pictures, videos, written text, or blog posts— even audio recordings, music, or podcasts. From there, you’ll need to figure out which social network and audience best matches your style. Facebook is great for connecting with friends, but if you’re a visual artist you need to be on Tumblr. Comedians have found great success on Vine and YouTube. Writers seem to love the confines of 140 characters on Twitter, and it’s the perfect
place to share links to things you’ve written as well.

A great way to maximize your exposure is to focus on smaller or niche sites where your content can really take off. While people watch billions of hours of video on YouTube every month, new channels are lucky if they’re able to garner even a few dozen subscribers. But if you’re dead-set on making videos, a smaller niche site or app might be the ticket. Ever heard of Socialcam? For a time it was the hottest new network on the planet, an “Instagram for video” years before Instagram actually added video. I have 1.6 million followers there, because it matches my skills perfectly. My background is in video, and I’ve honed my on-screen presence contributing to the Today show, CNN, HLN, and Fuse. I leveraged my advantage by putting my skills to work on the small screen and producing killer (if I do say so) mobile videos. As a bonus, because I started on the network early, I was able to produce content day after day to stand out and build a large following there. Don’t be afraid to be an early adopter of new social platforms.

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Seize More Resources

China invented gunpowder, but it was the armies of Europe who perfected its use to spread their influence (and bullets) far and wide. If you’re just starting to ramp up your social media efforts, don’t reinvent gunpowder; instead, take advantage of what others have already built by leveraging the latest in social apps.

Just because you’re a photographer who’s decided to zero in on Instagram, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paying attention to other social networks or have your content be visible there. Test drive a few different “dashboards”—apps like TweetDeck and Hootsuite that show you the big picture by displaying multiple social streams on-screen at the same time. Now you can see the larger conversation or engage with followers on multiple networks from a single view. Instagram might be the best place to post new pictures you’re taking, but by posting those same pictures to Facebook and Twitter as well, you’ll get tons more engagement. Dashboards save you time (no need to visit the Twitter or Facebook websites) and make you incredibly efficient.

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Of course, you can become even more streamlined by using tools that automatically share your content everywhere natively. Cross-posting your social content with a dashboard isn’t seamless, since your audience might have to click through a link to see your picture (think about how Instagram photos work when posted to Twitter). IFTTT (If This Then That) is a tool that puts a powerful collection of functions in your pocket. For instance, you could take a photo from Instagram and then cross-post it to a dozen other social networks, or it could scan your inbox for new Twitter follower notifications and automatically write people back thanking them. Buffer is a another great app that plugs into your Twitter account and constantly shares posts from a queue at regular intervals throughout the day.

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It Takes a Village

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and no matter how big a deal you think you are, nobody in this world succeeds entirely on their own. Social media is by definition about people, and therein lies your most valuable tool for success.

My buddy Gary Vaynerchuk turned his family’s small liquor store business into a major online wine retailer by being an early web video pioneer with his Wine Library TV show. Gary is an early adopter of virtually every network out there, including dozens you’ve probably never heard of, and he sets the bar high by trying to respond to every tweet or comment he gets and doing his best to help everyone who comes to him on social. Just ask anyone he’s personally helped with a business problem on Facebook. Or ask those who received a free bottle of wine from him because they asked him what it tastes like. But while Gary is just one person, he makes an around-the-clock impact because his followers are more like advocates; they love to amplify his content.

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If you’re just beginning to take your social media to the next level, it’s easy to get discouraged when you’re posting to a small following. While everyone wants to be friends with someone who has a million followers, what you need to do instead is build relationships with people in your league. Ten people with 10,000 active followers who retweet you can make a piece of content go viral in a single day.

Just don’t be an annoying brat constantly trying to get someone’s attention, because nobody likes a court jester. Other kings want to feel as if they’re at least dealing with a prince.

Hit Your Targets

Sometimes it pays to try and buy up the land before attempting to win it in battle. Similarly, you shouldn’t be afraid to spend some money to win big in the social media game. I don’t mean buying fake followers, because that trick can give the wrong impression, especially when you’re caught. Instead, spend some money to attract exactly the followers you want. On Facebook, running a paid social campaign is the perfect way to target exactly the kinds of followers you want. Facebook knows so much about its users that if you want to target male fixed-gear bicycle fanatics in Austin, TX, between the ages of 25 and 40, you can promote a post, picture, or story directly to that audience. On Twitter, while you don’t have the same level of analytics available, you can easily gain like-minded followers or insert and amplify your opinion into a trending conversation with a promoted tweet.

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