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Entrepreneur Office Hours - Issue #120
How to build a big, passionate following on social media
Because of the Bloomberg article about my “TikTok class” I referenced in the previous issue of EOH, I’ve been getting tons of people (especially reporters) asking what advice I give my students about how to build a large social media following. I figured I’d practice answering that question by trying to answer it here for all of you. If you’re interested, be sure to check out this issue’s Q&A.
Before you do that, I hope you’ll enjoy the story I’ve shared in this issue’s first article about how I shutdown a successful company because I was too stupid to recognize how successful it was. Believe it or not, this is easier to do than you might think.
In the second article, I share a story about how a venture capitalist gave me some terrible fundraising advice. Hopefully my advice in the article is better…
Startup success seems like it would be obvious, but judging success in entrepreneurship is harder than most founders think.
The Worst Fundraising Advice I Ever Received Came from a Venture Capitalist
People who know how to invest money aren’t always the people who know how to raise it. Because of this, you may want to avoid asking for fundraising advice from investors.
What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to someone who wants to start building a social media audience?
-Every reporter I’ve spoken with over the past week…
In the wake of the Bloomberg article about my “TikTok class” at Duke I mentioned in my last issue, I’ve had lots of reporters reach out asking to do follow-up stories. At some point during those interviews, most of them ask me the basic question I’ve included above – What’s the most important piece of advice for growing a social media audience? I figured I’d use this space as an opportunity to practice answering it.
It’s a difficult question to answer because, of course, the truth isn’t what anyone wants to hear. Building a big audience on social media is incredibly time consuming and requires tons of work. You’ll experiment a lot, you’ll fail a lot, you’ll get frustrated a lot, and, ironically, the more successful you are, the more you’ll hear from people telling you how much you suck. After years and years of hard work, you’ll maybe have a halfway decent following that could help you make enough money to live on, but probably not. If you’re wildly lucky (and talented) you’ll be able to grow your audience large enough and sustain it long enough to have a lucrative career, but don’t hold your breath.
Again… nobody wants to hear any of that. They want a magic answer that’s going to help them become TikTok famous overnight.
While I can’t give you the magic answer that’s going to help you become TikTok famous overnight, the more I think about the question, the more I realize that I can actually tell someone how to become TikTok famous (or any type of social media famous). Even better, I can do it with two words: create value.
The key for successfully building a social media audience is to always be thinking about how you can create value for people.
At first glance, this advice might seem counterintuitive. Most users of social media think content creators and influencers are selfish people who spend their days posting about how great their lives are. But that’s just not true. Successful creators spend all their time thinking about how they can create value for their audiences. Creating value is what gets people to watch and, more importantly, gets people to share.
Just remember that “value” can take all sorts of different forms. One example is what I’m (hopefully) doing here. I use this newsletter as a space to teach about entrepreneurship, and people get value from learning. They like to learn about fashion and music and cooking and the best exercises to do or the best countries to visit. They also get value from laughing, being entertained, being motivated, being inspired, or any number of other things.
Since anyone can find some way of providing value to other people, anyone can build an audience on social media. You just have to figure out what your audience values, and then you have to figure out how to consistently provide content that creates that value.
To be fair, creating that content is ridiculously difficult, but, like I told you in the beginning of this answer, building a big social media audience isn’t easy.
Got startup questions of your own? Reply to this email with whatever you want to know, and I’ll do my best to answer!