By using social media, we make ourselves active and constant participants in a parallel economy that has permeated into virtually every aspect of our lives. The social economy is driven by its own markers of social currency, like recognition, status and attention from others, but its main commodity iscontent.
Exchanging content, therefore, is the way to attain social currency, and that means that we should constantly be interacting with one another’s content.
For small and large businesses alike, playing in the social economy is not always easy, however. Large companies often try to shortcut their way through the social economy, in essence trying to convert their actual currency into social currency. However, the content they share is not always genuine, and as a result it often doesn't work as well as they had hoped.
Therefore, actual currency is less important than we may have believed: Young companies actually have the opportunity to enter the social economy and amass social currency without the need for millions of dollars of budget. For businesses of all sizes, what we're talking about here -- organic content -- is still the best way to get ahead in the content-drive social economy.
This means that small business owners have an advantage over big brands: They can make closer connections with online audiences and build influence through content and thought leadership.
Thought leadership is the most organic form of social-media marketing, because it requires sharing only what you know. It all starts with content -- blogs, videos, images, editorial content, for example -- through which you provide valuable information. Indeed, quality content can become a crucial part of your online presence, enabling you to establish yourself as an expert on a particular topic.
Maybe you’re a tax lawyer, for instance; you answer common questions regarding tax preparation. Maybe you’re a makeup artist; you create tutorials on YouTube. Perhaps you’re a naturopathic physician; you write articles about natural healing remedies. Whatever your niche, sharing content on social media gives you a direct connection to online audiences and potential prospects.
This is the same place where digital creatives start to build their influence on social media. And while some of these digital creatives will always be willing to use their influence to build awareness for brands, small business owners are different: They can use whatever influence they develop to support their own businesses.
Content becomes a way for owners to reach their target audiences directly, to build credibility and to develop an authentic relationship.
Through this relationship-building, you as an owner may find that followers learn to trust your expertise and may even become prospects if you offer a product or service they need. What’s more, your followers may recommend you to a friend, expanding your influence even more.
Gretchen Rubin, a former lawyer-turned-best-selling author, was curious about the nature of happiness. She started exploring her own theories on the subject and kept a digital journal. Her first book, The Happiness Project, was published in 2009 and became an instant best seller; she was named one of 2015's most influential people in health and fitness by Greatlist.
Rubin had started out merely sharing something she was passionate and curious about. You could do the same. Here are some things to keep in mind when you start developing your social media influence for your own brand and small business:
1. Start With What You Know.
Whether it’s highly specialized knowledge or a passionate curiosity, building influence for small business owners is all about establishing yourself as the expert on a topic.
2. Be Consistent And Focus On Quality Over Quantity.
Don’t worry about cranking out tons of content, especially in the beginning. Pick one channel or content type; then be consistent. Your output will increase over time, but you can’t build an audience without quality content.
3. Pay Attention To The Demand.
Pay attention to what people do and don't engage with. This is usually an indication of what your audience is most interested in. Feed this interest and grow your following even more.
By being true to your personal brand, and focusing on the content you produce, you are in effect becoming your own influencer and generating your own social currency. By meeting users' demand for content, you will be able to grow your brand within your own vertical and make a splash within that "parallel economy."
This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur.