Don’t sell yourself short — Make a wish-list of the brands you want to work with. Make sure they are in line with what you represent. Remember your value and consider any opportunity costs, such as not being able to work with competing brands. Also, remember your time is worth something, so factor that in when a brand asks you to create content for them.
We often use the term “Influencers” to describe people with significant social media followings on platforms like Instagram, Twitter TikTok, Youtube, Linkedin and Facebook. Influencers have become today’s media titans, sought after for everything from product placements to timely trends. What’s the difference between influence and impact? Fans and followers? Sizzle versus staying power?
In this interview series, called, “How To Cultivate Community In A Click to Connect World” we are talking to influencers about how they define success and what we all need to discover about the true nature of influence. As a part of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Bienstock, Founder and CEO of Semaphore, a business, marketing, and financial management firm that represents hundreds of social media influencers; and Tyler Pappas, social media influencer and creator of the popular gaming channels LogdotZip and Craftee.
Thank you for making time to visit with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. How did you discover your career path and what got you to where you are today?
Mike: My background is in finance. When social media took flight and became a medium for hobbyists to secure brand partnerships for those hobbies (i.e. gaming, fitness, skateboarding), I asked myself, “Who is helping these “new to business” people manage brand deals and make sure they aren’t taken advantage of?” “Who is helping them make a real living off of these pastimes they love?” These questions led to the pivot for the Semaphore family of companies to focus on New Media. For the past ten years, my teams have helped social media content creators become rising stars by developing financial strategies that are designed for them to build sustainable, opportunity-rich businesses. We develop a personalized, high touch plan for each influencer — from securing brand partnerships, overseeing licensing deals, filing taxes, managing payments and invoices, and syndicating content.
Tyler: My journey started at the age of 14 — that’s when I first started posting my gaming videos to YouTube. I started making real connections with people in the industry, before it was considered much of one, through the content I posted. Around 2013, I started to take it more seriously and see it as a career path. My channel, Logdotzip, started to grow and after a couple years, I had a million subscribers. Then I turned around, and had 2 million, and then 4 million, and so on. The thing is, I was working up to 15 hours a day, every single day. It just wasn’t sustainable. Plus, I wanted to build out new channels and continue to evolve the content I was making. I originally met Mike through a colleague, and him and Semaphore helped me with my taxes and accounting — but I needed guidance on the business side of the operation as well. It was tough to grow out a small business on my own, AND create compelling, visually impactful content. So Mike and his team helped me to make sense of the business of being an influencer: the contracts, the infrastructure, the marketing…The bigger picture. Now, I have multiple channels and manage a team of 30 people. My newest channel, Craftee, was just awarded as the fastest-growing gaming channel on YouTube.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way that influences how you operate now?
Mike: I think the biggest lesson for me has been there is not one single approach for clients, especially in this business. Each creator is unique and has a specific way of engaging their audience. This means getting personal and really knowing each client, in addition to understanding each client’s audience. This impacts the brands we recommend and the method in which we help them build out their team. It all must be tailor-made. Everything hinges on your willingness to cultivate a relationship and truly listen to what your client needs and wants.
Tyler: My biggest lesson is that you can’t do it all, and you really don’t have to. In fact, you shouldn’t WANT to. In this business, you can be an excellent video editor and find a career. You can be a great graphic designer and find a career. You can be great at audio mixing and find a career. As “social media influencers” grow in popularity, they need to churn out more content. They need a team behind them to help them in order to progress. Once you’re big enough, you get to bring on talented people who are experts in their own fields who can help me deliver great content for my audiences — at a level of quality one could never achieve on their own.
We’re all searching for some good news. How are you using your platform to make a positive social impact?
Mike: My favorite part of my job is when a client recognizes their own value and crosses over to the realm of financial security by doing what they love. The look on their faces when they secure their first brand deal at fair market value — usually many times their “old taken advantage of rate” is the best. That said, once a client turns the corner into being a widely recognized influencer, I love helping funnel that influence to do some good in the world. For example, our client Hyram Yarbro is one of the most altruistic, giving people I’ve ever met. He created an environmentally friendly skin-care brand products where a percentage of each purchase is donated to Thirst Project, which provides someone with a year’s worth of clean drinking water, and Rainforest Trust, which protects the earth from deforestation. And Tyler here! He just participated in a charity live stream with @FallGuysGame that donated $100K to charity. He is constantly finding ways to use his profile to give back.
Tyler: Thanks! Yes, it’s a personal joy that I get to use my platform to contribute to positive change in the world. I have a large audience who love to support the people and organizations I bring attention to that need help. In addition to some of the charity events I’ve been a part of, my fans and I just recently raised over $20,000 for Mobile Loaves and Fishes, which is a local charity here in Austin, Texas that provides food, shelter, and jobs for the homeless. I think anyone blessed with the opportunity to be considered an “influencer” online should do what they can to lead with a “servant heart”.
Many of our readers are influencers as well. Others have tried and have yet to succeed. What words of advice would you offer to aspiring influencers, knowing what you know now?
Mike: First, I would say you need to have a definitive point of view to separate yourself from the 86% of people ages 13–38 who say they want to be social media influencers. This means your content needs to be visually compelling, and you also have to have a voice that is true to YOU. Be inspired by others in your field, but don’t try to be them. Second, once you amass a bit of a following, it’s time to bring in additional resources. You cannot do this alone. You cannot read every contract and understand the legalese. You cannot afford to take on brand partnerships that are not aligned with who you are and what you want to say to the world. In other words, you need to see yourself as a small business. Your job is to be the creative voice. Bring in a trusted team to help you take care of the rest.
Tyler: What Mike just said! But also… think of your mental health. Crossing that threshold into being a successful content creator is a grind. At first, you’re doing it yourself, and it can be long hours making, editing, posting content, and engaging your audience. The audience who loves you and is loyal when you are a small creator may not be 100% positive once you grow. The negative comments, coupled with the long hours, is not great for your mind. I struggled with anxiety and was not taking care of myself well enough. It’s easy to let comments and numbers mean so much to how you view success — and failure. You really need a means to “step out of it” to remind yourself what brings you joy and who matters most to you. Step away from the screen, eat well and exercise, make sure you are taking care of you as a living, breathing person and not just your online channels. So much of that became easier to do once Semaphore got involved.
Success is often a matter of perspective. I’ve always resonated with Henry David Thoreau’s quote, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” How do you see success — or define success — for yourself now?
Mike: Professionally, success is being fulfilled creatively and feeling as part of a team who works hard and feels happy at the end of the day. When my team is collaborating, and mapping client growth strategies, and my clients feel the benefits of the support they need, that is success in my eyes.
Tyler: Creativity is but one form of success to me. It can be hard to know how the audience is going to respond, especially to something new. So, when I get to experiment and post something no one has tried before, and it is well-received, I feel successful. I’m doing something that I love, I am able to be creative and innovative, and I get to work with people I care about, AND make a positive impact in the world. That’s a hard one to beat!
What are your strategies to make room for who and what matters most?
Mike: Have a partner you trust who will remind you that self-care and family-care are what really matters. I mean this in both your business and personal life. You need someone by your side who can support you and allow you to take a break. There’s real beauty in knowing there is someone in the trenches with you who will not let you fail.
Tyler: When you are working by yourself, especially at the beginning, you can feel this extreme weight on your shoulders. “It’s all up to you,” “Your followers are counting on xyz.” You have to meet these incredible expectations. Your inner monologue creates undue stress. I felt such a pressure once I started to gain a bit of a following that I would be in front of the computer, creating and editing content, for 12–15 hours. I would eat in front of the computer. I wasn’t sleeping enough. Obviously, that wasn’t working for me. Learn from my mistakes, everybody! I needed to give myself structured work hours and then “leave” at the end of the day. Setting work hours, eating real meals, and getting outside during the day really helped me. It gave me room to get in a better mental space so I could cater to my real-life relationships.
How do you reduce or mitigate stress?
Mike: I love Halloween! I especially love building elaborate Halloween Sets. I usually build each year’s theme for 6–8 months in advance of the event. It’s been a challenge these past two years, as you can imagine but I’ve vowed to have a Semaphore Halloween event again in 2022 even if we need to be wearing Hazmat suits!
Tyler: I read a lot, I go on walks, I meet weekly with a group of guys where we talk about our trials and our triumphs, and as mentioned, I make time to pray.
I’m going to try a few of your tips, and I’m hopeful our readers will, too. Now it’s time for the big reveal — the moment our readers have been anticipating. What are your “five strategies to cultivate a large & engaged social media community?’ Please share a story or example for each.
- Find your definitive visual and voice POV — Stay true to who you are and what you want to represent. Don’t take short-cuts on the visual content and don’t take shortcuts on yourself just to attract a larger following.
- Amass a team / partnership — When social media first became a platform for monetization, knowing how to do everything yourself was the only way to do it. That’s no longer the case. You can’t scale, you can’t improve without the right support.
- Structure yourself as a business — Start by setting up an LLC or S corporation, preferably working with an advisor. If any legal issues arise because of your content or business activities, you’ll want to protect your personal assets. As your business and revenue grow, you’ll have to file for an S election if you started out with an LLC, to benefit from its tax advantages. Get a business bank account and business credit cards. Keep your records safe for tax time!
- Don’t sell yourself short — Make a wish-list of the brands you want to work with. Make sure they are in line with what you represent. Remember your value and consider any opportunity costs, such as not being able to work with competing brands. Also, remember your time is worth something, so factor that in when a brand asks you to create content for them.
- Don’t stop at one social media channel — The bulk of your following may be on YouTube, for example, but consider the audience you are missing out on. Syndicate that content across multiple platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. You can grow exponentially by strategic cross-platform sharing.
- Respond to your audience — Ok, not EVERYONE, but select a few followers to respond to each day. The fact that you are listening, paying attention, recognizing them, goes a long way in establishing a loyal community.
- Try something new — Once you have a brand look and feel, once your persona is established, don’t stick with the same old forever. Social media moves fast and if you don’t push yourself to evolve, you run the risk of your content looking stale. You started your online channel because you are creative, so continue making things that excite you and your audience will follow.
- Develop a cadence for content — You don’t want to post every day for two weeks and then go dark on you audience for another two weeks. You want to establish a workable rhythm and condition your audience when to check in for new content.
- Share some of your truth — On my channels, I have a “gaming persona.” It’s a hyper-energetic version of me. From time to time, I like to slow it down and talk to my audience about something personal. These videos are some of my most popular and most engaged. While my audience comes to my channel for Minecraft videos, many stay because they established a connection to ME. So, I like to deepen the connection, especially with those who have followed me for a while.
- Bring in support — As you grow your audience, you’ll want to build upon the level of content you are producing. As the level of your content improves, the brands you work with will likely become more recognizable. There is a snowball effect in this business. Don’t try to manage everything yourself. There are firms like Semaphore who can help with the financial component, and there are so many talented, creative minds out there who can partner with you to make the content you always dreamed of.
What do you do to create a greater sense of connection and community among your fans?
Mike: Since my job is to make sure Tyler has fans I’ll let him answer this one.
Tyler: Ha! Well, listening, responding, taking their input into consideration. I do read their suggestions on what they want to see on my channel and try to incorporate them as much as possible. Also, pulling back the curtain from time to time and showing my true self. I respect my followers and they deserve to see different aspects of who I am.
As an influencer, you are, by definition, a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Mike: I would say never give up without reason. So many people give up because they are impatient and close off their opportunity path for success. I clarify without reason because if you are unhappy with the long hours and hard work required for success then you should certainly “give up” and do something else. There is no easy path to success despite the illusion that it’s “easy” to find success in social media. Should you be happy with the journey to the financial success and enjoy the work then keep it up because I’ve seen success beyond clients’ wildest dreams happen to those that put in the effort. It’s hard work but when it pays off it can pay off in a big way!
Tyler: I would like to see the community of content creators leaning on each other more. We’re often experiencing the same things, but we’re operating in our own bubbles. When I talk about the pressure and anxiety I feel in this business, I receive so many messages from not only my followers, but my peers. We should be connecting more. There’s such power in collaboration and sharing insights. It could alleviate a lot of the pain points we all feel individually.
What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?
Mike: You can find more information about Semaphore and how we help social media influencers at semaphorehq.com and follow @semaphorehq on all social channels.
Tyler: You can find Logdotzip and Craftee on YouTube, and follow me @logdotzip on all other social channels.
Thank you for these thought provoking insights. Here’s to your continued success!