How I have become a virtual reality influencer (…and you can, too)

This post was originally published on this site

It was October, 4th 2017. I was on the bus returning home from a little local event for the Chinese mid-Autumn festival and in my mouth I had still the taste of the mooncake that I had eaten. I started looking my facebook notifications to chat with some friends. There was a message from VR enthusiast Enrico Speranza, a nice guy that I got to know through VR communities and that is building a VR-Awesome repository and a VR worlds platform called Mayaverse. I opened the message and the text was like “Well, congratulations… #34 is absolutely not a bad ranking in the top 100”. Honestly, I hadn’t even a single clue of what he was talking about, until I noticed the link that he had added to the message. It was this one:

In that moment I discovered that I’ve become a Virtual Reality influencer.

Wow. Last year I was considered by almost no one and now I’m in the top 50 list of world influencers of virtual reality! How has this happened?

Since to enter this classification I used advice read on the web, I want to return the favor back to the community, telling you how I got my little share of popularity, so that you can benefit from this post and become an influencer as well… hope even better than me (honestly speaking, I feel strange in being defined as an influencer, I even hate that word, as I’ve explained in this other post of mine).

Header of the Onalytica report that identified the top 100 brands, magazines and influencers of VR ecosystem

The long road

Let me be honest, there is no simple way of becoming influencers. Or better, there are some, but are not always viable:

  1. If you have a lot of money, you can start spending a lot in marketing, ghost writing for your posts, influencer marketing and such and gain followers easily;
  2. You may have luck. Maybe you just publish online a photo of your cat and become super-famous. Maybe your video becomes viral on Youtube. Maybe. But this happens really rarely.. it is like winning the lottery. So, don’t count on this… if then it happens, well, I’m really happy for you.

No, it won’t happen

Unfortunately, I’ve little money and even less luck. So, I had to conquer everything working hard, over time. Every damn day. If life gives you lemon… well, make a gin tonic.

You will need a lot of time and lot of efforts to arrive where you want to arrive, it will be damn long and hard. Keep that in mind.

The long road. Actually, this is even too short…

Just start

When I was working at my Immotionar startup, my buddy Gianni Rosa Gallina one day told me that I had to recover my dormant Twitter account to start spamming a bit about our project. It was 2015 maybe and I absolutely wasn’t into social media. I had no willing to do that (I was too lazy), but Gianni encouraged me to start, just to tweet a bit some links of our blog posts. In the end, I did that and in the first times I just started tweeting some VR-related links that he gave me to read. I started tweeting them with some random hashtags (#VR, #gamedev, #VirtualReality, etc…) and I noticed that I started getting some followers. I still thank Gianni for his initial effort: it helped me in getting where I am now.

This is how it all began. As you can see, there is not some epic beginning: I just started using again a twitter account I left dormant some years before and tweeting random VR-related links.

Takeaways from this:

  • You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy the ticket. So, if you want to have visibility, you have to start having a social account and using it. It may seem obvious, but it is not;
  • You must not start in a perfect and beautiful way. What I’ve learned all over these years is that the best is doing things in continuously improving iterations. Start doing crappy things, then continuously improve over time. If you want to start the perfect way, you begin reading a bazillion marketing links and in the end you never begin. JUST START.

I’ll report this sentence that everyone uses because it is very cool quoting some Chinese people

Improve over time

Starting in a crappy way is awesome and lets you get confidence with the mean. Over time you’ll start realizing all the errors you make and you’ll correct them. You have to improve your social media strategy over time, or you will get stuck into being just another social media user. You have to aim at the stars, so you want to make a great use of your digital tools.

What have I done to improve myself? Well, various things… for instance:

  • I started analyzing when tweets get the most attention. I know that if I tweet something when here in Italy is like 10 am, I get almost no retweets. If I tweet the same thing at 10 pm, I get likes and retweets. So I concentrate my tweets on the most promising timings;
  • I started using the right hashtags: some hashtags give you retweets from some twitter bots: when I started, for instance, adding #alldev got me automatically a retweet from the “All Dev Bot” that had something like 700 followers. So, when tweeting something related to development, I always added that hashtag;
  • I started using Tweetdeck to schedule my tweets;
  • I started following and interacting with other VR influencers. I learned how they behave, what makes them successful and tried to emulate them a bit. Furthermore, interacting with them, I got the attention of some of their followers;

These are the most used VR-related hashtags on Twitter (Image by Onalytica)

Then I went to the next level, mixing different platforms:

  • I started using other social media, like Linkedin, Reddit, Medium, Hacker News, Quora and try to give my contribution on all of them. Being part of communities let me gain even more followers (the already cited Enrico Speranza, known on Facebook, is now a follower of mine on Twitter, for instance) and read new interesting news as soon as they come out, so I could repost them on my social media and increment my userbase. More social media means more place where starting and improving… for instance, now I’m improving my presence on Linkedin, after having started in a crappy way there as well;
  • I opened my blog. Social media were not enough to express my point of view and a blog was the right fit for me: so I started my adventure with The Ghost Howls. Publishing interesting content got me more followers and since the restyle of my blog that I performed on April, my followers base is growing every day. Even with my blog, I started writing very rough posts and then evolved to write complicated posts, like this one on Brain Computer Interfaces and VR.

So, the process is always this: start, someway. Then learn how you can improve and iterate. Continue this way, forever. Then start using a new platform in a mediocre way and start improving with that, too.

But, how can you improve? Well, there are 3 means:

  1. You just notice things. For instance, if you notice that every time you write “potato”, you get 3x retweets, just talk every time about potatoes;
  2. You imitate someone else. If you see that someone of your favorite YouTubers tweets in a certain way that is successful, you can just copy a bit of his style;
  3. You learn by dedicated articles. Looking for “how to become a twitter influencer”, “how to use social media”, “10 secrets twitter strategies” on Google, you’ll surely find a lot of advice on twitter. Then there are dedicated courses and books.

Just to show you how in my opinion you just have to start and then improve, I’ll show you this terrible video I’ve done some time ago. I wanted to experiment with Twitch and Youtube, so I made this review of a game, just to discover, during the review, that the experience wasn’t actually a game. The result is pretty horrible and I got a comment from a guy saying that watching the video is like “watching a baby taking its first shit”.

But that’s ok, I’ve just started using the medium… I’ll be better. But I’m proud that I’ve tried experimenting with a new platform.

Be personal

No one likes following bots just tweeting news. Start expressing your opinions, start interacting with other people. On Linkedin, for instance, I’ve discovered that is better adding a little personal sentence together with each link that I’m sharing.

Give your personal touch to everything, people have to recognize you. For instance, in my blog, I like having an informal style and using memes while talking about Virtual Reality. Someone may not like it… but for those people, there are more serious magazines like Upload VR or Road To VR.

The meme used in my post where I explained the difference between presence and immersion

This also means finding your right path: for instance I’m more into writing long virtual reality posts than into making videos (I think you got it looking that horrible video above), so even if most people prefer making videos and become Youtubers, I still like WordPress and Medium. That’s me.

Be great

Apart from the personal touch, my advice is to try also to be kind, helpful, funny. Imagine the kind of influencer that you would like to meet and become that one. For instance, I try to:

  • Always answer to e-mails, comments, and tweets (or put at least a like);
  • Help other fellow VR enthusiasts in having visibility: I tweet about indie VR projects, I write articles on them and I’m happy if thanks to me they get even a single customer;
  • Joking with all people writing to me;
  • Being informal.

I think that this willing to help people and have a nice relationship with them is the one of the reasons for my little success. This post itself is the product of my willing of helping other people entering the VR social world. And I advise you to be this way, both on social media and in life since people will look at you as a positive person and this is really beautiful.

These are things that I like in all other influential people. For instance, I love interacting with the super-XR-influencer Malia Probst on Twitter, because not only she’s a very talented person, but she also makes me always laugh with her comments. Be awesome as her.

Be confident

I’m never the smartest guy in the room. Most of my followers are better than me in XR, startups or such. That’s ok. I accept this and continue tweeting. I’m honored of having such smart people in my communities and I’m happy of learning with them.

Don’t let the “I’m not smart enough” syndrome stop you. As Chinese people say, “There are people beyond (this) person, and skies beyond (this) sky”, meaning that “No matter how good you think you are, there is always someone out there that is better”. Even the smart people that you envy have people somewhere smarter than them. That’s part of the game. Just start and improve.

Believe in yourself

Be interesting

You have to write interesting stuff to have people following you. “Interesting” may mean different things, but the gist is that following you must be worth it.

Talking about Virtual Reality, this may mean for instance:

  • Reporting virtual reality news as soon as they happen;
  • Making amazing virtual reality hs/sw reviews (better if this happens for products in preview). TESTED VR guys have become popular this way;
  • Giving your personal point of view of the various events of the virtual reality ecosystem;
  • Making virtual reality tutorials, especially for poorly documented topics;

There are a lot of other interesting examples. But I think you got it: be interesting for your readers. Remember the old sentence “To obtain value, you have to give value”.

In my case, inside my blog I write a bit of all the above contents. Furthermore, each week I send to my newsletter subscribers a selection of the most interesting virtual reality news of the week, so that they can avoid reading all the VR news every day and stay updated the same. I try being of help.

Some people for instance just make fluff posts on VR and pretend to have lots of followers. It doesn’t work this way: just reporting Upload VR news won’t take you anywhere.

Be damn persistent

If you have ever seen the movie Any Given Sunday, you surely remember the motivational speech that Al Pacino makes to his players. Otherwise, take 5 minutes and watch it.

That is exactly what you have to do, fight inch by inch for each one of your objectives, day after day. You have to die for every single inch. Every inch you conquer will cost you a lot, but in the end you may arrive at the touchdown area.

I’m saying this because the beginning is really depressing: you tweet and get not even a retweet. You write an amazing article on your blog and only 10 people read it. You write to journalists and interesting people and they don’t even consider you. You invest a lot of time and you get nothing… you start thinking about giving up: those social media are so useless.

You have to fight for each new follower, for each like. With time you’ll have your success… but it will really require a lot of time to see even your first results. Don’t give up. Never. If results are not coming the way you wanted, then it just means that you have to improve: learn new tactics and try again. trial&error plus persistence can take you really the long way.

It will require you a lot of time, it will require you a piece of your life. Because every day you’ll have to open your social media channels and use them, even if you’re tired and you don’t feel like doing it. It is an investment you have to do. A sacrifice. Using the social media is not only fun, it is a job.

So, you have to plant a seed today and keep growing that little tree with water, manure, and fatigue, until one day, after years from the initial moment, you start seeing the first apple. And it will be so sweet, and biting it you’ll realize that all your hard work has been worth it.

If you’re thinking about giving up, send me a tweet and I’ll remember you that you have to continue fighting and optionally I’ll also send you a panda GIF.

Continue forever

There’s no stage where you say “Ok, I’m an influencer” and you can start resting. On the contrary, the more you go on, the more you have to improve and give value to your followers. The process never ends, so start only if you are confident in having this job for your whole life.

Look at me: I’m just at place #34 of the classification… I would like to climb the ladder to arrive at least at #25 next year. I would like more engagement. I would like to connect better with virtual reality corporates like Oculus and Valve. I would like to help more the VR community. I’ve a really long long road to go in front of me. And I hope to continue this journey with you all.

Hope you liked this post. If this is the case, please share it on your social media and come visiting me at my AR/VR blog The Ghost Howls.

And if you want to connect with me, just contact me on Twitter or Linkedin. I would be glad of hearing from you.