Mastering Personal Branding and Social Media: A Roadmap from Influencer to Authority with AJ Kumar

Step into the digital arena with AJ Kumar, the revered Digital Maestro from the Limitless Company, and discover how the world of personal branding and social media can be mastered to establish one's self as a leading authority. My conversation with Kumar is a treasure trove of insider knowledge, as we dissect the journey from influencer to guru, and the steps anyone can take to capture the attention of a global audience. We share a common belief in the transformative power of strategic online positioning, and Kumar's anecdotes from his collaboration with nutritionist Kimberly Snyder are nothing short of inspirational, proving that with the right approach, the digital stage is ripe for the taking.

Imagine being able to command the virtual room, to have every post and strategy resonate with precisely the right audience—this is the art that I explore in rich detail with Kumar. We navigate the balance between authenticity and the pursuit of perfection in content creation, drawing on diverse examples from software development to athletic training. The episode is a playbook for those looking to evolve from generalists to specialists, and eventually, to respected authorities in their fields. Our discussion is a candid and engaging look at how to captivate and engage audiences, ensuring that every share, like, and comment contributes to a larger vision of success.

Wrapping up, we cast a light on the ever-changing algorithms that define our digital experiences and their impact on content trends and audience engagement. As we offer a glimpse into AJ's forthcoming book "Guru Inc.," we delve into the imperative of being data-driven, the rise of AI in content creation, and the anticipated shifts in the digital landscape for the year ahead. For those ready to leap into action and elevate their business, this episode is an indispensable guide, rich with actionable wisdom. Stay tuned for future episodes as we continue to bring you expert insights that promise to shape your digital future.

Episode Transcript


Anika Jackson 00:01

Welcome to your Brand Amplified, the podcast where we interview marketers, publicists and brands to learn their stories, what makes them tick and tips and tricks that make a difference. This is Anika Jackson, and I am so thrilled today to have AJ Kumar on the show. The Digital Maestro by the Limitless Company, who has helped transform so many influencers from influencer ambassador to guru. I’m really excited to dive into this conversation and I know you’ve already kind of teased before we jumped on, but there’s a lot. You’re seeing a lot of activity and movement in the world of what does it mean to be an influencer? How do you get to being a guru? What’s going on in the world of digital today? So thank you so much for being here with us.

AJ Kumar 00:46

Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

Anika Jackson 00:48

Yeah, well, I know you’ve been in digital for over 15 years. I’d love to hear how you got into that as a career choice, because that was still kind of the earlier days of the internet.

AJ Kumar 01:01

Oh yeah, for sure it was yeah, I grew up a little bit of a nerd or a geek or whatever you want to call it, and I used to build these little computers. My dad kind of got me into computers because he was in it. I used to build little PCs when I was younger and high school and stuff. Then eventually, as the internet came about, I had people that I was working with that were wanting to get on it and then my curiosity led me to learn more about it. Then, in 2009, I met up with a friend, a guy named Neil Patel, and he’s a big guru’s guru in the digital marketing space. He was a mentor to me, taught me some of the, showed me the ropes, introduced me to his cousin, sujan Patel, and then we started a company called Single Grain, which was a digital marketing agency, mostly for corporate brands.

01:45

Really, I did that for a little bit for a couple years and then, almost right after I got into working with personal brands, I gravitated toward personal brands just because maybe it was my background, because I grew up in an environment where we looked up to gurus like spiritual gurus, and I always just worked with people that were they’re speakers on stage, they’re motivating people in the real world and then naturally, I guess that translated into the online world. From there, I just started working with different kinds of personal brands. Then, in 2020, I switched up my business model and turned my company, the Limitless Company, into an agency. Now I get to work with all sorts of people, from doctors, holistic doctors, to commercial real estate experts, and help them grow on social media.

Anika Jackson 02:34

Fantastic. I love your backstory and I love the fact that you’re weaving in the spiritual guru and that part of your background into taking it from in-person into online. What I’m also hearing you say is that anybody can achieve a guru status, potentially because you named a few different industries. I’d love to learn more about that and the transition into personal branding. Now, I am a big proponent of personal and professional branding. I’m in or out of the workplace. I think it’s something that it’s what you own. How did you decide how to work with people and how did you figure out the formula? I know this is something everybody beats their heads against like are the algorithms changing? How do we get recognition via social? What are the right channels to choose? How do we make sure that our voices are being heard amongst everything else that’s going on digitally?

AJ Kumar 03:27

Yeah, I don’t know, that’s a million dollar question, right, but essentially I’ll say it like this First off, there is just a path that people take because anyone could become a guru, right, and essentially what a guru is is they’re a popular thought leader. That’s what this conversation is about how do you become a thought leader? And how do you become a thought leader and build your personal brand? Because when you’re a thought leader and you have a brand and you’re really popular, you have all these different opportunities that come to you and that’s what people want. You grow up and you watch these leaders and these experts. In my case, it was like Oprah Ellen, martha Stewart, dr Oz. They’re controversial figures now, or whatever their reasons are, but just like the concept and the dynamics.

04:10

In 2012, I started working with a woman named Kimberly Snyder, who was a plant-based nutritionist, and that’s originally when this whole concept really came about. Because in my world, I come from this background of being a practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming and one of the philosophies of NLP is modeling, where you’re modeling successful people and, based off of modeling successful people, you reverse, engineer that and then you could essentially create a similar result. And back in that time, this was when I was in my early 20s, just got it. I’ve been doing really well in the online marketing space, working with really cool companies, corporations, and then I was able to apply that with a person. So Kimberly had a blog, she had 30,000 visitors coming to her website. She talked about plant-based nutrition and after I partnered up with her, we joint ventured and we started a company called Beauty Detox and then from there, I started working with her to enhance the way she was presenting and positioning herself online. So it wasn’t just a plant-based nutritionist. We started blending in other areas of interest, like spirituality, like yoga and just speaking, and then creating content really strategically, where I would look to see what’s happening in other parts of the world whether it was India, whether it was Europe then realizing like, oh, a lot of what’s happening in the US is modeling what’s happening in Europe, or whatever. It is right.

05:36

Using those ideas allowed us to create content and we took her blog at that time from 30,000 visitors a month to like 500,000 visitors a month, and that’s when my mind really just started to open up, because, again, I was doing this for companies and then the thought of doing it with people was kind of a new concept. So, as this started to happen and it feels like flying when you have hundreds of thousands of people coming to your website every single day, right, and we would capture these people, we would capture their email addresses, we would market to them through emails, we would send them to an e-commerce store, we would sell her books, we would sell digital products. Her company became a multi-billion dollar company and basically, like, as that was happening, I was looking to model Oprah, ellen, martha Stewart, what is it that they’re doing? Like I didn’t understand it, but there seems to be some kind of hierarchy in the United States.

06:28

I grew up in the United States as well and at the same time, I also have I’m Indian and I have this background of India and like I know of, like the caste system or whatever. Right, and I realized in America they have a corporate caste system or whatever, and essentially I called it something. I called it the five levels of thought leadership and, like I said, there’s five different levels. On the first level is this generalist and the generalist. Let me tell you the levels first and then I’ll explain it. There’s the generalist, there’s the specialist, there’s the authority, there’s the guru and then there’s the guru’s guru. The guru’s guru is the Oprah, the yellow and the marsuit, the Dr Oz, and essentially, the higher up you go, the more successful you are, the more magnetic you are to all these opportunities and all this, all the abundance that’s available to us, right, when you become really really good in your field. The people at the top are also really good at content creation. They’re essentially really good at demonstrating their value through content, right, because that’s how we see Oprah, that’s how we see Ellen, we see them on TV shows, we see them on television, right, whereas, fast forward to today, we have smartphones.

07:37

And one statistic that really blows me away and this is something I’m going to share with the students in the next couple of weeks is that the average person spends 2.5 hours on social media every day 2.5 hours. So think about growing up where you might have heard statistics like people spend four hours watching television, five hours watching television, et cetera, right, and over the past decade or so, I was able to witness that shift where more people were watching and consuming content from mobile devices, where less people were watching and consuming content from television devices, and I noticed that trend was happening. So that’s why, with any client or person I was speaking with. I was like, hey, got to get on mobile and one of the best ways was social media, but it wasn’t really social media until TikTok happened, right. And TikTok happened and basically introduced this new way for us to consume content that people have never really even understood, other than, like you could say, gen Z, who was familiar with platforms like Vine I don’t know if you’re familiar with Vine, right, where these six second videos super fast. People loved it and Vine evolved and all the people that were on Vine eventually moved over to YouTube and eventually moved on to TikTok, right. And that’s where that energy that was on Vine which I found out it’s called the frenetic energy right, as angsty teenagers, there’s all this frenetic energy that they have and traditionally, when social media and smartphones weren’t in so much in everybody’s hands, that frenetic energy would be dispersed through activities that we would do like sports or just going outside and running and biking and blah, blah, blah, right. But now, as a smartphone is there, the energy has to go to something and people have started transmitting that through content. So that’s why, when you looked at some of the Vine videos, it felt very unhinged and it felt really weird for anybody other than like a Gen Z right. Over time that style kind of changed and evolved and got modified to longer form content and it’s a lot of the stuff that we see on TikTok and things like that today. But yeah, so that’s the path essentially that I work with people on is that path to thought leadership.

09:56

You start off as a generalist, where you get to kind of experience and figure out what are the things that you’re interested in. Once you find that, you go deep into that and you become a specialist, you try to master that craft, that area, and then, as you do that, once you’re ready to take that to the next level and you get really good, you become an authority. That’s when you start creating more original content, right, whether it’s podcasts, blogs, videos, books, right. You essentially start to create content in a way that starts to shape or influence your industry a bit. But the problem that most authorities have is that they don’t know or people don’t know about them. So that becomes the next level.

10:37

Is the difference between an authority and a guru is someone that is now more focused on charisma. They’re more focused on their camera presence. They’re more focused on using their interests and their passions, to communicate their expertise more effectively. It could be through signature frameworks, right Like there’s a framework I call ROHOC, which is called Return on Attention Created, which is a framework that I’ve created right as I’m on my journey to doing that, and things like that along the way help you get to that status. And now the beauty of social media is that it allows you to do what historically took 10, 20, 30 years for people to do in a fraction of that time.

Anika Jackson 11:18

Yeah, there’s so many things that you’ve mentioned that I want to flag. One is I think a lot of times when people are trying to pay content, they are looking at peers, maybe people in the United States not looking to your point at other countries that are creating the trends that we then follow. So I’m flagging that. You said look at the trends that are going on around the world.

AJ Kumar 11:39

Don’t just say US centric, look at Europe, look at Asia, Look at Africa right, Look all over and see what people are doing, See what’s trending in your industry, because that’s a way that you can differentiate yourself as well 100%, and it’s especially in things like and the easy way to look at it is like I don’t know if you’re into clean eating, but a lot like clean eating is becoming a much bigger trend now, like people are thinking more about what they’re putting into their bodies and I work with a lot of doctors and functional medicine, so I get to hear this firsthand which is there’s not many rules here when it comes to the food that people consume, like there are some, but then when you go to other countries, they’re like yeah, we wouldn’t touch that with a 10 foot pole, yet alone put that into our kid’s cereal or whatever. It is right To what you’re just saying. Yeah, when you look to other countries, you get a different perspective, and that’s what people want On social media. They want different, unique perspectives.

Anika Jackson 12:36

Yeah, and then you also mentioned that you made the videos better. You fine tuned them. Does that mean, though because I think that’s a barrier for people when it comes to thinking about posting a lot on social media, and that’s where a lot of people get hung up, including myself it’s not about the time, right, we all have to make the time to do it. If we want to set the intentions, you have to make the time, but then people worry like, oh, like I have a cold today. Should I have canceled our interview because my voice is a little froggy? But same thing for social Like. If somebody’s doing a video, they feel like they have to be perfect and portray the certain image. So what do you have to say about that? Is it better just to be authentic and just create the content and just get things out there? Do you have to craft it so that, if you’re a woman, your hair and your makeup is perfect so that people look to you and take you more seriously?

AJ Kumar 13:23

That’s funny. Yeah, that really is the challenge that a lot of people face, especially like you know. You want to get dolled up and look good on camera, and then it’s a lot of work and then something messes up and then technology gets in the way. You’re frustrated and you’re like, ah, and then it just ruins and makes the experience the way it is. However, unfortunately unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it it is that you got to look at brand building like an iterative process.

13:49

So I always compare it to software, just because everyone can relate to you know, whether it’s Apple, whether it’s Windows, you know there’s version 1.00123. And then version 1.00124,. Right, like, they keep iterating their versions over time and over time we stop even noticing like there’s bugs, there’s fixes, etc. That’s kind of how you content creation is. You got to iterate. You got to start with the video, you got to post it and you got to be consistent with it. And I hate that answer because it sounds it’s like, oh gosh, you think you know, but it really is, if you could continue to create it. And it’s not just consistently posting without doing anything about it, it’s posting and learning from it.

14:33

Right, like MrBeast, who’s one of the biggest YouTubers of all of all time that has this thing where he says create 100 videos and then to come to me why you’re not getting views right. Because a lot of what happens in the beginning and this was true for me, this is true for a lot of people like you have these great ideas, you have these great concepts, you want to share them, but you want them to be perfect and you know you create it and then you post it and it’s not getting views right and it’s kind of sad and a little discouraging and that becomes part of the hurdle that, as a content creator, I also like to compare it to like being an athlete. I really think it’s an audience centric sport and you know we may not be in a stadium and you know competing in front of thousands of thousands of people per se, but we’re essentially doing that on this virtual stage. Got it, you got to do it, post it, get over it and it becomes that you got to suck until you become good.

Anika Jackson 15:31

It’s funny because in the world of PR, I tell clients the same thing in a different way a little bit, but we need to do the small interviews right. You have to. As it like if you’re a child, usually you learn how to crawl before you learn how to walk, before you learn how to run. And so if we take that and think about that structure, you’re going to start with baby steps and you’re going to start, you know, maybe on your knees and your hands, and then you’re going to take baby steps and then you’re going to be once you have the experience and you feel comfortable and confident, then you build up.

AJ Kumar 15:57

Yeah, yeah, exactly, it is that.

Anika Jackson 16:00

So would you say that 100 is kind of a sweet spot.

AJ Kumar 16:03

Number of videos I think 100 is a nice round number. To be honest, I think the like, the underlying lesson of that is you want to create anyone a post because the reality is it’s not done after 100. Like this becomes an activity you do for ever, essentially Like there’s not really a stopping to this. Like my buddy, neil Patel, also a client of mine, he’s been creating content since I’ve known him, like 2008, 2009, that you know he’s been blogging and he’s been doing that consistently, nonstop, every week, several times a week, whatever it was. He’s still doing it. Now we help him create video content where we post it daily, nonstop.

16:43

Here’s the guy that’s massively successful, that’s built this ultra successful business called NP Digital. It’s an ad agency, one of the top ones in the world, and it’s like even he’s doing it. So it kind of tells you that we don’t really stop the content creation. The purpose of doing it, even to get to 100, is to get better at it. So that’s all I was saying. Every time you post, you got to try to learn some one thing from it, right, like, oh, I should be more emphatic when I speak, or maybe I shouldn’t wave my hands like that thing in front of a car wash, trying to get your attention or whatever. It is right. So you got to learn something from it and then apply that thing that you’re learning. That’s how you could actually grow and make a difference from that investment in content creation.

Anika Jackson 17:24

Thank you for that. Do you ever have people come to you because obviously Neil Patel already had a brand he knew you know what he wanted to talk about. You’ve worked for the Kee Haskell strong brand. He really sniter, non-toxic dad Like do you ever have people come to you and say I want to do this, but I have like these three or four or five areas that I’m really interested in and can talk about and you have to help them hone in on what their specialty is going to be?

AJ Kumar 17:48

Yeah, I mean I could have cost that a lot more now than before, because we did turn into an agency in the last three years, whereas before I was primarily working with like a very specific type of clientele, and I do come across that and essentially we create a strategy. It’s not like it’s a much longer answer, but what it comes down to is it’s creating a strategy and figuring out the different topics that you like talking about and then looking for what’s referred to in marketing as like the red thread, which is you’re looking for consistencies and all these different topics. You’re looking for how they all connect to one another. So that helps you ground everything into like a central, like niche, but then it allows you to talk about different things that you’re interested in.

18:31

Because one of the mistakes a lot of people do make as they progress up the five levels of thought leadership is that you do need to niche down when you become an authority, you do need to really specialize and hone in on your skills.

18:44

But then the people that become gurus, the people that become famous for their expertise, famous for their thought leadership, tend to have cross disciplines, like they end up taking their authority on one topic like plant-based nutrition, and then now, all of a sudden, they become an authority in yoga or like a fitness topic. So there’s this conversation. I see a lot in social media land right now as well, where it’s like you are the niche, and that’s essentially what we’re talking about is find the things that you’re interested in, figure out what that red thread is like, what the commonalities of all those topics are, and then hit those areas of interest. Because that’s when you’re talking about areas of interest, that’s where you could speak in a way where it’s real and it’s coming from genuine enthusiasm. Now you’re trying to like, fake it to you, make it kind of thing.

Anika Jackson 19:34

Right, right, yeah, and it’s funny because I know you and I have had other conversations, not even just about the podcast, but about brand and branding, and it’s one of the things I’ll have talked to you about. But everything that you’re saying, I’m thinking about my own journey and my brand, how it’s shifted or how what I focused on, and I feel like I’m at that point where I’ve found that thread and this is the time when I’m like ready to take it to the end. But it’s funny because sometimes the thread or the niche that people want you to talk about, or what they’re seeing you as the expert in, isn’t necessarily the thing that you thought it was going to be. And I love that and I think it’s a really you know, it’s really exciting.

Anika Jackson 20:09

And I also would love to hear because we know there’s so much going on with digital and we know for digital advertising, cookies going away, email lists, surability has gone down, algorithms are all changing that short form video content. Now we have YouTube shorts, we have platforms like laps, which I guess could kind of be like Vine, but just for photos instead of videos. We have all these new platforms coming out all the time. So how do you help clients decide what platforms are most important to be on. You know what trends to follow or not follow, and how to continue being consistent, staying in your lane and flourishing.

AJ Kumar 20:47

Yeah, I love that Good question. So the platform I have clients really think about is their brand. The brand is the platform, because the reality is you don’t own any of these social platforms. It’s all rented space. However, the thing that you could own conceptually is mind share in audiences, so that, as you do develop that mind share in the minds of audiences, that becomes what can translate to other platforms, right, you get a guy like Mr Beast, who’s very successful on YouTube. It’s very easy for him to become successful on TikTok because the audience could easily transition over. So, when it comes to that platform, you build the brand. And then you also have things like email lists. You have a website because you own those assets, right.

21:36

And then you take social media for what it is, which is, like you know, I hear people complain about the algorithm or like this or whatever, but the reality is these are free communication tools. That’s what they are. They’re communication tools. A difference is you could communicate, you know, to mass people at one time and there’s a lot of interactivity and back and forth, and you use it for what it is and it’s fairly free.

21:57

And if you could also use their advertising tools but today, now more than ever you could be discovered organically because of the value you could bring right, whatever it is. You know you can get people to learn something, get people to laugh. I always say, like even making people laugh that is a form of value, because you know people are stressed out, they’re mad, they’re sad, they’re depressed, whatever. So when you’re bringing that value or bringing that joy, even if it’s through a phone, it’s kind of nice, it’s kind of what that’s. What I live for is doing it, you know, with the handful of people which allows me to. You know we reach tens of millions of people every month and just getting tens of millions of people every month to like, laugh and learn, and I feel like that’s exciting to me.

Anika Jackson 22:42

Yeah, it’s really exciting. Now, not everybody is going to be able to work with you, obviously, and I’ve even seen videos of like Gary Vee and his team and how many people he has on his team and it’s so big, and I think that also people might stack that up as a barrier to entry. Oh, I don’t have the budget, I don’t have the team to be able to create the content that I need to create. So if you boil it down for somebody who’s just starting out, who doesn’t have the finances to hire your agency or to build out a big team, what are some easy steps that they can do just to get it started?

AJ Kumar 23:16

I mean, the easiest step is using AI, which makes things significantly like it does a lot of the heavy lifting. No, it’s not perfect and you do need human intervention to do AI, but the truth is AI is available and it’s fairly affordable, right Like you’re paying $20 a month for an AI that could do a lot. They could do photos, they could do text Because the people that I work with are people that are experts, they’re busy in their field of expertise, and then content creation just it’s literally a full-time job. And that’s why nowadays you have people that are full-time content creators that are kind of struggling because they’re not necessarily experts in something, and then you have experts that want content creation but they don’t have the time for it. So we fill in the gap for experts that want content creation but they don’t have the time for it, right.

24:06

When it comes to content creators, one thing is you got to be really good at something, and that’s what social media is. It’s you’re demonstrating your value and get really good at being able to demonstrate that value and then use tools like chat, gpt or Claude or Bard. Chat GPT just launched their GPT store. That basically just means that it’s easier for you to get AI to give you the kind of output that you need. So, for example, a lot of people were having issues with AI giving content that sounds like a human versus sounds a little robotic or whatever, right. Well, now there’s ways to create prompts that help you get better responses, but now there’s also apps that are in their GPT store that help you do those kinds of things. So these kinds of tools are available to anyone you know. Then you have your phone Virtually everybody has a phone, everybody on the camera, and they could start doing it.

25:00

They could start filming themselves using the tools to help with that workflow, and then they could create content by doing it in batches, which is what we do with clients. Right, we work with clients and we film like 10, 15 videos within a two, three hour window. So then just put that in your schedule Nice, prepare for it and then you do it. Then the trick is to continue to do it, even when you flop and don’t have a phone. Don’t get views, but that’s the game.

Anika Jackson 25:26

Right, right, and I will give a quick plug here as well for Simplifiedcom, who also happens to be the show sponsor, but is a great platform for content creation AI. I’ve been tested it out. I love the company. I’ve used them before they became my sponsor. I’ll just throw that out there, but I’m able to upload a video episode of my podcast and their AI tool will create 10 short snippets for social media and include a virality score, add in the text boxes and all of that stuff.

25:56

So you’re right, there are a lot of tools we can use, and I was going to ask you the best use cases for AI, but I think you shared that. It’s really. It’s not writing your whole script out. You might have ideas and concepts, so you need to put them into AI just to refine them. I mean, that’s the way we use it for PR and marketing is we’ll do a band sentiment analysis and then we’ll say, okay, we need to come up with taglines for this campaign for a client. Here’s one that we’re thinking of, come up with 10 others that have to do with XYZ, and it’s been a game changer to just streamline the process, make it more quick and also come up with really nice language that we would not necessarily thought of off the top of our heads.

AJ Kumar 26:35

Yeah, I’ve noted, I saw, all of a sudden, everybody has a really high vocabulary. That’s kind of funny to see that. And then just one thing to add to that right, it’s true, it does make it easy, which you got to also think about, in the sense that that makes it easy for everybody. So now you have to start thinking more so about that differentiating factor, right? So this kind of to what I was saying about being an expert or being really good at something, what’s going to make you stay and out and make your expertise, your value, different is actual experience. Right, it’s experience and doing it. That’s the difference. I see a lot of people talking about marketing and they’re just really regurgitating everything else Everybody else is saying, but it’s the people that do it that actually apply it, learn from it and teach from that. Those are the people that become guru status, that are in integrity with what they’re saying and doing and thinking.

Anika Jackson 27:35

Yeah, and I do want to talk about measuring ROI, because we know it’s not all for the likes and the clicks. There has to be a bigger purpose. And that reminded me of what you’re talking about NLP and just thinking with the end in mind. So thinking what your end goal is and then mapping back to where you are now. But when you’re working with clients, what do you usually talk about for ROI? Because I know this is something that in the world of marketing organic marketing and PR sometimes clients don’t. They have certain expectations of. It’s going to lead to this many direct sales and you have to level set. Sometimes it’s not about that. It’s about the awareness building.

AJ Kumar 28:14

Yeah, exactly, that’s really the biggest challenge in social media right now. That was that ebook I was talking about. I basically created the ebook called the Thought Leadership Guide to Social Media ROI in 2024. So I’m specifically trying to nail this problem that a lot of people have so essentially from this. Over the years, as I’ve worked with a lot of different clients, they had different kinds of results. Sometimes the results were easy to say that there’s a direct ROI where you made $100,000 in a day from all these efforts. But the thing that’s common when it comes to organic brand building is that it’s a delayed response. It doesn’t happen like direct response advertising where it’s right away. It happens over time.

28:59

Now, another thing to add to that I just saw Mr Wonderful from Shark Tank talk about this recently, where he was talking about why he loves social media. He talks about how social media helps improve his ROAS, his return on ad spend and his CAC customer acquisition cost. So those are some ways you could easily tie your social media efforts to is that if you are spending money on advertising as you build your brand organically, it’s going to improve your ROAS, your return on ad spend. So that way, your ad spend is a lot more effective, especially as we enter into this cookie-less world where everyone’s ad spend is probably not going to be as great as it used to be. So the only way to really counteract that is by having an organic presence, because the reality is, people aren’t a different mindset when they’re watching an ad versus when they’re watching something organically. When they’re watching an ad, they tend to be more guarded, more skeptic, and they’re more evaluative of what they’re looking at, because they know that the person they’re looking at wants their money, whereas organically they’re more open, they’re more receptive, and that’s where the whole concept of planting seeds comes into play, and that’s why you need to allow the seeds to grow and you need time to build that relationship. So, when it comes to that conversation, these people need to look at it from a different lens, where they’re not just looking at it the way they look at advertising on social media, where you spend this, you get that, but they got to look at it from a longer time frame. That’s why we call it return on attention created, because it gives meaning to something that seems arbitrary. Social media metric, a share, a like, a save what are these?

30:48

Well, in today’s world, this is part of attention economics, the study of how attention has become a commodity and how, just like oil, just like gold I use oil as an example you could use oil to put it into a lawnmower or machine and cut grass. Or you could refine oil to become to fuel the rocket ship to go into outer space right. Same thing with attention. Attention could be refined differently and that’s why it’s a much bigger conversation. It’s a lot more sophisticated conversation. And hey, are you looking to become a bestselling author two years from now? I work with sometimes that are New York Times bestselling authors and they already get big, brand big. What is it called when they get upfront fees?

31:30

right, when they’re to write a book right If they’re getting $100,000 or $500,000,. Well, it’s like if you continue doing social media and you build up an audience, one year from now to years from now, your book advance could be $1 million, $2 million. That stuff happens all the time is you got to look at it from that longer perspective. So that’s why, as you create content, you’re looking at the return on attention created, which is going to be both quantitative, where you’re seeing these metrics, and it’s going to be qualitative, where you’ll literally experience your people and your reality changed the way they look at you. They changed the way they perceive you. And you come from the PR world. So you get this first tan, because that’s what traditionally publicists do they change the way people perceive their clients on a mass level, and that’s kind of like how digital marketing is, like a mix of all of these things and content creation allows you to do that.

32:25

And I see this first tan with a lot of the clients because they’re part of like influential circles, right, like Nikki Haskell, for example.

32:32

She’s part of some really elite circles and for the longest time she kind of faded away because she used to be popular in the 70s but then she kind of faded away into just how it is for most people, but by making her more popular on social and I’m talking. She gets 10 million views a month and it usually ranges from like seven to 10 million views on average. That’s how it’s been like for the last six or seven months and this was resulted in TV deals and it’s also resulted in people influential people around her looking at her differently and people that didn’t care for her before are now all of a sudden interested in talking with her and taking her out to dinner and wanting her to be in this and wanting her to do that, and that’s how this comes about. So it’s not an easy one word answer Like oh, yeah, it’s like a you know a 2x ROAS, or you know a one to one.

33:20

Whatever it’s about creating value what kind of value is important to the person? And then, by knowing that, reverse engineering, how you could get to that value.

Anika Jackson 33:30

Nice, and, to that point, a couple of small examples, because last night was our first night of teaching for the semester for the digital media management program at USC. We’ll shout out to the Trojans, but one of my students is a sneaker head and he sells sneakers online and asks his business, and now he only uses video and reels. He doesn’t do any static posts because that has kept the algorithms moving for him and helped him get more sales. Another student works at TikTok, and we were talking last night about how the organic, influencer based recommendations go a lot further than when people see ads on that platform, and so everything that you’re saying is you know, obviously you’re the experts, but I love that these students also have these little mini examples that they can share that are talking to exactly to your point. And I did want to ask, though you know algorithms what’s going on with algorithms right now? How are they changing, how do they work and what are some of the trends that you’re seeing for 2024 and beyond?

AJ Kumar 34:32

Okay, cool.

Anika Jackson 34:33

How do I answer that question? What are algorithms? Five questions, yeah.

AJ Kumar 34:38

In its most simplest sense, algorithms are designed to spy the user, and they also have. They have mechanisms in place that allow users to experience serendipitous moments. So if you could help to create these serendipitous moments, it helps the algorithms like win in the sense, because that’s their purpose. Their purpose is to make sure the user is satisfied. That’s what we want to accomplish. That’s why, like when you hear about this concept of watch time, because they want you to be on their platform the longest and if you could deliver on that.

35:10

Then they’ll show your content to more people because they know the content works and algorithms have gotten so sophisticated. One thing I love, and I love talking about this concept, which was before. It was very much about a social graph. It was very much about that six degrees from Kevin Bacon and we had this novelty of oh, you’re connected to this person, you’re connected to this person, but we typically didn’t see content from all these other various people because people weren’t creating content at the scale that people are creating it today, whereas today, short form vertical video and algorithms are interest based, and that’s beautiful because it allows anyone to discover anyone based off of their interests, and the more people who use social media, the more the algorithm understands what the person’s interests and preferences are.

35:56

So, as a content creator, your goal is to create content that satisfies the user in its most simplest sense. Contents like food. You want people to feel nourished when they consume your food. People could also create toxic content, just like how there’s toxic food, junk food, junk content, right, and misinformation. All that kind of stuff is out there, but anybody that’s listening to this is probably not thinking of using social media maliciously. You want to use social media in a way where you want to create content, food, people that consume, that make some learn something, laugh, feel better, get excited, things of that nature and then, as that content creator, it’s not just about creating things off the whim or based off of what you feel that contributes to it, but you’re also analyzing the content that you’re creating to see are there drop offs that are occurring? Why they’re occurring?

36:49

For example, a lot of the work that we do with non-toxic dad, like he’s another guy that we get a lot like three, four, five million views a month. I’ve noticed something in his content before where we were creating his videos and then we would show like an article and then it would go back to him and then I would notice oh wait, like why do I see this light drop off? That’s occurring as soon as we show an article. So then, in order to resolve that, instead of cutting away from non-toxic dad when we show the article now, we just keep him at front and center and then we have like snippets or like some highlighted piece that shows up, so that a person doesn’t have an excuse to click away right, cause there’s too much text on the screen. You click away from it.

37:30

So this is the kind of learnings that you get from creating the content. Looking at the metrics and a lot of the social media platforms are showing you this information they have retention graphs that you could look at to see where the drop offs are happening you have an idea for what the average time is that people stay on the site. So for people in 2024, if you’re someone that wants to create content, you got to be really data driven. Like content creation is an art and a science and it’s easy to do the art stuff, because I know math is hard and sometimes the brain sometimes I’m with you, but at the same time, once you do get a hang of it, it becomes a beautiful marriage art and science because then you know why something isn’t working or you get an understanding, and that gives you the motivation to make it better.

Anika Jackson 38:18

Yeah, Nice. So what are some of the other trends that you see coming up for? Is there anything new that we should be on lookout for in 2024?

AJ Kumar 38:27

A lot of people are talking about long form content. They’re talking about short form content, fatigue and things of that nature, which may or may not be a possibility. However, I think a lot of the people that are talking about that are going to the next trend and a lot of marketers are just talking about oh, now do long form. Do long form, because that’s what people want Long form. Tiktok wants long form. I don’t personally see that as the case. I think short form is here to stay for a long period of time.

38:56

I think platforms like TikTok are trying to do long form because all these platforms are competing with one another in one sense or another. It’s not to say don’t do long form or short form. It’s to do both, but short form is the best way to get discovered and to maximize the amount of people that you reach. Long form is the best way to develop and build a community and really build strong relationships with people that will become customers for your brand and advocates for your brand. So I think, keep doing short form and if you hear long form, yeah, that’s good and you could do it, but I would say, get a foundation growing with short form as well.

Anika Jackson 39:33

Nice, yeah, thank you for that. You talked a little bit about your e-book and I know you have a bigger book coming out this year. Thank you. When is the ebook coming out? How will people be able to access it and then tell us a little bit more about, let’s tease out to the audience. Do you have a wait list they can get on to get more information about Guru Inc when that comes out as well?

AJ Kumar 39:53

Yeah, well, obviously, thank you. I have a book coming out called Guru Inc. It’s about how to become the thought leader that everybody follows and that’s expected to be out later this year. In the interim, I had created an ebook because I want to get this stuff out there. That’s why I’m being on your podcast. It’s a way for me to share these ideas of what’s happening in our lab. So best way is to follow me on Instagram, ajthedigital Maestro. I’ll start sharing a lot of this really soon. Well, there’ll be landing pages where you can opt in and you can get access to these ebooks. The ebook I have coming out is called the Thought Leadership Guide to Social Media RY in 2024. I’m expecting in the next two weeks it should be out. So by I don’t know when this is going to become out, but let’s just say by February 1st the ebook will be ready to grab.

40:41

Then Guru Inc is a bigger book that will be published and it’ll be a lot more of the dynamics of becoming a Guru, beyond just the path of becoming a Guru. But there’s a bigger journey that kind of comes to play. There’s an emotional journey that comes to play. There’s frameworks that I’ll share. One is called the 3 C’s Content and Commerce, and Concert which is like the art inside. It’s a blending content and commerce in a way where people are still having good experiences.

41:09

Because another thing I guess this could also be a trend, since I’m going to be writing in my book too which is it’s about the audience’s experience and on all these different social media platforms, there’s all these different features that allow audiences to have different experiences. I don’t think most people think about it that way, but when you think about being a content creator and what I shared earlier, it’s an audience-centric sport If you could create content in a way that is like you’re thinking about the viewer’s experience, you’re going to have much more effective content right Tying it back to what we talked about modeling and reverse engineering.

41:47

So model in your mind what you want success to look like for your viewers and then reverse engineer to that.

Anika Jackson 41:54

Nice. Yeah, that’s so important and it’s something that a lot of times people forget in any part of marketing your business. Right, we’re all here to solve an issue that maybe we experienced, that we realized was a pain point for somebody else. So think about how you’re solving that, how you’re making somebody’s life better with your content, and so do this pouring stuff out that could be garbage or toxic.

AJ Kumar 42:17

Yeah, we have enough junk food out there.

Anika Jackson 42:21

Yes.

AJ Kumar 42:21

And more junk content.

Anika Jackson 42:23

Well, in this episode we’ll be dropping in February, so we’ll be able to put the link to your staff in the show notes, as well as on my website, yourbrandamplified.com. We’ll have the full blog and transcript for this episode. Anything else that you want to share? Any other facts that people should be aware of or think about as they’re thinking about building their brands in today’s age?

AJ Kumar 42:47

I guess it’s kind of fun. So I like playing with a Rubik’s Cube. I got it in the last few years.

Anika Jackson 42:52

And.

AJ Kumar 42:52

I realized that the Rubik’s Cube is a great representation of social media, where you think of it like when a Rubik’s Cube is not solved. You could see it and you know it Right. Social media is similar in the sense that you got to twist and turn, you got to solve the different ways, you got to create content for different platforms. So as you think about your social media compared to a Rubik’s Cube, it might help you with how to make a much more cohesive brand experience for your viewers.

Anika Jackson 43:21

Zen philosophy, everything rolled in. I love that. And, aj, do you also have a favorite quote, mantra, verse, words that you live by?

AJ Kumar 43:33

I’m going to just say, in the words of Shilabluff do it, take action, and people around me are laughing, as opposed to that game to mine, but just do it because that’s really the challenge that everybody faces is everyone’s in faking mode and whatever, but do it Take?

Anika Jackson 43:50

action Awesome, and with that I mean, that is, if you don’t take that first step, you’re never going to know what can happen, and you could, by listening to this show and following AJ, be the next guru or even get to guru’s guru status. So this has been such a delightful conversation. I’m really excited to be having you come on to the USC media scape speaker series and podcast as well, which I haven’t really talked about on this show, but which will be launching soon. And, aj, thank you again for giving your expertise to us today and being the digital maestro that you are.

AJ Kumar 44:26

Thank you so much for having me. I hope everybody enjoyed.

Anika Jackson 44:28

Oh yeah, this step, I have no doubt, and thank you to the audience for watching or listening this episode, whether it’s on your favorite podcast platform, YouTube, Traverse TV or 360 Talk Radio for Women. I’ll be back again in a few days with another amazing expert to help share their knowledge that will propel your business in 2024 and beyond. Want more? Check out amplifywithanika.com or follow me on socials at @amplifywithanika.

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