In this day and age, having a ton of followers on various social platforms demarcates the difference between popularity and obscurity. Brendan Kane’s story of how he reached a million followers on Facebook in a short span of time is the testament to that. Brendan had an amazing digital career working from some of the biggest media companies and celebrities on the planet. He created his own startups launching platforms to help grow social followers and engagement. In this episode, Brendan joins Paul Higgins to share the three essentials you need to know in order to build your own social following.
Our guest is someone who worked with some of the biggest media brands and celebrities in the world on digital. He created several successful startups and he published One Million Followers, an amazing book about his journey of creating one million Facebook followers. What you’ll get in this episode is the three essentials to building your followers. This is an absolute master class and a must-read. What I’ll do now is hand you over to Brendan Kane.
Welcome, Brendan Kane.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Why don’t we start off with something that your family or friends would know about you that we wouldn’t?
I would say a few things. I would say that meditation is one of my escapes and keeps me sane on a daily basis. Not a lot of people know about that, but I’ve been meditating for years now.
What’s your favorite way of meditating?
I love sitting in silence. I never got into the mantras. I tried the mantra meditation. It’s strange, but I do two types of meditation. I start out in the morning, sitting in a chair and probably do twenty minutes and I go back and lay back in the bed for twenty minutes. It seems to set me up for the rest of the day.
I do that at night, so I always finished the end of my day with meditation, but I haven’t got the silence bit yet. I’m using Headspace and my goal is to get there. Meditation is brilliant. I know you’ve had such an amazing career and work with some incredible brands. Why don’t you take me through a little bit of your corporate escapee’s story?
I’ve been in digital and technology for about fifteen-plus years and my background is a little bit different. I have touched every aspect of digital over the years because I’m of the mindset that I want to be constantly testing, learning and challenging myself. I started off in the entertainment industry managing digital divisions for two movie studios and overseeing the theatrical campaigns from films ranging from $15 million to $100 million budgets. It also afforded me the opportunity to work directly with actors, directors, and producers on how to further syndicate their brand online. From there, I realized that I was more cut out to be an entrepreneur than working within the confines of a corporate world. I left working in the studio system in the corporate environment and started building technology platforms that I licensed to big media companies. I did partnerships with Viacom, Yahoo, MTV and VICE to name a few. The Viacom and MTV partnerships opened up the opportunity to work with some of the largest celebrities on the planet.
That partnership allowed me to build technology platforms for Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and a bunch of other notable celebrities, musicians and brands. From there, I helped build one of the largest social paid optimization firms in the world where we were optimizing advertising spend for large brands, Fortune 500 companies, and even some celebrities. That was an eye-opening experience because we have the largest brands in the world come to us and say, “Here’s a piece of content. We invested hundreds of thousands, in some cases, millions of dollars on and we want to spend another huge chunk of money.” Let’s say it’s $1 million because oftentimes, campaigns were that big sometimes bigger against a specific audience. Usually to females 35 to 50 years old in one case. You asked, “How do you know this piece of creative is going to result in the intended action that you’re looking for to the tune of risking all this money?” Nine times out of ten, they didn’t have the analytics or data to support that decision. I kept seeing this problem over and over again. I thought, “There’s got to be a better way of going about this,” because I’m always about trying new things and learning and finding different approaches.
I left working on that company to build my own set of testing methodologies and predictive calculations on top of Facebook and Instagram. I wanted to be able to cut test content at scale and understand what content themes, formats, and stories work to generate the intended response from the audience that you’re trying to reach. I started servicing brands and corporations and we see success with them in terms of engaging them with content. I wanted to see, “Could this be applied to generating followers and scale at a global level?” I went back and started working with some prominent journalists, celebrities and professional athletes.
I was having success doing that and it was fascinating because I would see data come in from different parts of the world. That’s what seeded the idea in my head. It’s like, “It’s great that I spent the better part of my career helping people at the highest levels. What about people starting from scratch, from zero?” I thought, “Let’s try it. Let’s test it,” because I want to take action and not talk about things. When thinking about who would be the perfect person to run this experiment on, I thought, “Why not myself?” I went off and ran this experiment using all the methodologies that I built and was able to generate over a million followers in 100 countries in 30 days on Facebook. I was able to leverage that to get an agent, publishing deal and been speaking around the world. I’ve been refining those methodologies and processes for Instagram.
I’ve got so many questions going through my mind. The first one is now you’ve reached a certain status, but in your book, One Million Followers, can that apply to someone reading, probably a coach or a consultant that’s left corporate and hasn’t got any celebrity status at all? Can your methodology be applied to them as much as a celebrity?
Absolutely. That’s why I did the experiments on myself. In a lot of ways, I’m still a consultant and I coach people around social media, mindset and growth strategies. I wanted to do this on myself to see what was possible. I’m only interested in learning things and creating things that I can teach other people that can reproduce. I don’t see a whole lot of inherent value if I was able to generate one million followers, but I couldn’t get help anybody else do it. I’ve done that same experiment on probably 4 or 5 other people. I did it for non-profit. I’ve done it for two individuals and a healthcare company.
If you had to pick three tips that you could leave us on building an instant following, what would those three key things be?
First, start with the mindset aspect. It’s asking yourself why you are doing it. Maybe your goal is not a million. Maybe it’s 25,000, 50,000, 100,000. It’s understanding why you’re doing it. What does that return on investment look like for you? That return on investment doesn’t necessarily have to be financial. In my case, it was getting a literary agent, publishing deals, and speaking around the world. It has had a correlative effect in terms of revenue. I’ve gotten that return on investment back by 10x, but I wasn’t looking for a direct attribution to revenue.
The reason it’s so critically important to understand why is because it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of time and effort. I see so many people go into this and they start out and they realize how much work or something’s not working or they hit a roadblock or obstacle and they quit. When you have this guiding light of what the end goal looks in your mind, it fuels that motivation to keep going. It plays into the second aspect of it which is testing. You’ve got to be a testing machine like a mad scientist.
The book and everything that I do is about testing and learning because that’s the only way to get good at content and growth. In order to stay on top of social media and digital platforms, you have to be constantly learning because it’s constantly evolving. We use a testing methodology and testing approach to make sure that we are constantly learning and understanding how to generate the highest level of growth and engagement. I would say the third step when you’re starting out is to understand that you’re better served not trying to create traffic from scratch, but go where the traffic is. To give you a quick analogy of what that means, when you think about YouTube and how YouTube was sold for $1.6 billion in less than two years, they created the first embeddable video player that could be embedded on Myspace profiles. This was before Myspace had a video player.In order to stay on top of social media and digital platforms, you have to be constantly learning because it's constantly evolving. Click To Tweet
People would embed a YouTube player and their friends would see it, click the YouTube logo and say, “I want a video on my player.” YouTube funneled all of the Myspace’s traffic to build their audience. It’s the same in this case, even when you’re a consultant or a coach, where is your traffic currently? Who is currently talking to your audience? What channels? What blogs, websites or Instagram accounts? How do you get in front of those audiences? How do you get them to post your content so you can drive that traffic back to your account?
Through your journey, who helped you, supported you, and who have you leaned on for help?
It’s evolved over the years. I’ve had several different business advisors over the years that have been helpful. Especially at a young age when I started creating technology, I had an issue with patients because you want everything to happen so fast. I had some business advisors that would steer me along that way. When the deals started to get big, they could devise on deal structure. My father is an attorney, so oftentimes I would get a lot of free legal counsel which is extremely helpful when you’re doing big deals because the back and forth of contracts are insane. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had some great support business advisors over the years that could steer me in the right direction.
I know that you’ve done some mentoring, I don’t know if you still are with Techstars, but what are some of the attributes and competencies that you see in people that have been successful in Techstars?
It goes back to one of the things that being successful in social media and growing Instagram accounts. At the end of the day, it’s a mindset thing. You’ve got to go into something and be like, “I am going to make this work. I’m going to make this successful.” The end result may not look exactly as I envisioned it when I first started out, but I am going to constantly test and learn. No matter how many times I fail and it takes me to figure out the way to work, I’m going to keep plugging away and doing it. From my experience of knowing people in the tech space, I’ve got three friends that generated or created billion-dollar valued companies in the past few years. That’s the mindset that they’ve embraced. We are going to test and learn and rapidly iterate until we find the right answers. When we find the right answers, we scale.
You talked a lot about celebrities. I know that at an early age, I was fortunate to work with some of the best tennis players in the world and it was right in their zone. Before the Australian Open Final, there would be four people in the locker room. There would be the two players, an attendant and myself. I was fortunate. I learned that they’re normal people for me back then but you’ve dealt with so many celebrities. What’s your inner worldview of some of our biggest celebrities on the planet?
In what respect, would you say?
You don’t need names but you’ve got their outer persona. Is it the same as they are when you meet them one-on-one? You will always hear about the divas.
It depends. Some people are exactly who you envision them to be, some people turn out to be completely different. They’re human beings like the rest of us. As you’ve experienced and everybody has experienced, certain people will show a facade in public around friends. When they get home, they’re completely different people. I wouldn’t say that there’s an overarching trend amongst celebrities. When you get to the highest level, you will have people around you that are constantly saying yes, sometimes their ego can get inflated or their perception of reality can get shifted. I don’t fault them for anything because it’s a crazy lifestyle to live. For me, it’s a choice of who I want to work with. I have nothing against somebody that may perceive this certain world in a certain way or have an inflated ego. I don’t hold anything against that, but I may not choose to work with them.
For you, you’ve described well what you do but who are the people that you love to work with, given what you said?
To me, the first thing is nice people to work with. That’s a first and that’s common sense. Sometimes people will sign up clients to take the money and I’m too busy to do that. I have to genuinely like the person and get along with the person. I am looking for either an individual or company that wants to grow and will do whatever it takes to grow. I’ll give you an example. Working in the studio system in that corporate world, they would always talk about innovation. Whenever you would bring innovative ideas, they didn’t want to take the risks. Most people are scared to risk their jobs or to have something fail.
The people that I like to work with have clearly defined their why or I help them clearly define their why. They understand the level of investment that they are willing to make both financially and from a time perspective. It’s an easy conversation. It’s like, “We’re going to work together and we are going to figure this out.” It may take a considerable amount of time and investment, but they know that going in. They’re not looking to do a get rich quick or any of these schemes or they’re not going to give up a quarter of the way through it. I look for people that generally run companies or an individual that have that shared mindset and are open to ideas and learning. People that are closed-minded and not looking at things from different points of view can tend to make it difficult to be successful with.
There are a lot of people out there like Gary Vee, for example, that talks about the hustle. If you’re not working 80 to 100 hours a week, you won’t get the success or won’t achieve that purpose in life. What’s your view on that?
First off, I like Gary. I spoke at a conference with him in Helsinki. I tend to disagree with that because in the corporate world, I did that. I worked 60 to 80 hours a week and I burned myself out. It’s different for each person. You’ve got to have a healthy balance. I see that with myself. I have to take breaks, whether that’s going for a hike, working out, taking a week vacation or something like that. To me, life is so short. It’s so precious. If you love what you do and you would rather do your work than to spend time with friends or family, that’s cool. If you want to have a personal life, if you want to travel the world and see different things, if you’re married and you have kids and you want to spend time with your kids, do that. Working hard can lead to success but I would say that more so productivity and what you do with your time is far more important than how much time you spend on something. I’ve been around people that don’t expend a lot of energy or time but they’re so smart in how they use and value their time that they’re successful anyways.
I’ve been reading for about the third time The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and practicing to focus on the one thing versus being busy. Do you think with the work that you’re doing around Techstars and that scene, is that message getting through? Is there more balance now or do you think it’s still working 80 hours?
It depends. First off, going back to Gary, he is speaking to a young audience. He’s speaking to 18 to 25. With some of those kids, they need to have the kick in the butt to get them moving and get them motivated. I typically surround myself with people that have a little bit of a balance. It’s different to work for a corporate world or a job where you’re taking a paycheck versus doing your own thing. I probably work more hours than I would be working at a regular day job. That’s because I’m liking what I’m doing, I want to do the things, and I have a plan and a vision that I want to execute on. I would say that, at least here in the States, there is a bit of a shift, but it depends on the person, company and culture that you go to.
I often have a discussion with corporate escapees about likable hours. What’s your mix of likable and unlikable and it’s amazing. It’s 80/20 versus the other way around. Most of them are at the end of their corporate career. For you and your business, what’s the vision for you? What’s your North Star?
For me, it’s thought leadership. I love speaking, running private groups and teaching people. Speaking of masterminds, I’m running my own mastermind and I love providing value to other people. I love learning things, figuring things out, and being able to share with other people my learnings. I love watching them get inspired and motivated to take action based on the information that I’m sharing. Also, being able to see them succeed with the information as well.People that are closed-minded and not looking at things from different points of view can tend to make it difficult to be successful with. Click To Tweet
Being an author, what’s your advice for people reading that they’ve heard a lot about, “Should I launch a book or not?” especially in thought leadership. I would love to get your thoughts on your experience and whether you would do it again.
To me, it’s still an extremely powerful medium. For whatever reason, I don’t think I recognized it going into the first book until it happened. The power of somebody picking up your book and reading your book is far different than somebody reading an article, a blog post or watching a video of you. I’m not diluting the value of those mediums. They’re still extremely powerful and I do those as well but there’s a differentiating factor to having a book and it’s a personal choice. There’s a lot of work that goes into it. There’s a misunderstanding of publishers and the value that publishers provide and the work that goes in from the author’s perspective to make a book successful. It’s a powerful medium if you provide quality content. That’s what it comes down to with anything you do, whether it’s a video, a blog post or a book. Do you have something of value to say? If you have something of value to say, no matter whether it’s a book, a blog post, a video or an image, if it’s valuable and it captures people’s attention, it’s going to help you grow your brand.
The people that support you, what’s the team behind you?
The team is pretty big, so I have a full-time writer that helps me with the book and other material that we create. I’ve got a creative director that’s helping me out with the analytics and data side of content. We’re investing heavily in social content and figuring out how to generate content at the highest level that generates significant growth engagement virality. We have some contract designers and editors. I’ve got a contract designer. I’ve got somebody that focuses on managing my press and somebody that manages my paid speaking as well.
What are some key tips on picking a great staff and great people to help you get to your purpose?
To me, it goes back to the testing. First, identifying people that you feel you want to be around and you want to work with. Oftentimes you can spend more time communicating with them and dealing with them than your own friends and family. Also, don’t go so far down a path until they’ve proven themselves. I’ve hired a lot of contractors from Upwork and other places. I’m a firm believer in giving them small projects to test and learn. I generally let them define the success metric of that test as long as it matches up with what I want to see so you can give them a benchmark that they feel they can hit. It tells you a lot about an individual, whether they can come back with the completed project or test in the time frame on time and in the quality that you expect. You can’t go wrong there because you mitigate risk in terms of getting somebody intertwined in your business that may not work out. Also, investing too much in a direction or too much into a person until they’ve proven themselves.
What’s your number one focus in your business at the moment?
It’s twofold. It’s paid speaking and teaching, and then content. We’re investing a lot of time and resources in figuring out the best way to package content for social platforms. The big focus is on Instagram and Instagram growth. I did the experiment of a million followers in 30 days on Facebook and I spent seven months figuring out how to apply the learnings and the principles to Instagram. We’ve got a process that’s working. We’re generating about 120,000 to 250,000 followers a month. We’ll be at a million followers in probably 4 or 5 months. That’s the number one goal in creating content that can serve that audience. We’re at the beginning researcher phase of YouTube and planning out a YouTube strategy as well.
LinkedIn is, I suppose, for B2B, which a lot of the people reading do. Have you got any tips or run any experiments or tests with LinkedIn?
I love LinkedIn. I’ve closed probably $20 million-plus deals on LinkedIn. I first started out honing in on cold outreach and cold messaging. One of the baffling things to me is how poor people are at that. All of us can agree that we hate people that cold call us, we hate telemarketers, yet people forget the fact when they’re crafting their cold outreach emails on LinkedIn, they all of a sudden turn into a telemarketer. Somebody that’s cold outreaching in the same way that people are calling their phones in the evening when they’re trying to spend time with their family. One of the things that I inherently learned early on and one of the reasons I’m able to get big clients and celebrity clients is that I’m here to provide value. I’m not trying to sell you on anything. I want to understand what obstacles and problems you’re running into and if I can provide a solution to that, great, let’s figure something out. If I can’t, that’s totally cool.
The second book is all about that, how to connect with people at the highest levels, how to close these huge deals. That’s what it comes down to versus what people are doing on LinkedIn. They sell and they even send messages that are completely irrelevant to the person they’re sending it to. LinkedIn is an extremely valuable resource if you know how to use it. When you look at it from a social perspective, we’re running a lot of tests and pushing content out there to build a strong connection and social audience on LinkedIn. We’re seeing early success with that and it’s still at its earliest stages. There’s still an opportunity before it gets too competitive.
I look at people’s outbound and I said, “Would you delete that?” They’re like, “Yes. Let’s do the obvious. Let’s change that.” What about posting? Quickly on LinkedIn posts, what are you seeing that’s working well? I’ve heard someone say that by using a celebrity, the story is working well or maybe a video. What do you think is working well for posting on LinkedIn?
What’s interesting is we don’t create any content specifically for LinkedIn because we’re investing so heavily in content for Instagram. We see a direct correlation between successful content on Instagram to LinkedIn. It’s a lot of the same principles. The first principle is the first three seconds are critical because these platforms typically register a view at three seconds. Their algorithms are measuring the watch time. How much time are they spending on your videos? They want to keep people on their platforms longer.
The videos that can bring you in, in those first three seconds, capture attention and earn the right to catch your attention for 10 or 30 more seconds and keep building that up are the videos that perform the best. That can be anything. It could be a celebrity, it could be you speaking on camera, or it could be a stock video of you putting text over videos, music, or whatever it may be. At the end of the day, it’s what can you do to get people to watch your videos for longer? We typically see that the videos that you get people to watch for longer are the ones that ultimately are successful.
I’d like to mention my posts. I do post daily. I give actionable content for corporate escapees, so I’d love for you to search for me at Build, Live, Give on LinkedIn and let me know that you’ve read this great interview with Brendan and me. I only accept people that reach out to me with a personal note. I’d love to get your feedback and also the fact of adding valuable content for you. The next section is the Live section. Brendan, you’ve got a full life and you’ve got some amazing opportunities. What are some habits that help you be successful?
One of the biggest things is being present in the moment. Oftentimes, I will be thinking too far in advance instead of focusing on what I can do and taking it one step or one task at a time. A few of the ways that I do that is, first through meditation. Secondarily is I create a task list every day and make sure that I have a clear idea of what I need to accomplish. If something pops up, I write it on that task list and try not to get distracted as much as possible. It’s keeping a structured time in terms of my calendar. If anybody wants to work with me or schedule a call with me, it has to be on my calendar because my schedule is pretty stacked up. I need to keep myself organized to keep myself on track.
The next section is the Give section. What’s a community or a cause that you’re passionate about and why?
I started advising a company that is all about transforming the world and solving some of the world’s greatest problems around sustainability and the environment. Plastic pollution is one of them, saving the Arctic to be another. We’re focusing heavily on how we can effectively communicate with people through content that inspires them to take action instead of turning people off. I see one of the issues with people that are trying to save the environment is typically to preach and talk down to people. They try to use fear tactics or they try to make people feel guilty. We’re all about how you inspire people to take action. That’s one of the things that I spend a great deal of time on.One of the issues with people that are trying to save the environment is they typically preach and talk down to people. Click To Tweet
The last section is the Action section, where I’ll ask you some questions and get some rapid-fire responses. What are your top three productivity tips?
I covered some of them already. Writing down a list and writing it down on a piece of paper. I don’t know what it is about handwriting something. Handwriting a list and being able to check things off on it has a positive impact on me from a subconscious level with success, momentum and moving forward. That’s one. Another great one I use is a company called YouCanBook.Me for scheduling calls with me so I don’t have to go back and forth with people on time. I send them my link with my availabilities and they can book the time that works for them and that saves a lot of headaches and a lot of back and forth. I would say the third one is going back to the calendar. I use my phone calendar for everything because it’s super easy to keep myself structured, know where I need to be, what I need to do, and what I need to accomplish.
You’ve mentioned YouCanBook.Me and your phone calendar, but what are some other apps or software that you use to run this business?
A lot of ideation I do on the Notes app. It’s stock on iPhone. I’m always constantly jotting down notes. Whenever new ideas pop up, we use that. They do have an iPhone app, but we don’t use it. A lot of times we will for the book or for other content, we’ll record audio of an interview or of me speaking into the phone so I can get it down. We’ll upload it to a company called Rev.com to transcribe it. There are a bunch of other transcription services out there, but it makes things a lot easier.
I know you love your podcasts. What are some of your favorite podcasts?
You’ve talked about your vision and your North Star, but what’s the impact that you want to leave on the world?
It’s the premise of the book. I feel that there are so many people out there in the world that have the ability to transform it and don’t know how to get their message out there and be heard. I want to share as much information as possible to help them with the strategy so they can get their content, voice, product or service out there so it can have a meaningful impact in the world.
You can find out more about Brendan and his great work. You can go to OneMillionFollowers.com. Brendan, I appreciate you coming here. You’ve given us so much value and you’re doing amazing things. I look forward to following your success and helping a lot of people reading transform the world.
My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
There was so much value given by Brendan. I love the way that he articulated and gave reasons but my top three were the importance of mindset and creating social success. It was great and his talk of his purpose or North Star was brilliant. The second was a test and measure. Even afterwards, he gave me some good feedback on the percentage of views that I’m getting versus my followers on Instagram and that I’ve got to do something different. How often are you doing the same thing and not testing and measuring? The third is around meditation and being present in what you’re doing. I love the fact that he doesn’t endorse working 100 hours and making sure you’ve got that balance. If you’re a corporate escapee, and you’d love to share your story, email us at Support@BuildLiveGive.com. Finally, please take action and leave that true to yourself.
Innovation strategist for Fortune 500 corporations, brands, and celebrities. Helps them to unlock value and transform their businesses.
10+ YEARS of experience in digital. Drives value for some the most respected global brands.