Over the past eighteen months or so my girlfriend Kristina Basham grew her Instagram following from zero to 2.5 million followers. She adds about 10,000 new followers per day.
That’s ten thousand new followers per day.
You might think this kind of accomplishment is easy for her because of her extraordinary attractiveness. Sure, that helps. But there are lots of attractive women on Instagram – most of them showing more skin than Kristina – and almost none of them are adding followers at Kristina’s rate. There’s a reason for that. I call it the Talent Stack.
The idea of a talent stack is that you can combine ordinary skills until you have enough of the right kind to be extraordinary. You don’t have to be the best in the world at any one thing. All you need to succeed is to be good at a number of skills that fit well together.
For example, I’m not much of an artist, not much of a business expert, and my writing skills are mostly self-taught. I’m funny, but not the funniest person in my town. The reason I can succeed without any world-class skills is that my talent stack is so well-designed. (That’s intentional, by the way.)
President Trump also has a powerful talent stack. He isn’t the best communicator in the world, but he is very good. He doesn’t know as much about politics as career politicians do, but apparently he knows enough. He isn’t the smartest person who ever ran for office, but he’s very smart. He might not be the best business strategist in the world, but he certainly knows his stuff. I could go on for pages about how Trump has good-but-not-world-class skills in a variety of areas. And when you put all of those talents together it makes him the most persuasive human I have ever observed. Trump’s talent stack was powerful enough to make him president. And I don’t think it was an accident that he developed a talent stack so powerful. It looks intentional to me.
But back to Kristina. Her talent stack is amazing. She has a degree from UC Berkeley, so she’s far smarter than the average person, but she’s not the smartest person in the entire world. She has modeled since she was a teen, so she knows all the model tricks for posing, and that makes a big difference. Having worked with lots of professional photographers over the years she also picked up a lot of skills with composition, lighting, and equipment. She is also an expert on makeup and all the other tricks that models do to improve their appearance.
And that’s just the starter package. Kristina also knows all the tools of social media and how to promote online. She knows a lot about SEO and she developed a range of “hacks” for boosting her Instagram posts. The hacks that work today will stop working by tomorrow, so that is an ongoing process.
More recently Kristina started doing what might be called A/B testing to see which elements of a photo predict the most likes and engagement. For example, although her Instagram photos are G-rated, any hint of side boob adds at least 10% to her engagement. There are several other variables with the same amount of power, and most are not as obvious as “show more skin.” She isolates and tests those elements on a regular basis. It is fascinating to watch.
Kristina also developed a system for picking the best photos to post. Before posting she usually asks several trusted advisors, including her dad and me, to weigh in on which photo out of a group of candidates looks best. This system allows her to see past her own biases about her appearance.
Sometimes Kristina publishes four photos on her Twitter account and asks for feedback on which one people like the most. Her Twitter following is small compared to Instagram and works great as a test bed. Her Twitter follower often pick a photo that she would not have chosen on her own, and those picks seem to perform great on Instagram.
You might wonder why anyone wants to have millions of Instagram followers. It’s a lot of work to post high-quality photos twice a day, and Instagram doesn’t pay for content. But Kristina is what I call a systems thinker, not a goals person. Systems thinkers create situations in which there are lots of potential ways to win, not just one. As Kristina’s Instagram audience grows, she attracts more and better business offers from all over the world. She built a web page to capture them. On a typical day she turns down offers to be on reality TV shows, to travel to exotic places for modeling, and to promote products on her Instagram page. The quality of those offers increases with her number of followers, so patience is the right strategy for now. It’s a great system and she has lots of options for cashing in when the time is right.
Recently Kristina agreed to bring her talent stack to my start-up, WhenHub, to help us get attention. Something tells me this is one of my better ideas.
In a coming blog post I will explain how WhenHub was designed as a start-up with the risk profile of an incubator. You’ll like that one.
If this discussion of systems versus goals interests you, and you want more, see my book.
Do you have your Dilbert calendar yet? There is still time. See here.