It can be tempting to look at the major bloggers in your space and despair, thinking to yourself that you’ve missed your window of opportunity, that the big guys have it all sewn up and it’s too late for you to make your mark.

But at a New Media Expo panel in Las Vegas, Robert Scoble and Mitch Joel told attendees just the opposite: With a little persistence, solid planning and creativity, you too can amass a social media following that takes your brand to the next level.

A few of their tips:

Take a “pile of pennies” approach to growth. Scoble says that building a following is like stacking pennies. Imagine if you started a month by placing a penny on a table, came back the next day and increased the stack to two pennies, and then four and then eight. None of those tasks is particularly difficult, but if you managed to keep at it, by the end of a 31-day month you could have nearly $11 million in pennies. Social media followings grow slowly — right up until the moment when they explode, he says. Most “overnight successes” are the product of people laying down pennies week after week. At a certain point, of course, doubling every day isn’t realistic, but approaching growth with a slow and steady mindset keeps the process from becoming overwhelming.

Befriend the connectors in your circle. Joel suggests logging on to Twitter and looking at who the people you follow are following. Look for names that turn up again and again, then make a list of five of these connectors and resolve to make them part of your network in the next year.

Develop your nose for news. Joel cites his past as a music journalist as helping him break out as a blogger. The people who succeed in digital media are the ones with noses for news, who wake up every day looking for stuff to talk about. Too many blogs are derivative, echoing what major news sites are already talking about, instead of finding their own stories to share. Of course, it’s not enough to just follow any old story — it has to be something that’s going to resonate with the audience you’re trying to serve, “not just feeding the beast, but feeding the relevant beast,” he says.

Be the king of a small island. It’s hard to compete with established news sites that have a lock on a broad swath of topics. So don’t try, says Scoble. Look for a niche that’s underserved and fill that void in people’s lives. He points to the success of AllFacebook, a blog that turned enthusiast chatter about changes to Facebook into big business by dominating that one corner of the news.

Ask if your heroes would be proud of you. When you’re composing a piece of content, ask if the people you most admire would find what you’re about to say valuable, suggests Joel. If the answer is “no,” then maybe that content doesn’t add to your brand and might be better left unsaid. Strive to put things into the world that even your heroes would be proud to call their own.

Build other people up. Don’t just focus on promoting yourself. Look for ways you can enrich your community. “If you make other people the star, they’ll bring you with them,” says Scoble.

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