Social Media never turned into the silver bullet that it was hyped to be but it has made an impact and it’s been sizable.
One of the biggest is the impact on our behavior. This extends to the business world as well.
Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have been working to make it easier for people to shop directly from the app, and businesses that are looking for an easy way to get customers are taking the bait.
It’s hard to convince you to sell ads or set up a storefront on a platform if people aren’t really spending a heck of a lot of time there so they have plenty of incentive to try and keep you there as much as possible.
There are other platforms as well such as Medium and Substack that offer ways for you to share your thoughts and potentially monetize them.
There are others as well but all these platforms have something in common. They want you to use them instead of something you own.
The temptation is great and they make it sound so easy. They offer a network that already is full of potential customers and promises that they want to help your business become successful but is this really the case?
The platforms have gone to war against owned media and if you accept their solution, you might find that you made a deal with the devil.
Shared Media and Owned Media
Before I get too far into this article, I want to first step back and talk about two concepts.
In marketing, we talk about shared media. It recognizes that there are two pieces.
The first being the social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
The second piece is what we do on them which is share information such as your opinion, a picture, a video, information, or an article.
If you look to your left, you will see buttons for social media platforms. I include them to make it easy for you to share this article.
Other websites do this as well. The ones who don’t are missing an opportunity to make it easy for you to share something you like with your network.
When I use the term social media, I’m talking about the platforms themselves. When I talk about shared media, I’m referencing the entire ecosystem of the platforms and our actions on them.
Owned media is where you own both the channel and the content. This is really important to understand.
While the content you create, such as a video, maybe yours, if you post to a social media platform, you don’t own the platform so it’s not owned media. If you create the video and post it on your website it is owned media.
Owned media is your website and your email list.
Both shared and owned media are important to your marketing and communication but there are ramifications for using one over the other. Especially in the case of a third-party platform such as social media.
They can be good or bad depending on what you are trying to accomplish.
The Reach of Social Media
The number of social media users continues to rise. According to this article on Statista from January of 2021, the number of social media users is expected to grow from 3.6 billion users in 2020 to 4.41 billion in 2025.
That’s not all, Statista has plenty more information to dish out that will certainly be used by the social media platforms to lure you in. Let’s see what they have.
As of 2020, 49 percent of the planet is using social media and it is ingrained in our daily lives. On average we spend 144 minutes a day, on social.
Those numbers are impressive and if I worked at one of the social media companies, I’d be pointing on those numbers in my marketing and communication every chance I could.
For marketers and communicators, this points to the fact that shared media will continue to be an important channel.
According to a different article from Statista from April of 2021, Facebook has nearly 2.8 billion active users. Its subsidiary, Instagram, has over 1.2 billion active users.
YouTube boasts over 2.2 million active users.
TikTok, the newest and shiniest social media platform, has 732 million active users.
Twitter, where I like to hang out, has a small number of active users compared to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube with 396 million users.
Those numbers are pretty staggering. And if you think about it, Twitter may be much smaller than Facebook but if it was a country it would be bigger than the US.
There is no denying that social media has the reach and this is the allure for many businesses and marketers alike.
Social Media for Business
For some, the name of the game in marketing is to create as much awareness as possible.
When Facebook shows up and says, “We’ve got nearly 2.8 billion active users, and our product Instagram has over 1.2 billion, plus we’ve connected them so you can run ads and hit all these users and on top of that, we’ve made it easy for you to sell your product on both our platforms,” it’s not easy to say no.
In fact, it’s pretty bloody compelling to jump on these platforms as quickly as you can.
The appeal to have access to all these people just by joining Facebook and Instagram, it’s a winning argument right?
Before you answer this question, let’s stop and take a look at what social means for businesses.
You’ve seen some of the pros already. The number of users who spend over two hours a day on social. Then we have the fact that the social media platforms are making it easier than ever to sell to your customers directly from their platforms.
I haven’t even talked about how if your business to business, LinkedIn is an option that allows you to connect, buy ads, and offers a blogging platform.
And of course, these platforms are free. You aren’t paying a dime to be on them. This certainly isn’t the case if you have your own website.
You only pay on social media platforms if you decide to run ads.
This means fewer overhead expenses for you as a business.
These are all nice pros for using social media as the center of your online presence.
This all compelling for you as a business owner.
The idea of a platform for users hasn’t been lost on entrepreneurs who have looked at the social media companies and determined they could build their own yet different platform.
It’s Not Just Social Media
The allure to provide free platforms that offer reach and a way to make money hasn’t been lost on entrepreneurs.
Blogging is a form of communication that is typically seen as a part of content marketing.
Many businesses who choose to engage in content marketing will have a blog on their website. Of course, having a website comes with a cost but don’t fret, there are other options that allow you to blog, unburdened by the cost of a website.
Medium has 85-100 million active readers. 200,000 – 400,000 of those people are paid subscribers. Many people who write, have set up shop on Medium, and it’s where they publish.
If you have a business and you’ve decided to make say, Instagram, the center of your business dealings, but you’d like to post some articles, Medium could be a great option.
There are other uses as well.
I use Medium for syndication meaning I take articles I have written on my website and re-post them, with some minor changes. There is then some verbiage pointing back to the original article on my site. I do the same thing on LinkedIn.
It’s a way to get in front of an audience that may not normally visit my website. This allows me to expand the reach of the content marketing I’m doing.
Email marketing is another option and Substack offers a platform that provides a way to start an email newsletter in which you can make money from subscriptions.
It’s an intriguing option if you have a large email list in which you are sending a newsletter on a regular basis. Why not get paid for the time you spent creating it?
Most people see the huge number of people on the platform, the ease in setting up shop, and see it as a no-brainer but there are some issues.
The Dangers of Building on a Platform
I asked a question earlier and you may have already answered it with a resounding yes.
Platforms sound awesome. The reach, the fact you can sell on them, and even get paid for simply using them to send an email.
Well, there is more information you need to know.
All of these platforms that I’ve been talking about are those in which you rent. You don’t own them. You join their network. And make no mistake, it is their network.
On social media, you are the product because they make money by selling ads.
They make it free to you and then gather as much information as you’ll share with them. It’s not just your name, date of birth, and city you live in either.
Simply by posting, you are sharing information about yourself which can then be used to help sell ads.
This is all fine as long as social media users are aware of what is happening. This is at the heart of the privacy debate. However, I digress.
Earlier I pointed to two pieces of information. The number of active users and the time people spend using social media daily. I told you that if I was marketing for them, I would hit on these numbers any chance I could and they do.
They throw out these numbers to businesses like yours and mine and use that to help convince us to sell ads on their platforms.
There is nothing wrong with selling ads. It’s a legitimate way to help you market your business.
The issue isn’t joining one or all of these platforms to have a presence or to have access to run ads. The issue is making it the center of your online presence.
Let me say that again because it’s important. The issue is making one of these platforms the center of your online presence.
And yes, I’m including platforms such as Medium and Substack as well.
The problem with you renting is that you don’t own anything. If Facebook or Substack decide to change the rules, which is their prerogative as a business, you are the one who can be hurt.
Don’t believe me? It’s happened before. Several years ago, Facebook decided to change its algorithm to promote connections between people. This meant that it deemphasized the connection to businesses.
The businesses that put all their eggs in the Facebook basket got hammered. Many went out of business because the traffic they were receiving took a huge hit in the wrong direction.
From that day forward for businesses, Facebook became a paid platform. If you’re on Facebook and want to get any reach, you have to buy an ad.
I would ask you who that favored, you or Facebook? The answer is obvious.
As much as I would love to tear Facebook apart for this move, I can’t. They did what they thought was best for their business just like you or I would.
It’s the same with Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium, and Substack.
None of these platforms are in business to make you money. They are in business to make them money.
The Platforms Have Declared War
Platforms want you to use and also want to keep you on their platform as long as possible.
For businesses, it’s about making it beneficial to be on their platform whether it be running ads or allowing you to sell directly from them.
While it seems nice that Instagram is allowing you to sell on their platform, they are getting a cut of that sale.
What they’ve done may feel like a win-win but it’s really an attempt to replace your owned media with their solution.
I’ll concede you might be getting in front of people that you normally wouldn’t because they didn’t know you existed but what happens if there is change? How much money could you lose that you’ve become dependent on?
When you are on any of these platforms, you don’t own them or the users that come with them. The access they give you to their users can be easily taken away if their business plan changes.
I’ll pause for a minute to point out that Substack is the outlier in this. While you don’t own the platform you have to get the email subscribers which, at the time of this writing, they are allowing you to take with you if you leave their platform. However, if this changed what would happen?
In going to war with owned media, they are trying to convince you that giving them a cut of your business benefits you. Does it or does it benefit them?
It’s Not the Platforms, It’s How You Use Them
Earlier I talked about how I used Medium to syndicate the articles I’ve written on my website. It’s part of a strategy to potentially expose people to my thoughts that haven’t been to my website.
I don’t use either of these platforms as a replacement. I use them to supplement my owned media activities in a way that benefits my business.
The goal is to expose people to my thoughts and if it resonates, drive them to my site to read more. Since the syndicated posts are at minimum a month old, if they hit my blog, they will see something newer as well.
The platforms can be very helpful with amplification, marketing, and building relationships but the ultimate goal should be that they drive people to something you own.
The issue for the platforms is that doing this takes people off their platform and gets them to yours. It’s good for you but not so much for them.
Don’t use the platforms in a way in which they are the center of your online presence. It’s not good for your business.
Follow their lead and do what’s best for your business, not theirs.
And remember, their war against owned media is ultimately a war against you.