One of the things I’m a very strong proponent of is placing as much of your best content primarily on your own website that you control. I think Facebook is awesome, YouTube is great, Medium can be interesting and if you want to Snap, Tweet or Insta that’s totally up to you, but your best stuff, that should be on your own site with everything point back to that!
I talk about this topic a fair bit because it’s really important – being a digital sharecropper is an absolutely terrible idea. Building your business on someone else’s digital real estate is a sure-fire way to find yourself standing around one day holding a big bag of nothing. I’ve seen it happen so many times that I’m no longer even surprised when it happens anymore, no matter how egregious the situation is.
Let me break it down for you in one simple sentence…
It’s all about control, stupid!
You need to build assets that benefit you, but also in a way that ensures your investment is not randomly taken away from your at the discretion of some company you have no input into.
That’s why I’m such a fan of WordPress. It’s an amazing content management solution and publishing platform. It’s versatile, can be made to do almost anything with relative ease and support is readily available. Most importantly, it’s open source and ubiquitous. If your webhost shuts you down, you can just restore your site to another host – there are thousands of them to choose from. Wordpress ensures your freedom to control your own publishing platform.
But didn’t I just say that Facebook and YouTube were great?
I did and they are. The power and reach of the social media sites are unparalleled in human history. Your ability to quickly pull together an audience on a massive scale is genuinely mind-boggling.
You should learn how to use them effectively, exploit their potential and do whatever you can to grow your audience there… And you should absolutely, unequivocally have a rock-solid strategy to pull people off those platforms and send them to your website where you can try and convince them to deepen their relationship with you by joining your mailing list.
Too many people see building a big audience on those platforms exclusively as “the goal” and really it never is for most of us. Sure, there are those unicorns out there like PewDiePie or Jenna Marbles who can make a living from their YouTube fame, but for every one of those folks, there are over 100,000 wannabes wasting their time with nothing to show for their efforts.
Likewise, I see people doing work to build up their YouTube views so that they can drive people to their Facebook pages or their Twitter account. That’s probably a little bit better because at least you’re broadening your reach and minimising your exposure to any single platform you don’t own, but it’s still not great.
I talk to a lot of Udemy Instructors and I see them creating YouTube videos and sending the traffic directly to Udemy. That’s just another low percentage move. Sure, you’ll get some sales that way, but ultimately, you’re just running a traffic arbitrage business and that’s a very poor long-term thing to want to do.
Social has its place and it can be very prominent and strategic. I’ve started to become a really big fan of Facebook Groups as a way of establishing an audience and building ongoing affinity with them. Facebook Groups are a convenient way to create a community on a platform that gets really high, sticky traffic naturally.
A few years back, everyone I know started building forums. They figured they could throw up a XenForo or vBulletin forum related to their target audience, open the doors and watch a community flourish around your bulletin board software. The really ambitious people had paywalls and charged subscription fees for access to the community.
The vast majority of these failed. I’m talking in excess of 95%. Some people I know have even tried to build forums two or three times and have failed spectacularly.
And they fail because it’s hard. Finding people and getting them to come to you is a very big ask. Managing and running a forum is tough. Getting people to engage, share and participate is diabolically hard.
Forums are just a really hard to get to work.
Facebook Groups are so much easier.
Almost everyone has a Facebook account and uses it on a reasonably frequent basis from their computer and their phone. I know, some of you are sitting there smugly saying, “I don’t use Facebook at all. I deleted it from my phone.” Well, congratulations, you’re one of THOSE people.
For the rest of us normal humans, Facebook is convenient. We’re already on there and joining a group is really easy. Not only that, but engagement drives engagement, so the more people use your FB group, the most FB surfaces it to them in their newsfeed. If you create a really strong community with highly engaging conversation, then FB will reward you by making sure your group members see it more often.
I know lots of people who even make access to their Facebook Groups part of a wider membership program so in effect people are paying for access. You need to be careful about this as Facebook gets a bit sensitive when you start tolling people for using parts of their platform, but if done right it can work.
Which brings us back again to the issue of control. Even people who own successful Facebook Groups should be trying to get people to join their email list. The reason is simple, Facebook can shut you down and it happens regularly. I know numerous people with highly active groups in the tens of thousands of members who’ve seen their Groups shut down permanently for no apparent reason. You don’t control Facebook and your name isn’t Mark Zuckerberg so you don’t own Facebook. You own your email list though and if you’ve successfully built up that asset then even if you get closed down you can maintain your relationship with your audience through email!
Now, I’m sure some of you philosophy majors out there are going to try and apply a logical headlock on me and say that you don’t control things like your autoresponder company or your webhost and they can shut you down too. Before I refute what you say, if you were thinking this, shame on you for looking for loopholes and missing the point.
When you pay for a service, unless you’re breaking the rules, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get shut down. It happens, but for the most part, you can always find other service providers and move easily enough. Paying for access generally, gives you a higher degree of certainty oversupply.
If I pay for web hosting it is unlikely my host will shut me down and even if they down, I should have a backup of my site that I can easily move to another host – it’s inconvenient but it won’t destroy my business.
If my email service provider terminates my account, then I should be able to take my email list and find a new service provider. You might have to jump through a few hoops to confirm the validity of your list, but you’ll always have options.
On the other hand, if Facebook closes your group or YouTube shutters your account, you’re going to struggle to get it reinstated for a whole bunch of reasons and if that’s your publishing platform, you’re dead in the water and you’ll almost certainly need to start again from scratch.
The bottom line is, build a platform that you own and control and use all of these ancillary social platforms and tools as a way of promoting and driving people there. Focus on deepening your relationship by getting them on your email list so that you can reach them and yes, market to them when it suits you. Most importantly, build your assets not somebody else’s no matter how easy or attractive that might appear.