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Don't Let Them Own You: A Rant
Like all marketing, social media is only a means to an end. Let me explain...
Back when I worked in marketing (which I did full-time from 2007-2017), I discovered that the majority of my clients held a fundamental misunderstanding about social media.
I’ll illustrate with this 100% fictional (and admittedly not very charitable) conversation:
CLIENT: Hello! I would like one social media strategy, please.
ME: Great! How’s your website?
CLIENT: …No, I said social media. You know… Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…?
ME: Perfect. When was the last time you updated your website content?
CLIENT: …You don’t seem to understand. We’re not here about our website — we want a social media strategy.
ME: I understand! Though if you want to talk strategy, it’s important to remember that social media is only a means to an end. It’s not your digital home — it’s a neon sign pointing toward your digital home. So your Twitter/Facebook/Instagram account and posts are going to ultimately point people somewhere — hopefully to an accessible, professional-looking website with a good user experience on both desktop and mobile.
CLIENT: Come on, we just want a bigger audience and better posts.
ME: Why, though?
CLIENT: For… engagement?
ME: And what will that engagement do?
CLIENT: …Engage… people?
ME: To do what?
CLIENT: Buy our products?
ME: Okay. Can they buy your products directly on social media?
CLIENT: No, they need to go to our… ohhh.
ME: So… how’s your website?
It’s easy to get caught up in vanity metrics — the things that make us look good and feel good, like large follower numbers, masses of positive comments, or high numbers of likes and shares. But ultimately, those metrics aren’t meaningful, and have little bearing on what we’re actually establishing a strategy to do.
Social media is not an end in and of itself.
Social media is a means to an end, whether you’re trying to connect with your friends, increase sales of your products and/or services, or get people to read your Frodo Baggins fanfic.
Now, you don’t necessarily need a strategy if you’re just on social media to develop a sense of righteous anger or hang out with your friends. (My personal social media strategy is just “Don’t be a jerk.”)
But if you do want to sell books, build an audience, grow your client base, get people to listen to your podcast, etc., then you need to give people something to do with your social media posts — other than click Like.
I’m talking about the CALL TO ACTION.
The CALL TO ACTION (CTA) is a sort of holy grail in marketing — ultimately, if you’re spending time and/or money on marketing, the CTA represents what you’re actually paying for.
It’s the thing you ultimately want people to do, accompanied by a way to do the thing.
If you want people to sign up for a class you’re teaching, you should probably provide a link to where they can sign up for the class. If you want people to buy your book, you should probably provide a link to where they can buy your book.
That being said, NOT EVERY SOCIAL MEDIA POST SHOULD BE AN AD FOR YOUR BOOK. This is important. In fact, you should only create posts with a CTA about 20% of the time, while the remaining 80% of your social media content should earn the favor, trust, and affection of relevant followers.
I call this the 80/20 rule — if you give your followers stuff they value for free 80% of the time, then it’s cool to ask them to buy your stuff 20% of the time.
Seriously — no one wants to see “BUY MY BOOK!” “BUY MY BOOK!” “BUY MY BOOK!” over and over again. It feels desperate and gross and spammy. I unfollow people who do this, and maybe you do, too. The truth is, no one wants to be sold to, even though we’re all generally buying.
“Sarah,” you may be saying in exasperation, “why are you spending so much time talking about things we’re only going to be posting 20% of the time?!”
I’m doing this because it’s one piece of an overall strategy. But it is the most important piece, because it’s the thing that all of your other social media posts are building toward.
And most people have no idea what this is.
Social media is a means to an end — a machine that, unless you direct it otherwise, will only feed itself. When you click Like, you are validating the post within the ecosystem of that social media platform, and nowhere beyond.
So… why am I talking about this now?
Back in my marketing days, I had clients who just wanted to “do everything on [insert social media platform here].”
“Our audience is there,” they would say. “And so is all of our content. We’ve worked hard to build our presence on that platform. Why would we need a website?”
“Because,” I would say, “in addition to several very valid SEO factors, you don’t own Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg could pull the plug on Facebook tomorrow, and then you’d have no web presence at all. And if your content isn’t backed up anywhere else…” (I would then ramble on until the client’s eyes glazed over, and then some.)
People rarely believed that institution as massive as Facebook could simply… go away, or vanish overnight.
But it’s actively happening right now on Twitter.
Depending on whom you ask, Twitter has been in decline for the last several days/months/years, but as of last week (July 24, 2023), the blue bird logo has been replaced by a single “X” (which looks a lot like Unicode Character (U+1D54F) and is, somewhat hilariously, trademarked by Facebook… which has recently rebranded to “Meta”, etc. etc. etc.).
As much as I personally dislike this change, and think that as a rebrand, it could have gone a lot better, I don’t have a say in it, because I don’t own Twitter —
— excuse me, I mean I don’t own X.
(Which… not to go on another tangent, but I have feelings about this as the main character of my audio drama Girl In Space is named “X”.)
I don’t own any social media platform, and neither do you. Your use of it is contingent upon the whims of its owner(s)/investor(s)/dark leader(s). And while you technically do “own” the content you post to any given social media platform… if that social media platform can ban you, block you, or go away overnight, do you really own your content there?
Can you own something that can be taken away from you or changed with no explanation or recourse?
Social media can be an important part of a complete marketing strategy. But please remember that social media is only a means to an end.
Know what that end is.
Have a space online that you own and control, a space that will not change or go away unless you decree it.
Invest your time and/or marketing budget in something that you own, something that you can be proud of.
Because, as they say, “all else is vanity.”
Words & warmth,
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