Should you focus on your website or your social media campaign?

Note from Sarah: This article was originally sent via my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers receive essay style pieces like this before anyone else. Click here to subscribe!


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One of the things I say a whole lot is,

"You only own two properties online: Your website and your email list. Never forget that."

I'm cognizant of the fact that this is something that could be easily perceived as self-interested, since the core of my business is indeed websites. However, I've been saying that far before I owned a web design/strategy company. Way back when I was a communications generalist when social was in its infancy I urged my bosses to embrace social but not use it INSTEAD of our websites and email lists, but rather has an expansion of them.

My friend and colleague Kath recently experienced this as part of an illustration challenge she was taking part in—and the ripple effect is brutal. Kath used a hashtag to catalog her project. She was trucking along creating her daily challenge projects, organizing them with a hashtag. And then one day, instead of her work under the hashtag, this is what she saw:

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The most likely scenarios are that either someone reported Kath for spam or inappropriate content for some reason or instagram decided that she was using the same hashtag too frequently. (Which is a weird hurdle, since they give no guidelines as to what that is, and it makes it hard to participate in challenges.) People can follow individual hashtags and if too many of them report an image as not relevant, that too might cause you to be blocked from using hashtags. (You can see how nefarious people could even weaponize this against their competitors, which is super depressing.)

Here's what we know:

  1. Kath's entire project hashtag is hidden, making her look like a spammer at best, harming her reputation.

  2. When some people search for Kath by name on Instagram, she shows up dead last now, whereas for people connected to her on the platform she previously showed up first.

  3. Kath isn't able to use hashtags.

  4. There doesn't seem to be an appeal process. (There may be for "influencers.")

Why am I telling you all this? It goes back to what you own and staking your claim on something you control. And at this point, in the digital landscape, I see two things meeting those criteria: your website and your email list.

Now, the impact for Kath, while upsetting isn't that dire. She's not a professional illustrator, she's just using Instagram to "show her work" (by the way, read this book about the power of that practice). But what if she was a professional illustrator?

What if she was using Instagram as her primary marketing for her illustration business and poof, it was gone in an instant?

It would be bad. Really really bad.

And the fact is that this happens to people all the time when their marketing is all focused on something that's beholden to the whims of some other company. I've experienced it myself with over-reliance on Squarespace's Specialist directory for marketing.

Does this mean that I'm saying don't use social media or other tools for your marketing? Absolutely not!

What I am saying, however, is that with any tool you use, you should be driving people to the properties you own: Your email list and your website. You can do this elegantly but expanding on social media mosts in your blog or newsletter (I do this all the time, it's great!), by keeping your portfolio up-to-date, by reminding people who do business with you of your mailing list, you get the picture. It's not that hard once you develop the habit.

Here's another story. Last year I was working on a project that involved "influencers." (That's another subject for another time.) One of the "influencers" and I got in a very heated debate because this person didn't have a presence online outside of one social media platform, Instagram. And so I asked,

"What happens if Instagram starts burying your content? Or changes the platform radically? Or just goes out of fashion?"

And they replied,

"Instagram would never do that!"

I'm sure all the Vine stars—if we even remembered who they were—would have a whole lot to tell this influencer about how quickly your brand awareness can disappear if you're tied up with a specific platform over which you have no control.

Putting all your eggs in a basket over which you have no control is risky business. Do you have a plan to connect your social media followers to your list and/or website and nurture that relationship on your "home turf"? It's time to make one if you don't, and re-evaluate the effectiveness of yours if you already do.


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