Social Media is Not a Strategy

Let’s go back to grade school. You’re there in gym class, likely feeling inadequate as it is, when a game of dodgeball begins. After several minutes, the gym teacher states that everyone wearing blue can’t be hit with the ball. WHAM! Five minutes later, the teacher says that those same people wearing blue are all automatically out of the game – whether they have been hit or not.

Have you ever played a game where someone decided to make up the rules as they went along? It’s no fun and you’re not likely to win. And yet, this is exactly what happens in the world of social media. To be clear, I’m not talking about paid advertising on these platforms. There is definitely a time and place for that and it is a successful channel. I’m speaking of all of the efforts made to grow your audience on these platforms – only to find that the rules have been changed right in the middle of the game.

Many businesses were excited to learn that Facebook pages allowed them to communicate with their audiences in a place where they already lived. Best of all, this could be done completely at no cost to them. WHAM! Facebook decided that they actually wanted to make a profit and changed the rules. Suddenly, only 1% of these audiences were seeing posts and it was necessary to “sponsor” a post (read: pay for it) if they wanted to communicate with their hard-earned audience.

How about the big publishing companies and media outlets who were suffering because people were consuming their news on Facebook? When Facebook Instant Articles were announced, these companies were skeptical, but optimistic. WHAM! Facebook decided to prioritize video and publishers weren’t seeing the results they wanted. Recently, The Verge posted an article stating that publishers are now running away quickly from the Instant Article model.

Lest we just pick on Facebook, the same experience has taken place here on LinkedIn. I have to admit that I was sucked into the ability to write long-form articles such as this one. Initially, I was seeing remarkable results. You know what’s coming, don’t you? WHAM! LinkedIn shifted course and de-prioritized The Pulse and those of us who spent time building up our audiences were left in the dust. (For the record, LinkedIn recently stated that they are re-dedicating themselves to non-Influencer publishing, so all may not be lost).

If there’s nothing else you take from this article, let it be this:

Social media is a distribution channel, not a strategy.

If there is one marketing strategy you are pursuing, I hope that it is list-building. You can’t communicate with an audience you do not have. Resist the urge to put all of your eggs in the social media basket. Yes, you need to be there. Yes, it has value. But as I’ve demonstrated, the rules change quickly and without regard to your hard work and business needs. These platforms are in business, as most of us are, to make money. Never forget that.

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