On the day that Facebook’s properties went offline for six hours, Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, revived some of his existing advice: “Do not build your content house on rented land.” He wrote this on LinkedIn, where he could enjoy free organic traffic from his target audience, but he tweeted it, too, and wrote about it on his news site The Tilt, because he practices what he preaches. It is not a best practice to produce content exclusively on channels you do not own. The point is one he and other content creators make over and over during the reign of social media: No business can afford to place their entire digital strategy into the hands of a single platform. Instead, build your business on digital property that you buy into, not on rented property that the owners can revoke, restructure, or accidentally remove.
The appeal of social platforms like Facebook and Instagram for small businesses is obvious. Facebook is free. It includes text, video, and images. It’s optimizable. And Facebook alone has 3 billion users. Many businesses use Facebook as their website. They communicate updates about location data information, including operating hours, promotions, and sales through Facebook, field customer comments and questions, and craft their brand identity. Sure, Facebook went dark, but isn’t it better to place your business at a busy intersection than a secluded digital side street?
First off: Facebook isn’t free.
“Well, if you aren’t paying for it,” Pulizzi said, “you are technically the product.” That includes other seemingly free platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.
Second: Although these rented platforms have enormous value, social platforms don’t just malfunction, they change their rules. They revoke services. Facebook has a long history of changing its algorithms, which effects the way posts and pages get displayed to users.
So what to do? The answer: Diversity your active channels, and use platforms where you own membership.
As the old saying goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. In marketing terms, businesses must mediate their risk by diversifying their activities on different channels. Pulizzi suggests a membership hierarchy: Generate followers on rented properties like Facebook, and move that audience to properties you own, like email, newsletters, and your website. He sees this as a hierarchy. At the bottom of the hierarchy are Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. In the middle are YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter. At the top are your own properties: Podcasts, email newsletters, print subscribers, and membership.
The problem is as much the platform as the approach. Diversifying is not only about emergency planning. It’s about reaching more customers where they are by utilizing a broader approach. Even if social doesn’t go dark again, an omni-channel strategy creates a consistent brand identity and customer experience across multiple marketing channels by making each channel work together. That means utilizing a coherent brand voice, imagery, values, and messaging, and providing a seamless shopping experience everywhere that people find you, be it a retail outlet, on your website, and Instagram.
Local marketers are the biggest culprits of not having websites. When it comes to owning not renting, consider empowering your brand’s channel partners with microsites. A microsite is a brand-specific website or webpage dedicated to a single location, campaign, event, or product. Hosted on a unique URL, a microsite has a special purpose. Where your main website remains your brand’s primary online presence with “Products,” “Team,” and “About” pages, drawing attention to your brand, your microsite focuses on your brand’s local offerings made available through channel partners. Access to microsites allows channel partners to build a local online presence for your brand without investing tons of money and time into building a site of their own. Partners own their microsite, which gives them permanent real estate for your brand’s content. Then, they can leverage channels like Facebook to extend the reach of their message and drive traffic to their microsite.
Facebook hadn’t gone down for this long since 2008. Sure, it got back online within six hours, and the company apologized. But assume it will go down again, and if not Facebook, then whatever platform we’ll all be using in the future.