Don’t Build Your Community on Social Media Alone or Risk Losing it All
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Last week, my Facebook account was restricted for sixty days (yet again) because the company’s AI algorithm incorrectly labeled a post I made about having to replace my truck’s transmission as “hate speech.” This isn’t an isolated incident. It’s happened to me multiple times, and I’ve heard the same complaint from thousands of other business owners and marketers over the last several years.
Now you might be tempted to think, “No big deal, you can appeal it, and once a human there reviews it, it will be reinstated, and everything will be fine.” Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in real life because that never happens. After you submit an appeal, a message is displayed saying, “Since your review, many people and organizations around the world have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Facebook is also affected.” Then the company simply ignores you.
For the record, the pandemic has absolutely no bearing on anything in 2022, but even if it did, a huge portion of the workforce is remote, so that would still be a moot point because they work from home. In other words, it’s just a made-up excuse not to provide real customer support. Facebook isn’t alone in this, though. Most social media platforms are guilty of this to varying degrees. But poor customer support is only a minuscule part of the real problem.
The real problem here is that most of us are building a business on “property” that isn’t ours, which means that all of your hard work can be essentially taken from you with no notice, no real ability to appeal and no recourse.
That business page you spent years building a following on, along with tens of thousands of dollars in marketing, can suddenly be deleted, and you can be banned from creating a new one. The same applies to the groups you’ve poured your valuable time, money and resources into in order to build an active and engaged community. This can even happen to your entire social media account. Poof — it’s like you never even existed!
Related: Is Social Media Really That Important for Your Business?
This doesn’t only happen to people who legitimately violate the terms of service (TOS) of a social media platform. (It’s worth noting that these platforms often arbitrarily enforce or ignore their own TOS, so while one person might be suspended or even banned, another person can get away with doing the same exact thing with no repercussions even when their action is reported.) It also happens when their automated AI algorithms that scan content, accounts and activity for violations incorrectly identify a “problem,” as happened to me. Also, when the platforms change their terms of service and penalize people for something that was not a violation at the time they did it.
This is an important issue for entrepreneurs. Especially small businesses that rely heavily on a particular platform. Overreliance on any one platform is tremendously dangerous. Building your community on social media is a textbook case of overreliance.
When the rug gets pulled out from underneath your feet — regardless of the reason — your business can be destroyed virtually overnight. This is a warning I’ve made since MySpace first emerged as the first widely adopted social media platform back in 2004. At the time, many people claimed that websites were officially dead and all businesses would only need a social media profile from now on. I called that kind of reliance on any platform a dangerous mindset nearly twenty years ago, and it’s only become more dangerous since then.
Related: Why Instagram Is Every Entrepreneur’s Most Powerful Tool
Now you might find yourself asking, “So what should I do, Jeremy? I can’t just give up social media!” You’re correct — you cannot give up social media. It’s a vital part of business today, and you absolutely have to leverage it effectively if you want to remain competitive. You just can’t rely on it because that puts your business in the hands of organizations you have zero control over.
So what should you do? The approach I recommend is twofold:
Leverage multiple social networks so that you’re not entirely dependent on any one platform.
Build your community where you have complete control and ownership, rather than directly on social media.
When I say “your community,” what I mean is your engaged and active audience of clients, prospects and strategic partners. And when I say, “where you have complete control and ownership,” I mean a place where no other person or entity can shut you down. This could include, among other channels, your own website, email list or podcast. Then, you use social media to drive people to those channels instead of driving them to a page or group on social media.
An example of this principle in action is the community my company recently built following my latest restriction. This community is hosted on my company’s website and provides all the same functionality you’d find on Facebook, including connections, a wall/timeline and groups. We’ve already started beta testing with a small group of users, and once it’s ready for the official launch, we will begin driving people to the group on our website rather than to the group on Facebook. And while we will continue live streaming into our Facebook group, every live stream will also include multiple calls to action, encouraging people to join us in the group on our own website, where we are also live stream. And when someone joins our community, they are automatically added to our email list, giving us the ability to market to them even more effectively.
Related: 5 Tips for Harnessing Social Media to Scale Your Online Business
When you do this, you will have complete control and ownership of your community and will be protected from the whims and poor management of any social media platform. This creates powerful multi-channel relationships that you own and control.
And by actively driving people to your own digital properties, you’re helping to reinforce your brand, strengthen relationships with your audience and increase your revenue. It also helps to improve your conversion rate and client satisfaction because more activity on your own digital properties means you can collect more data that you can use to make better marketing decisions.
So if you want to build a truly resilient business, which is becoming increasingly important because of the behavior of social media platforms in recent years, you need to build your community in a way that you have complete ownership and control of it. Otherwise, you’re building a house of cards that can be knocked over at any moment.