Thoughts
August 12, 2020

You Don’t Own Your Social Accounts — You Rent Them

The best time to ever be a digital marketer was the first half of the last decade. For a few glorious years, we were given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to affordably grow massive audiences on social media that you could then communicate with for the unbeatable price of free dollars and free cents.

We used this magical moment to launch some great brands and amazing projects, but then the slide started. Facebook announced that businesses could expect organic reach to dip… and then dip some more… and then eventually they just came right out and more or less “sorry suckers, assume it’s zero.” Now all these massive pages that we built would be locked away, speaking to nobody.

That is, unless you paid the gatekeepers. Facebook goes public, and they need some revenue. Who better to get that revenue from than the brands that just ponied up to build large platforms for themselves on the network. So, we’ve arrived at today’s landscape: great content can still win, but it’s a lot more likely that you’ll need to shell out just to get your message heard.

This is the best example of how the followings you build on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or wherever are not actually “owned” audiences. They’re “rented.”

Like a rental car or apartment, you get to use these tools more or less as you see fit — but within the parameters of an agreement. You have to pay to keep access, and you don’t have any control over the future of that asset.

Facebook changed how reach worked and it cost marketers money. Tomorrow, Twitter might decide it doesn’t want to include any links to the Apple App Store. Next week, LinkedIn could say that you can only post videos that include call-outs to their jobs platform. Hell, next month Pinterest could announce that it won’t publish any images that include the color green.

At the end of the day, the audiences you build on these platforms are beholden to the policies and priorities of the companies that run them. This is not to say that it’s never worth it to invest in these tools — we’ve been tremendously successful in doing so for dozens and dozens of clients over the years. But it is worth remembering when you’re developing your strategy.

The truly owned audiences are your email list, website, SMS list, physical mailing list, or other tool where you and you alone decide how you interact. Consider buying over renting, and prioritizing at least one of these channels over just your social media accounts.

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, has a book coming out in 2023, and works with some cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

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