The Rules of Social Media: How to Protect Your Business from Changing Algorithms

I have a few rules when it comes to building online engagement through social media. They’re not designed to enable “get rich quick” tactics, but to ensure longevity and robustness for businesses who rely on the traffic that they get from social media to fuel their businesses.

Rule 1 of understanding social media:

“If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product”

The balance of power between you and a social network will always be in favour of the network. The more you want from the network, the more you have to give the network.

Rule 2 of understanding social media:

Social networks make money when you watch and/or click on ads and everything they do is to make you watch and click more.

The more time that you spend on the platform, the more ads you see and the more likely you are to click on something, making the platform money.

The first purpose of “the algorithm” – that mysterious machine that decides what you see and what you don’t see on each social network – is not to show you the *best* things or the most *relevant* things but the things that are most likely to engage you and keep you on the platform.

Rule 3 of understanding social media

The platform is nothing without your content, but the platform owes you absolutely nothing.

This might be a tough pill to swallow, but it is true. Facebook is a business. LinkedIn in a business. Twitter is a business. YouTube is a business. It’s not a community, it’s certainly not a family (or “fam”), and it will do what is best for its profits not what is best for you.

YouTube frequently changes its algorithm and YouTubers complain bitterly that they have lost followers, lost views on their videos, and lost revenue. The interesting thing? YouTube doesn’t lose revenue when this happens. YouTube makes more money when this happens.

What does this mean for me?

In short – never build your business on a platform you don’t control and never, ever a single social media platform. Never assume that because you can sell on Facebook today, or sell on Instagram today, that those platforms will be there forever and that their algorithms will always work for you.

Social media platforms must be treated in the same way that you would treat a print advert, or a poster, or getting your brand name on the back of the bus. It might be your message, but its not your means of delivery. The audience isn’t your audience, you’re only renting them and you pay that rent by creating engaging content for the network.

Your aim should always be to have your audience engage with you on a platform that you own. Your website is the ideal vehicle for this.

So, I just link to my website then, right?

No, not exactly. Remember Rule 2?

Unless you are paying for that click, the social network isn’t going to be keen to let you have it. Some networks make it more difficult than others to even include a link (Instagram, for example) whilst others are widely agreed to limit the exposure of posts with links in them (such as LinkedIn, where users often put links in comments rather than in the body of the post).

The ideal way to migrate your customer from your social media channels if you’re selling a product is to include something with the product, like a discount voucher, that you can only use via your business website and not through a social media channel.

If you’re in the content game, make sure you have exclusive, high quality content on your website that isn’t available anywhere else. Not only will this increase your organic exposure as search engines find this content and index it, but it is something you can point your audience to with a simple “check out my website for exclusive content” message *without* posting a link – all the social media platforms will let you include a link to your own website in your bio or profile.

Should I just come off social media?

Absolutely not – just make sure you understand that posting on social media is a transaction both with the platform and with your audience and taking nothing for granted. Today’s Twitter is tomorrow’s MySpace…

(Actually, today’s Twitter might already be today’s MySpace. Maybe today’s TikTok is tomorrow’s Twitter? I hate time travel…)

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