Let’s Get Social

“Social media” – sites and services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and others – are exceptionally popular. They’re responsible for an incredible amount of interaction on the internet.

It would be wise not to ignore social media.

Unfortunately, it’s also easy to “do” social media improperly, and run the risk of actually harming your online presence and reputation – or at least wasting massive amounts of energy with no return on that investment.

To help make the right decisions along the way, we need to understand how the system is rigged.

Digital sharecropping

Wikipedia defines sharecropping as “… a system of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on their portion of land.” In recent years, the term digital sharecropping has been also been applied to what’s happening on social media.

When you post on a social media service, it’s critical to remember that this is not your “land”. The service, and everything on it, ultimately belongs to the service provider. You are but a “tenant”, posting and sharing with the hopes of receiving some share of the attention of other users of the service.

You are completely subject to whatever rules that service – the landowner – sets down. In fact, you’re subject, not just to the explicit rules, but also to the ever-changing whims, priorities, and resources of the provider.

The real customer

It helps to understand how social media services make money to stay in business and, presumably, make a profit.


Contrary to most people’s expectations, the true customers of social media services are the people and companies who pay money to have their ads displayed or their posts promoted: the advertisers.

The people who use the service? They’re the product. They’re the eyeballs that view the ads that the real customers have purchased.

So what are we?

As content producers, we’re something akin to bait. Our content, and the content of millions like us, is the “bait” that lures others to the service to view what we have produced – be it a thoughtful article, a witty post, or a funny cat picture – along with the advertising that accompanies it.

Now, there’s a lot of good, free content – a lot of bait – which means users have a lot of reason to visit. As a result, we’re happy to have a place where we can reach out to that audience with the content we choose to post on social media.

Just remember: you’re not the customer.

Picking the right platform(s)

Not all platforms are appropriate for all business, causes, or messages.

Today, Facebook is a great place to find massive numbers of adults across a wide variety of topics. It’s not wrong to think of Facebook as the “default” place to participate in social media if your audience is past, say, their teenage years.

Facebook is Ask Leo!‘s primary social media presence because, as I’ve described it to others, “it’s where my people are”.

Based on your understanding of your audience, you may decide or prioritize differently. Pinterest is great for photos if your topic is visual. Twitter for concise, timely, fast, and pithy. Instagram is visual, fast, and pithy. Snapchat for the kids, LinkedIn for professionals.

The list goes on.

Understanding where your people are – meaning which social media service they are most likely to actually use – is key to making the right choice.

Building your assets

One of the rather strong opinions that I express on Ask Leo! is that you should never, ever, allow a free email account to be the only place you keep your email.  If you do so, too many things can go wrong, and you run the risk of losing it all forever. Better to back up, somehow, some way, or use a different approach to email entirely if that’s what it takes.

As you can imagine from my take on social media, I have a similar opinion on its use.

I cringe inwardly whenever I hear that some business has a Facebook page – and only a Facebook page – that contains all of their online or social media content. Once again, too many things can go wrong, and it’s too easy to lose it all, for a variety of reasons.

This is why Ask Leo! On Business focuses on building your web site and your mailing list: these are assets that you own, control, and can build on.

And that’s where I strongly recommend you continue to build. It’s your priority. It’s the center of your online presence.

Everything else, especially social media, should be viewed as a way to build that presence, not distract from it.

Use social media to invest in your assets (not theirs)

In my opinion, the “right way” to use social media is a two-step process:

  1. Put valuable content on your web site.
  2. Use social media to build an audience, and give them reasons to visit your web site.

That does not mean everything you do on social media is only and always about taking people back to your web site each and every time. Not at all.

Be real. Engage with people. Be appropriate to your audience, your topic, and most of all, be appropriate to the social media platform you’re using.

But then give people a reason to visit your site.

That could mean posting links to your articles (as I do with both Ask Leo! and Ask Leo! On Business), it could mean giveaways, or it could mean posting your newsletter sign-up bonus information on social media every so often.

But maintain your website and your mailing list as your base of operations. Everything else online feeds those.

That way, should any of those social media sites disappear, fall out of favor, or make changes you can’t live with, you’ve still got your most important assets: your site and list.

It’s just a start

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that social media isn’t worth it, or that it’s a waste of time. I believe it can absolutely be a key component to online success, if done properly.

It’s just too easy to do it improperly.

With a philosophy that places your assets first, there are many strategies that leverage social media to take you further.

But it all starts with, and remains based in, your website and your list.