Social media can be a useful tool in your online toolbox. It’s a great way to get messages out quickly and with minimal fuss. However, I see many writers relying on social media as their sole online presence. There are many reasons why this is a huge mistake, but they all boil down to the same thing: You do not control the social media site. The corporation controls the site and, as the saying goes, “Their game, their rules.” Why is it so important that you use a website that you control as your primary online presence? Here are thirteen reasons.
- It can’t be taken away. Social media sites can go bankrupt and cease to exist. They can be purchased by competitors and shuttered to effectively kill the competition. The market can change and render the site obsolete. However it happens, one day the site just isn’t there anymore and your web presence is gone along with it. This doesn’t happen when you have your own website. As long as you pay your domain registration and hosting fees on time, your site can’t be taken away from you. Even if your host goes belly up, you still have all of your content and you can easily move it somewhere else.
- The rules and policies don’t change. How many times has a social media site changed a policy that made it more difficult to use? How many times have privacy policies changed and made you want to run for the hills? How many times have you had to start paying for a service that was previously free, or they’ve discontinued a service that you relied upon? When you have your own site, you make the rules and your marketing strategy can’t be blown apart just because someone on the other end changed an algorithm or eliminated a key service that you were using.
- You own the data. A social media site owns your connections. You can currently download and export your contact lists and connections from most social media sites, but I wouldn’t expect that to last forever. After all, these sites make money off of your connections, relationships, and data. It only makes sense that, at some point, they’re going to take steps to protect those money makers by limiting your ability to take it with you. If you want to be able to control your connections, you need to drive them to your website and then offer a subscription option so they can subscribe to your website. Once the data is on your site, it’s yours forever, no matter what the social networks decide to do.
- You are in control. You control everything on your own site, including the appearance (you can make it perfectly fit your brand instead of using whatever the social media site dictates that you use) and the comment function (you get to make the rules about who can post and when, and you can boot the spammers and trolls). You can also sell books or services on your site without running afoul of rules that limit commercial use.
- It’s not subject to fads. Remember MySpace? Unless you’re of a certain age, no, you don’t. At one time it was the hottest thing going in social media. But it disappeared, replaced by newer and “cooler” options. This can (and likely will, given the fickle nature of people and the internet as a whole) happen to any social media site. It can be all the rage today, but tomorrow it will be judged as uncool and its members will flock to the latest and greatest. If you’ve put all your energy, money, and time into that site, you’re out of luck. All of your clients and readers will flee, leaving you standing there listening to the crickets. It’s far better to put your time and effort into something that isn’t as subject to the faddish nature of the internet.
- Depth and breadth. There’s only so much you can accomplish within the limitations of social media sites. Profiles are very superficial and posting options limited. On your own website, you can post your portfolio, offer long-form articles, host lengthy videos and podcasts, post free eBooks or excerpts from your books, offer downloadable media kits, and showcase reviews and testimonials about your work. You can give your clients and readers a lot more information about you, your field, and your work on your own site than you can on any social media site.
- You have the reader’s attention. When you get someone to visit your website, you have their attention. Yours is not just another snippet of information in a long, scrolling feed. The reader isn’t glancing at your content and then scrolling right on past it to the next thing. Even if just for the time it takes them to read an article or view your upcoming events page, you have their attention.
- Analytics. Some social media platforms offer limited analytics. They can tell you how many people a post reached, whether that tweet was popular, how many people are following you, etc., but they can’t tell you where those visitors came from, what other posts of yours they visited, how long they spent interacting with your content, how much your traffic has increased overall, or show you seasonal or weekly fluctuations in traffic. There are many data points that are helpful when planning your marketing strategy and social media doesn’t even scratch the surface. However, most web hosts provide this information and there are plugins that can help, as well. When you own your own site, you can get a much better idea of how your actions and content affect your traffic and sales.
- Improved credibility. This is especially important if you’re freelancing. Many clients look at a social-media-only web presence and wonder, “Just how serious is this person?” You may be very serious, but the lack of a website makes them wonder whether or not you are really in this for the long haul. A website shows commitment. It shows that you are willing to invest the money and take on the responsibility of having a site and that marks you as a bit more credible than the person who just has a Facebook site. It may or may not be true and it may be an unfair judgement, but perception and first impressions can’t be ignored.
- Not everyone is on social media. It’s blasphemy, I know, but it’s true. Not everyone uses social media, and not everyone uses every platform. If you’re on one platform and that client or editor is on another, they might not find you. If they do find you, they may not be able to access all of your content without creating an account, a step they might deem too troublesome and move on to the next writer on the list. Even people that are active on social media may not think to look for a writer there, at least not at first. They’ll probably Google you and social media profiles aren’t always the first results that show up. Which brings me to…
- Better search results. Google and other search engines will find your social media profiles, but a well-built, active, and long-lived website carries more weight in ranking results. If you want to be found, a website is a must. Also, if you are getting mentioned in interviews, on blog hops, on your publishers website, etc., those links back to your website further boost its appeal to search engines. You don’t want to waste that sort of exposure on a social media link that helps the media site and not yourself. Plus, if the social site goes away or becomes less popular in the search engine’s algorithm, you will lose your search ranking altogether.
- One stop referral link. It’s much easier for a satisfied client to say, “Oh, you can check her out at SuzyQWrites.com,” when giving you a referral than it is for them to say, “Oh, she’s on Facebook. Or Twitter, maybe? I don’t know the link offhand,” and then send that prospective client on a hunt through all the other Suzy Q’s on the web. (And there is a surprisingly large number of Suzy Q’s to wade through, meaning the client may give up after finding five Suzy Q’s who aren’t the right one.) A simple domain name is so much neater, easier to remember, and more professional-looking to put on business cards, letterhead, query letters, email signatures, press materials, and book jackets.
- You own the material. Any samples of your work, blog posts, images that you created, excerpts from your books, or free eBooks are protected under copyright law. You own it and you control how it’s used. While you’d think that this would apply no matter where you post an item, the law isn’t as clear. If you break down the language of many social media sites’ user agreements, you get what amounts to, “You own the work and you hold the copyright, but we grant our self a license to use it however we see fit, and we could even resell it, rework it, or re-purpose it without paying you for it or telling you about it.” In many user agreements, this applies even to work you’ve deleted or removed from the site. Yikes. This is why you don’t want to rely on social media as a place to post your “money maker” content like book samples, your portfolio, blog posts, image galleries, or anything else that you hope to monetize. You don’t want someone else making money off the work you created.
Instead of relying on something that is so wildly out of your control, a better approach is to integrate your social media with your website and use each for different, but complementary, purposes. Your website should be where your clients/fans can find out everything about you and the services you offer in one stop. It’s where you keep the content you really care about such as your blog and other evergreen/money making content that appeals to your target audience. It’s where you keep your in-depth content like videos, podcasts, blog articles, portfolios and other things that are too large to fit on social media.
Social media is perfect for disposable content.
Your social channels are for lighter, fluffier content such as quick updates, time sensitive material (think giveaways and other information that has a short shelf life), quirky comments, conversations with others, funny observations, sharing other people’s content, and all those things that you want to create and share but you don’t care if they go away, are used without permission, or are somehow rendered obsolete. In other words, social media is perfect for disposable content. Your social media sites are the bait that you use to generate interest in yourself and your offerings so that people will want to visit your website. (It should go without saying, but make sure your social media profiles have links to your website.)
There’s really no excuse for not having your own website. Domain names and basic hosting are inexpensive, and with services like WordPress you don’t need to be a tech geek to get up and running. Yes, managing a website takes more time than just dumping information on a social media site, but it’s time well spent when you consider the risks and liabilities that come with relying exclusively on a platform that is controlled by someone else.