I barely use social media. I only have a LinkedIn account that I’ve neglected since 2013. Oh, last week, I updated my photo.
I don’t know that in running a business in 2022, this is a good admission. I acknowledge that a lot has changed in the almost 20 years since I last had my own business. And one of the biggest changes, is the growth and ubiquity of social media. As a small business owner, almost every article I read on how to set up and market a business today includes the use of social media as a core strategy. After giving the many platforms a lot of thought, and even taking some tentative steps toward establishing my own accounts, I remain conflicted. Here are three reasons why.
Do Niche Business Really Benefit?
My design studio is a small, niche business that ultimately caters to an equally small, highly committed community. My goal is to build deep, personal relationships with my customers. My client base is such that I can have a direct connection or dialogue with them, and others that appreciate what I do. While I’d never say that developing deep relationships isn’t possible through social media platforms, it seems to me those types of relationships happen in spite of social media, not because of it. If anything, social media is good at broadcasting a business to as vast a market as is possible. This is its true strength. Since marketing my business in this way isn’t core to my growth strategy, I question the cost benefit of engagement through social media channels. What can a business owner like me accomplish through social that provides greater benefit than cultivating, and creatively marketing to my customers through an email list, for example.
What About Ownership, Use and Control of Content?
Most social media accounts are free. And as the cliche says, if someone offers you something for free then you’re the product. This is so true, especially in regards to social media companies. Social blurs the line between what the content creator owns and what the social media platform owns. This relationship works well for many, all the way up until the point that it doesn’t. If that moment happens for any reason in the platform’s determination alone, the content creator can essentially have what they’ve grown taken away from them. This risk is real, and so, I’m uncomfortable with granting some faceless decider that much leverage over what I’ve built. It seems to me, deeper investment in my own website, and dedicated focus to growing, and marketing through my email list is a far less risky investment of my time.
Am I to Accept the (Ir)Responsibility of Social Media Companies?
If the past few years have taught thoughtful people anything, it’s that social media companies have behaved irresponsibly given the power and influence the public has willingly given them. Extreme points of view, bias, untruths, misinformation – all these have existed long before social media came along. But what social media has done is to essentially throw gasoline on these fires of dysfunction. Consider extreme viewpoints as an example. Prior to social media, one had to go out of their way to seek out and access extreme viewpoints. With social media, the companies not only host these viewpoints, they do so level with those more generally accepted. The algorithms the companies use are particularly insidious in this. They facilitate access to these viewpoints by feeding users similar content, and then abstract it in such a way that the specter of the content itself is multiplied. For a not even committed seeker, niche beliefs roll in and balloon to the point that they seem…normal. This casual facilitation in real, destructive behavior is just not okay. And because the companies’ business models depend upon advertisement-fueled traffic, which thrives on conflict and dysfunction, they have no financial incentive to change their behavior.
The Impact on My Business
I know this decision comes with real costs to me, my business and those who appreciate what I do. Following me or otherwise keeping up with what I’m doing is less convenient. Understood. This is why I’m committed to regularly updating my site, why I offer the Spotlight on Design newsletter, and why I have a simple form on my site visitors can use to contact me if they’d like to connect. I know I’ll lose out on access to potential clients and customers who otherwise may come across my work. But how big or crucial are these cold touches, really?
Definitely, by foregoing a comprehensive social media strategy, I’m limiting the chance of being found or discovered by people I don’t yet know. To counter this as best I can, I’ll ask my current Flour Design Studio community for referrals, try to get my work in front of decision makers at various organizations, and basically, network. The same ways that networking has always been done. These approaches to me still hold value, and are proven ways to market a wide range of businesses. Particularly, small, niche businesses.
The Past is Past
I know that imagining a return to a pre-social media world isn’t realistic, particularly given the popularity of social media platforms. So, the question I had to ask myself is does social media help my business, and does it reflect and support my values. I’ve concluded that it doesn’t. Thus, while I’ve possibly made my path forward more challenging, this is a price I’m willing to pay.
Finally, I acknowledge that social media isn’t without value. There are benefits that come from creating easy access to communities of like-minded people. And I’m not criticizing anybody’s choice to use social media networks. I’m not here to tell anyone what to do. But for me, what we have now comes with major flaws that simply don’t merit my participation. So, if you’re looking for me on [fill in the blank], I’m not there. In the meantime, I’ll make sure to continue to develop the approaches more suited to me.
For now at least, I won’t delete my LinkedIn account. Maybe I’ll even update something else. You never know.