This article is intended for writers and other content providers, who are active on social media and have a goal of generating revenue from their content. However, people who use social media to share photos and thoughts with friends and family can benefit from reading this article too.
The best way to experience AALBC.com’s content is not through the peep hole of a 140 character tweet or a stripped-down, plain text post on a Facebook wall, but by visiting the website and enjoying our curated, multimedia content. This may sound obvious to anyone reading this blog post. However, given the energy I’ve invested posting content on a variety of social media platforms, it might not be obvious by observing my behavior.
As a publisher of book reviews, interviews, videos and articles, I generate revenue by attracting visitors to this website. For over 16 years I’ve been pretty good at it, particularly when you consider the content, books written by or about Black people, is not the most popular subject on the Web.
After years of experience using social media to market AALBC.com, I’ve noticed several adverse trends. As a result, I’ve decided to not allocate my increasingly limited resources to social media.
“So Troy, why bore us with the details? Why don’t you stop whining, take your marbles and leave social media already?”
Well this is issue is much bigger than me or AALBC.com. In fact, I’ve been doing relatively well, compared to my peers, using social media to drive traffic to my website. Consider a snapshot of the insights of an AALBC.com Facebook post highlighting the work of Peniel E. Joseph (less than 24 hours old at the time of this writing):
There is nothing unusual about this post. Some of my posts perform better, and others perform worse, depending upon the metrics considered. As you can see (click the image for a enlarged view), the Peniel post was viewed 1,827 times in less than 24 hours and the link was clicked six times. While this may not sound like a lot of clicks, the ratio between the number people who saw the post, and the number who clicked the link it contained, is relatively good. Besides, it only took about 10 seconds to share the information.
“Now I’m really confused Troy. If Facebook is working for you, then what are you complaining about?
The popular belief is social media is a mandatory tool for anyone interested in promoting their business. The vast majority of us have brought into the hype without question. The reality is everything we do on Facebook, to drive traffic to our websites, enriches Facebook and depreciates our websites. The minor, short-lived, benefit some of us might extract individually is simply not worth what we give up collectively.
Prior to the popularity of social media, generating traffic was much easier. It was very common for a writers to refer visitors to other writers’ websites. We had related links pages, web-rings, blog rolls and other ways of promoting and supporting each other online. Today there better tools that could allow independent websites, acting together, to be much more effective at promotion that Facebook can alone.
The more power we give to Facebook, social media in general, the less control we have over what is seen on the Web. I suspect you have already noticed the effect of social media’s dominance of the Web; scandalous or celebrity driven content is recycled and dominates what we see; sponsored content (paid advertisements) masks itself as news and editorial; and advertisements are embedded everywhere you look.
Another profound and troubling problem is the ongoing weakening of platforms dedicated to promoting Black books and authors. In a 2011 article, Black Book Websites Need Love Too, I noticed that we were losing Black book website’s at an alarming rate. That trend has continued; the remaining sites are receiving fewer visitors and generating less revenue as a result. With less revenue, the ability to create content and attract visitors is diminished, furthering increasing downward pressure on revenue. Pretty soon the website is no longer a viable business—assuming it ever was.
It is an extremely hostile environment for independent websites today. Despite social media new websites have virtually no chance to build an audience. So not only are we losing what we had, new websites are discouraged from ever launching.
Ironically, these conditions tend to drive people to social media even more, because it is much easier to establish a web presence on a social media platform than launch and maintain an independent website. But the result is more people competing for attention on that social platform and everyone ends up being heard by fewer people. The writers and potential readers are the losers. The social media platform is the only winner. Indeed, the more we struggle to be heard, by being more “social” or paying to promote posts, the more the social media platform profits—whether we connect with our readers or not.
If what we are losing from independent websites was compensated by equivalent content on social media, it would not be so completely tragic. Not surprisingly, social media has failed miserably in delivering the richness and variety offered by individual websites. This is understandable as the goal of social media is to maximize revenue for their owners. Independent websites, on the other hand, are primarily driven by their mission.
Social media is seemingly an impossibly tough opponent in the competition for visitors. As writers and owners of websites we can not continue to exacerbate the problem by fueling our competition with content and sending traffic directly to social media with every “Follow me on Facebook” request. The trick is to exploit social media, not to allow social media to exploit us.
AALBC.com is not immune to these pressures. I’ve been able to grow and monetize my eNewsletter, obtain concessions from vendors, use my time more effectively and leverage the support of partners in creative ways.
Actually, I’m not pulling up my social media stakes completely. I plan to continue to share some of AALBC.com’s updates with on social media, but posts will executed remotely from AALBC.com, using AddThis. For automated social media updates I’ll use Twitterfeed. I suspect my remote and automated updates will eventually be shown less frequently by social media and therefore become less effective, but I will continue to adapt my strategies as I have done over the last two decades.
I will only engage with readers on independent platforms. Engaging with readers on social media platforms about AALBC.com content is the activity that saps the most of my time and provides social media the most value. In the past I often found myself engaging with readers on AALBC.com and multiple platforms over the same content—I can no longer afford to do this.
Today writers struggle over the effective management of their social media. This is understandable as they are often judged more by the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers than the quality of their writing. Again, many say social media is a requirement—in fact I was one of these people. When you consider the fact, the majority of top earning authors barely use Twitter and many don’t even have an account, you have the question the value.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. This is a tough problem, but not an intractable one. If we do nothing, diversity on the World Wide Web will continue to decline. In exchange, we will be left with a handful of social media platforms algorithmically determining what we see and how we see it, invading our privacy and profiting from the content we provide.
My goal is not to get rid of social media (though personally, I would not miss it for split second). My goal is to ensure that independent websites not only survive, but thrive. The last thing I want to see is a world where the presentation of Black books (our culture really) is controlled, owned and operated by a corporation, solely driven by profit. With the closure of the most of the Black owned bookstores over the past decade, we are essentially at a place today where Black books can only be purchased online from Amazon.
Remember, as writers it is our content that provides the most value to social media. It is time we work together to reap the fruits of our labor and stop the digital sharecropping.
I’m working with others to develop strategies for us all to utilize our collective websites, to share and promote our content. If you are interested in learning more, sharing your experience or joining our effort, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or share your ideas in the comments below.
Finally, if you are a writer with a website send readers to YOUR website and encourage them to engage you there. If people are desperate to find you on a social media platform, they know already how to do it. Social media does not need any additional promotion, but our websites certainly do.
Join the fight for independence on the Web.