With enough social networks out there to fulfill every need that an individual might want to distribute content, do we need a website anymore? In this post, we'll break apart the departments of your website and look at social networks that could take its place.
Back in the 90s' websites were expensive and complicated but they were the only way to distribute content. If you wanted to reach an audience you needed to do it with an email list and fresh content to your site. Users would bookmark your site if they liked it and if they really liked it they would subscribe to your newsletter. Back then you built your audience on your platform (your website) marketed to grow your audience and maintained your site with a person called a webmaster.
Today we have networks like Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, Medium and Behance with which one could satisfy just about any way they want to get content out to the public. If you want to directly sell content you have services like Stripe and Gumroad to post on socials and to process payment.
In terms of a sales funnel, we should be thinking of social networks as orbiting planets directing people to the center of our social solar system, our website. We post some content on our website that you can't get anywhere else, our best work and in a way that shows our work the best it can be. The idea here is that someone would see my content on YouTube, IG, wherever and eventually find their way to my website where they would hopefully, sign up for my email newsletter and potentially purchase a downloadable product.
This type of sales funnel has some real benefits
- The newsletter subscribers are my social network
- Hopefully they comment on my excluvied posts (like this one)
- I'm in full control of who sees their data from my site (no one but me FYI)
- When I want to reach out directly to my audience I don't have to pay a thing
- Social networks don't have any control via algorithms designed to make me pay to reach my audience
- My website is my social network complete with branding as I see fit
Sounds good right? Well it is if you can keep up with posting fresh content daily to each network and exclusive content to your own site. Let's look at how each social network's features overlaps your website before we continue.
Facebook - swiss army knife, not really good at any one thing unless you pay big time. Experiments constantly on their audience with unreliable analytics. Copies smaller social networks like Snapchat and allows users to freeboot content with little regard for copyright. FB is a giant city, you kinda need to be here in some form but watch out cause Zuck is messing with your mind here. No direct way to monetize your content. The Walmart of social media.
Instagram - Kinda like the above but focused on photos and trying to become a video platform but failing at it. Facebook purchased Instagram some time ago and is slowly turning it into Facebook. No direct way to monetize your content.
YouTube - Replaced broadcast TV in my mind years ago. The tools here are focused on creators and you can directly monetize your videos with ad revenue. YouTubers like MKBHD are estimated to bring in over $500,000 a year in ad revenue which is why for many creators this is their main focus.
Twitter - This is your personal NEWS feed. Think of it as Instagram with better integration with video and live streaming via Periscope which Twitter acquired some time ago. Personally I like Twitter more that's Instagram but the network continues to struggle. You can directly monetize content through Stripe which can sell your products via your feed.
Behance - the network for professional creators has been focused heavily on design but has decent tools for photographers. Behance has been acquired by Adobe and has since been integrated into Creative Cloud which has brought loads of functionality to the network. Behance powers Adobe Portfolio which could easily become your website to show your work. When you update your Behance page with new projects it automatically updates your Portfolio. No direct way to monetize your work but it's a good place for art buyers to find you from what I'm told. I've been on Behance since they came out of beta and never have been hired from anyone on the network. Still though a good option to show your work.
Medium - A platform for writers that beautifully displays your articles with focus on quality. No direct way to monetize your content but a solid way to blog and to reach an intelligent audience. Since the network is designed for writers, the audience likes to read so I see Medium as a place to reach a more intellectual audience looking for in-depth conversations.
So if were to break down the most basic pieces of a creative's website it would look like this:
Portfolio - replaced with Behance/Adobe Portfolio
Blog - replaced with Medium
Store - replaced with Stripe or Gumroad
Looking into my crystal ball, here's where things get a bit muddy. You could replace your website with the above networks and have great success, many do but the long term risks can be huge. When/if a social network decides to change their rules it can affect how you build and engage your audience which directly impact your income. This happens often and there's little you can do about it. Facebook and Instagram do this frequently.
One way to look at socials and your website is like this:
Your website is like owning the property your store is built on - Inside that store you decorate it how you want, price things how you want and serve whomever you want. No one other than the government can tell you want to do here and how you interact with your audience is up to you.
Social networks is like renting a spot at the mall - you have some say as how you operate but you have to follow the rules set up by mall management. If they mall decides they're not going to be open on key business days or if they're only going to allow a certain number of people into the mall that's out of your control.
Here's how I'm structuring my online business now
Since I know that socials like to change things and that my website is my social network I'm going to continue to build my brand on my website. Although I have no affiliation with Squarespace I love the platform because it's simple to use and my content remains my own but you could just as well use Wordpress if you want to spend time working on your site. I see Squarespace tech support as my own support team and I chat with them about once a month. Also I can have my own store and they now accept Apple Pay. Looking at what socials are most valuable to me, it's Instagram (for now) and YouTube with Facebook and Twitter as places where I'm active but not putting much time into now. Facebook is a mess and I don't trust them at all and Twitter is about to be acquired which could really mess things up there.
Brands love to partner with Instagrammers, probably because the community there is active and there's far less spammy content than on Facebook but that's changing unfortunately. So for now I'll continue to put some effort into IG since it does bring in work occasionally but down the road I'm not so sure. Facebook is not to be trusted and Instagram is owned by Facebook so be cautious.
More people watch YouTube than broadcast TV which makes YouTube a fantastic way to make money but your video content has to be good. Don't let that scare you though since you only need an iPhone to make good content. Everything else will help you make your videos look and sound better but it won't help your content if your message is off the mark. No other social network has the capacity to help you make money like YouTube. With their top stars bringing in earnings into the millions, you might want to put effort into a YouTube channel.
Partnerships with larger niche networks - An area where I've not done enough work on is partnerships. Partnering with larger websites exposes you to their audience while providing that site with original content. Done right, it a win-win and a lot of fun to work with other creators.
If you're still not sure about having a website I think you should. Putting all your efforts into someone's network that you don't know personally is a big risk even for the largest online personality. You need a place you can always come back to which should be your website. We all have the same 24 hours a day to use so choose your socials wisely but don't give up on your own social network. Your website should be your primary focus.