There are several good options for publishing content online. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Medium, and others offer a convenient and cost-free way to publish content and, potentially, reach a huge audience.
It’s important to understand why social networks are free. Like Michael Ende’s Momo Men in Grey, social networks are dependent on their ability to get humans to invest time on their platforms. Social networks revenue comes from selling carefully segmented “user attention” to advertisers1. In this business, eliminating any barrier to users spending time on their platforms —maximizing engagement— is critical for increasing revenue.
What’s critical for the network to succeed is to have enough “user attention” to sell to advertisers, properly segmented. Users spend time on social networks interacting with other users, and interacting with what other users post. To keep users engaged, social networks need a stable supply of content relevant to their user’s interests2. There is one more twist, however: the beauty of the model is that the content is created by the users themselves, which is another reason why publishing on said platforms is free.
As several people have pointed out, if you are not paying for the product, then you are the product.
The Rules of the Game
The problem on relying solely on a social network as your digital home is that their business model may not align with yours.
Consider Medium. Developed by co-founder of Twitter and founder of Blogger Evan Williams, Medium was launched in August 2012 as a long-form publishing and social site where content is privileged. The platform has a clean design, an excellent editor for writing articles, and offers exposure to like-minded people who are in the search of quality content over click-bait articles. Publishing on Medium can give you a lot of exposure.
However, social platforms have their own goals. In 2016, in search of a profitable business model, Medium introduced a paywall around its content. If you had been publishing on Medium, your content became blocked behind the paywall. From that date on, your readers need to subscribe to the platform in order to read more than the 3 monthly articles limit offered by Medium’s free account.
Another factor is what content is shown and when. Most social networks use a newsfeed to show content to their users. An algorithm custom-tailors the series of posts you see. The algorithm’s selection criteria is proprietary to each network. From the user’s point of view, this means that you have limited control over who sees what you publish. Even if you publish something for “Your Friends on Facebook”, not all your friends are shown what you post. (But you can pay Facebook to ‘boost’ your post.) Also, because the newsfeed is time-based, content that is not reshared, quickly fades into oblivion.
Using Social Networks to Promote Your Content
A better strategy is to publish your content on a site under your control, and then use social networks to promote and distribute your content. Having your own site gives you a series of benefits that social networks don’t. It gives you control over your brand. (If it’s your personal brand, I think this is becoming more important every day.) You can tailor the site to reflect your strategy. Over the paltry analytics most social networks give you, you can measure in detail how users interact with your content.
Long term, you are building an asset. Social networks come and go… come and go with your content, if that’s the only place you publish.
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash.
- The exception is Medium. Medium income comes from subscription plans. In the case of LinkedIn, their clients are advdertisers and headhunters.↩
- In some cases like LinkedIn or Medium, income also comes from offering premium, non-free plans to users. These plans give you more control or access to published content and users. LinkedIn, for example, artificially limits the number of advanced searches you can do using a free account. ↩