In 2009, I created one of the first magazines on social media called Viral Ventures Magazine.
It got downloaded over 10,000 times in its first month.
Back then, that was a big deal though that’s not that impressive today.
I was inspired by a few essays I read by Andrew Chen, a tech investor and one-man digital media think tank. Needless to say, he was right. Focusing on social media took my marketing and personal branding to a whole new level.
However, it wasn’t easy.
Even as far back as 2005 when social media was barely a term (everyone kept calling it Web 2.0), it was hard to convince people that it would change marketing forever.
Despite the setback and late adoption from the masses, I kept on with it and I tried to dominate every platform that came out. When I say dominate, of course I just mean being a top influencer (AKA, Power User back then) in my respective niche.
To be honest, I was so enamored with social media, I was a bit scatterbrained. I’d listen to Tim Ferriss rave about Posterous (now defunct), and then Gary Vaynerchuk would holler back about tumblr being on fire (now it’s a withering flame).
I signed up for both.
Mostly, I built my brands and my clients’ brands on a few promising platforms that have returned so much in sales that I can barely believe it myself.
Some platforms generated over 5,000% ROAS.
And with some platforms, I didn’t even spend a dime to acquire thousands of prospects that turned into hundreds of paying customers.
Moore’s Adoption Curve And Digital High-Fives
What did early adopters like me see in social media that most people didn’t?
The biggest things I saw is that previously inaccessible people were now easily accessible. I also noticed the viral nature of social media. I would spend hours researching medical epidemiology, and then writing white papers on how it fits into the digital marketing ecosystem.
At the time, I was trying to connect with a big name in social media: Chris Brogan, the author of Trust Agents. Within three public tweets, we were chummy and he wanted to turn me on to a book he thought would improve my business (Switch). He actually had a new copy in hardback and wanted to send it to me!
It blew my mind that he would do this, and the way this whole conversation happened. That year, Brogan wrote an article for my magazine that helped set the tone for the kind of readers I wanted to attract: engaging, authentic, digital entrepreneurs.
Over the next few years, numerous incidents just like this happened. The online friends and clients started to roll in. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to bypass the industrial complex that was traditional marketing — all with a few carefully worded messages sent online.
Calling It Quits
At one point, I began to get too involved with every social media platform that came out. Under the guise of research, I tried to understand and build a big following with each one.
For eight years I worked my magic on social media, and then one day decided to take a break. After a few weeks of evaluating the business utility of each one, I deleted several accounts. And for the last two years, I only focus on two main platforms for my business. (The other two are active purely for random entertainment purposes.)
Before we get to them, let me put things in context. When I quit certain platforms, I didn’t have sophisticated criteria I was going by. From a small business (a digital marketing company and my solopreneur projects), I only cared if a platform helped me acquire paid clients. That’s it.
The platform was either wasting my time or it helped move people along my sales funnel to get paid.
If it didn’t do that, I closed the account.
Now I know people use social media just to connect with friends. Many casual users are annoyed with business-only users clogging up the space with quid pro quo banter.
I get it: business chatter often ruins platforms. (How we all long for the day when Facebook and Twitter was advertisement free!)
But the thing is, all profit-seeking social media platforms eventually have to monetize, and ads are the easiest way to do so. The business model is simple. Build a platform that gets lots of eyeballs on it, then charge advertising fees to interrupt these eyeballs from doing what they are normally doing on the screen. (That’s pretty much most traditional platforms too, of course.)
In terms of revenue, this is the primary source of every social media platform. As annoying as it is, they wouldn’t be around if they didn’t make money post start-up era.
I only say this to point out that a small business guy like me posting ads or connecting with would-be prospects should be welcome — so as long as it is ethical and unobtrusive.
With that mindset, I have to say that my return on investment from using social media is too impossibly big to calculate.
At least 60% of my clients are acquired from various social media platforms.
My return on ad spend (ROAS) ranges from 300% to 6,000%. As you might guess, with these numbers I don’t see myself advertising with traditional media anytime soon where 250% to 400% ROAS is respectable.
The rest of my business comes from referrals and renewed contracts.
So what worked to get paying clients and what didn’t?
I ditched this platform for business, but then reactivated it because I was bored. In the beginning, I was all in on Twitter for business. I had over 50,000 followers in 2009 which was a big deal for a local business or personal brand.
In my city, Lake Oswego, I held the #1 position for years on Twitter Grader (a Hubspot tool now defunct). In Portland, Oregon I was in the top 20 one year.
Then in 2009, some young guy named Macbeth destroyed me for having the most followers in my city. I later learned that he co-founded a successful Twitter-based company called StockTwits. Users had to use Twitter to create their profile, so it made sense he would surpass me.
One year I paid a service to clean up my account and get rid of inactive, offensive, and fake accounts. That shaved off nearly 15,000 users! Then I deleted about 10,000 followers that did not fit my exact demographic, or if they never bought anything.
I think I attracted the wrong kinds of followers, and part of my results are a reflection of that. Even so, my last set of 25,000 followers were highly-targeted and I still came up short on clicks, leads, and sales.
For four years straight I hustled on Twitter and I only got two paying clients from all my work.
Obviously, I was using it wrong. I was butt-hurt because I thought I was using it right.
I wasn’t using it as a billboard for my business. I incorporated the old Vaynerchuk method of maintaining a give-to-sell ratio of 3:1. In my posts, I gave a lot of stuff away and only sparingly tried to sell anything.
Looking at Twitter today, I think it’s just clogged with too many things. Don’t get me started on the arbitrary banning of accounts and jaw-dropping content. From politics to pornography, all the things that can be seen is just too much.
Twitter is the firehose of digital communication to me, and sometimes the water is too dirty to drink from!
Yes, great people and businesses I deeply admire are on Twitter. It’s still great for people in oppressed countries who alert others about news-worthy events before the media machine gets to it (#MeToo, #IsraelOnFire, #BlackLivesMatter). But a lot of people I’m trying to avoid hang out there too. And a lot of my customers don’t take it seriously, so why should I?
Since I am weak at converting the bullhorn conversations to a quiet sale, for Twitter I’m out.
It almost seems like if you were to only have one social media account, this should be the one. Since we’re always trading up careers or projecting our CV onto the world, this buttoned-up platform is a staple.
I dominated this platform by being the #1 most-viewed profile in my 3,000+ organization for two years straight. I hustled on this thing like a madman. I made contacts, introduced contacts, and wrote viral articles here.
Even though I ran a digital marketing company thirty hours a week, I also taught business at a local high school and college. (We can talk about my 70-hour weeks another day.)
Humblebrag: my LinkedIn profile beat out the district’s superintendent, hundreds of principals, hundreds of coaches, and thousands of educators. My marketing business was so good that if I didn’t outsource most of it, I would have been forced to stop teaching. LinkedIn was a big part of my success back then.
The tides have changed though.
Instead of innovating within their communication platform, what did LinkedIn do with their billions? They bought an online skills development company no one cares about: Lynda. Sorry to say that without accreditation, examinations, and direct experience, no unmonitored online course will advance your career very far.
Another huge mistake they made was getting rid of the Pulse App. This was a better news aggregator than Flipboard in my opinion. Plus, from a writer’s point of view it was a great way to get massive exposure. Now the news and story feed is all convoluted. I mean, where is it?
News and articles are nowhere to be found on LinkedIn’s dashboard. The only way to view them is to click in the search bar and then “content” is a drop-down option. That’s just weird and a bad user interface.
The problem with their showcasing of news and articles, is that now people aren’t finding mine. Some of my pieces got hundreds of comments and thousands of views. These articles converted to several connections and sales. In fact, my biggest social media wins came from LinkedIn articles. People would read them and comment or direct message to inquire about my services.
But lately, the platform has changed. I still don’t know how my profile is ranked. I like a lot of features on LinkedIn, however I’ve called it quits on writing for its publications. I’d be lucky to get 100 reads today even with over 3,107 contacts.
I think a great way to get clients now is through direct messaging and LinkedIn Ads.
From what I’ve seen, those are still highly effective tactics if done right because it can be annoying too. Their ads are not as effective as Facebook’s, but they do get leads.
Now if you own a digital marketing company like me, LinkedIn is perfect for finding the right decision-makers and connecting with them directly. Despite their big mistakes in the past, LinkedIn is still a keeper and it continues to bring me paying clients.
For all its deceptive records-keeping and security breaches, no one has more data on people than Facebook. All that data creates the perfect machine to target the exact kind of buyers you want to market to.
With over 6,270 followers on my business page within one year and hundreds of interactions with prospective buyers, this is the best advertising for your dollar you can buy. At this point, I stopped counting the coaching clients and service clients Facebook has introduced me to.
I wouldn’t say I dominated this social media platform in my niche (yet), but it has more promise than any other. For one, they adapt well. They buy up their competitors to create a pseudo-monopoly. That equals massive market share in the social media space. More share, more advertising possibilities, more profit.
I’m including the power of Instagram Ads and What’s App Ads (coming soon) when I talk about Facebook since they’re essentially the same company.
As a digital marketer, the things you can do to acquire customers on Facebook are endless. In fact, with my social media company, I’m seriously considering only offering Facebook Ads as a service. I probably don’t need to go on about how Facebook is an obvious winner in marketing. As you can guess, it’s a keeper because it makes me money.
I personally did not dominate this platform in the beginning for a couple reasons.
- I didn’t have star power to create good videos. I personally found it difficult to make compelling videos, and I much preferred writing.
- I falsely assumed it was only big with the younger demographic. However, I helped some of my clients dominate YouTube because I caught on to its potential later on.
According to a study done by Brainshark, 59% of executives prefer video over text. I don’t know the context of how these videos are used, but I’m sure YouTube and Vimeo are part of the mix.
As we’ve seen, video and audio (podcasts and audiobooks) are replacing good old fashioned reading at an alarming rate.
We’re becoming less literate and more impatient: a perfect storm to transform into a video-centric society.
It’s sad, but the statistics don’t lie on this topic. In one project, I decided to help a client target an older demographic by making short tutorials. Longer tutorials were the upsell in a paid online course. Some of these YouTube videos were viewed over 60,000 times in a week, and they were a great way to acquire qualified leads.
One feature about YouTube I love is the pre-roll ads. These are the ads that play before the main content. As a consumer, they are annoying but again as a marketer they are valuable. You can research videos with similar keywords (using vidIQ or TubeBuddy) and interrupt your competition’s content. It’s kind of sneaky, but that’s what’s I see happening.
In terms of ROI, it’s an effective way to market especially if you have a compelling offer that makes them want to click off the regularly scheduled video. YouTube is a definite keeper for me since I want to make more online courses. It continues to send me leads and that turns into profit.
I wish I got into Pinterest sooner. I think learning that at one time 80% of its users were women sort of turned me off of it. My demographic was split right down the center. However, in hindsight there was no reason why I could use one platform to do segment marketing.
From a consumer’s point of view, one thing that bugs me about Pinterest is how it keeps showing up in Google’s image results. It acts as a gateway to get you to login (or sign up) on Pinterest. Chrome has a special extension to prevent this from happening so you get pure search results. But from a marketer’s point of view, getting these Pinterest-linked images is smart. I’m sure their click-through rates are off the charts.
When it comes to blogging or content marketing in general, Pinterest is a clear winner for traffic. I didn’t learn about content upgrades until a few years ago, but this tactic sends my sites massive traffic. Also, I keep forgetting the pack-rat nature of humans. We want to save and organize stuff ad nauseam. We’ll sign up for stuff and never use it — but we sure have it! We can use this little quirk to our advantage in marketing for sure.
Pinterest is a social media keeper because it will get you clients, and I’ll be turning more attention to it over the following years.
So here are a few social media sites that I gave an honest try but failed. A couple are now defunct.
I was really excited for live stream apps like Periscope, Meerkat, Busker, and Blab. However, they just didn’t adapt fast enough.
I was early to use Periscope and I saw a lot of promise in it. I was first introduced to it via a recommendation. This source was telling everyone to watch the live boxing match for free using Periscope.
The video was grainy, but the interaction was unbelievable. This event was so big and thousands of Periscope users were watching. The voluminous comments and stream of hearts made the actual event seem bigger than it was.
This wasn’t the effect I got when I started to use it. Crickets. All I can say about that is without star power, any video medium is going to be difficult. I just didn’t have it back then and barely have it now!
Speaking of videos, I never gave Vine a try but I downloaded the app and spent a few off-task hours on it. Vines were funny, but like TikTok, it was for kids. I don’t think any serious small business considered advertising on it.
The one social media platform I never gave a real shot was SnapChat (though I have written about its potential despite Kylie Jenner taking it down a notch).
I don’t have anything against them, it’s just the wrong demographic for me. Plus, I never believed that the user content ever truly disappeared. Everything is kept on a server these days.
Platforms To Focus On
My advice to personal brands, small local businesses, and online entrepreneurs is to focus on one or two platforms and forget the rest.
Seriously. Master one platform as it’s natively used. When you get big (or when you have more marketing money), hire someone to upcycle your long-form master content to be displayed natively on other platforms where your customers are.
For personal brands, coaches, consultants, and digital marketers my picks are Facebook and YouTube. If you do a lot of B2B work, dominate LinkedIn instead of YouTube. Got a younger demographic and you have a physical product? Instagram is perfect for you.
If you can only choose one social media platform because of the millions of things to do, choose Facebook. From there, you can join special groups to learn or do research, build your own following, do live or pre-recorded videos, chat, and most importantly — post cheap, but highly-targeted ads.