Download: MP3 (83 MB)
Social media is big right now. It’s so big, you forget things looked very differently even 10 years ago.
When we grow audiences on social media, it’s easy to get complacent. But you have to remember that you don’t own those platforms. You don’t get to make the rules.
Those platforms can change the game on you. When you build your home on someone else’s platform, you’re at their mercy.
Things will change. It’s not a matter of if but when. No platform will be around forever.
What would you do if your biggest social media account was gone tomorrow? Would you survive? How significantly would it affect you?
We talk about planning for when the social landscape changes, building your own platform, pointing people to where your home is, paywalls on the internet and the future of communities.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- If you just have one social media account with a bunch of followers, you don’t have anything.
- Go where the people are, but point them to your own platform.
- Think about how you’re positioning your brand name and it’s memorability. Your name is what will last.
- It’s easy to think everything in social media is so set but it’s not—ten years ago, nothing looked the way it does now. It won’t look this way 10 years from now either.
- In many ways, social media made the email address a more sacred form of communication.
- What would it look like for there to be a place on your platform for like-minded people to gather and talk about things related to your brand?
- Start by creating a platform. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Iterate as you go.
- Would your business be ruined if your biggest social media account was gone?
- If you have a domain name with a page, you have your own platform.
- If you have words on a page, you have a website. That is the beginning of your platform. It all starts with writing.
- Provide actual value on social media. Use it as an entrance point to something greater.
- 08:01 Ben: Social media is something we depend on to be in contact with people and build community around our brand in some ways. We’re so dependent on all these things we don’t have control over, and that’s an interesting problem to have.
Where Do You Make Your Home?
- 08:34 Sean: How much of your online presence is built on another platform, some social platform, that you don’t control and where you don’t make the rules? Where are you building your home? Where do you point people? If they ask, “Where can I see your stuff?” where are you pointing them? Are you saying, “Go to my Instagram”? If Instagram goes away, what do you have left? You’ve got 10,000 followers there and that’s great, but they’re going to just move on. If you don’t believe me, stop posting for a couple of weeks, you with your 10,000 followers, and tell me how many people reach out and say, “Hey, where’s your posts?” That will humble you really quickly. Think about diversifying.
If you just have one social media account with a bunch of followers, you don’t have anything.
- 09:39 Ben: There was somebody who asked, “What if focusing on building your own platform takes your focus away from engaging with people where they are?” That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re asking this question to open your eyes to the reality that those social media platforms that you don’t have any control over can go away or change. The access you have to people now could go away even if the social media platform stays. How are you preparing yourself for that? How are you setting your brand up so you can continue to interact and engage with people?
- 10:22 Sean: There are people like Casey Neistat, who has all of his stock in YouTube. He’s had an HBO show and he’s done all the traditional media things, but he says, “Now I proudly define myself as a YouTuber.”
- 10:46 Ben: If YouTube went away, Sean, would you try to follow and find Casey Neistat somewhere else? Would you be interested in discovering what he’s going to do now?
- 10:59 Sean: I definitely would. You could argue, and we’ll get into this a little bit later, that he has brand equity. His name means something, and that is a factor that comes into play here. It’s not automatically that if Instagram was gone, you would have zero followers on New Photo App. Some people will follow you, but others will fall off. Brand equity comes into play, but your home base can be where you transition people if something does go away.
- 11:37 Ben: The YouTube thing is a scary prospect. For any person who builds their brand around sharing video, images are a little bit easier and text is definitely easier. It’s so much smaller that it doesn’t cost as much to host those things. YouTube is a giant when it comes to hosting video, and you get to do it for free, which is incredible.
- 12:16 Sean: I have a Learn Lettering class that’s free. Anyone can join it, and I’ve had over 10,000 people join. They’re watching a dozen+ lessons. Some of the lessons are kind of long, maybe a dozen minutes or up to 20 minutes, and that’s on premium video hosting. I’m paying for all that bandwidth, often four figures a month. That’s through Wistia. That costs money. You’re used to using YouTube and it’s free, but you’ve got to pay for that. If you’re going to do it on your own, you’ve got to pay for it.
- 12:54 Most people think, “I definitely don’t want to pay for it,” and that makes sense, but you’re making an exchange. You’re going to play on YouTube’s platform, where their goal is to keep people on their platform. They’ve got related videos, up next, and now they’ve got auto play. They want to keep people there because it’s their platform and they’re going to sell ads. Now they have YouTube Red. You have to realize that you’re putting a lot of stock into this platform you’re investing in. Any good invester will tell you that you want to have diversified investments. You don’t want to have all your money in one spot because you don’t have multiple points of failure. If that goes out, you’re done.
- 13:46 When you say, “I’m a YouTuber,” you’re putting your identity in that. I’m not saying that’s not a safe bet. YouTube is big, but we’re trying to illustrate a point. Whatever happens, you’re identifying with that.
- 14:02 Ben: Chances are, something like YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter won’t go away overnight. You never know. What is your plan for perpetuating your brand if something like that were to go away?
- 14:28 Sean: Where is your home? Where are you pointing people? When it comes to your brand name, how are you boosting that? If social media does go away, if you don’t have your own platform where people know to go to find you, your only hope is that they remember your name and, through searching your name, they’ll find where you are. Think about how you’re positioning your brand name and it’s memorability. When it comes to building your own platform, your platform is your home. Your home is where you point people. You don’t want to not engage with people—go where the people are and engage with them, but after you’ve provided value there, point them to your home.
- 15:23 What do I tell people? I say, “Go to seanwes.tv.” They know “seanwes” is where they should go, seanwes.com or seanwes.tv. Everything I do is seanwes.com/, and sometimes I have specific domain names that point directly to those pages, but people know that my stuff is at seanwes.com/. If YouTube goes away, I can simply host with another video provider, and my home is still seanwes.tv. My home is still seanwes.com/podcast. It’s not just wherever this is going, whatever distribution channel. People know that, if iTunes is down, they can go to seanwes.com/podcast and listen. Sean’s going to find a way to upload the mp3 there.
- 16:16 I can still listen to this show, even if I don’t have the feed. I won’t ever point people to my name.host, provider.com/whatever. They’ll find it on iTunes and it will be fine as long as they subscribe once. What happens if that goes away? What if the feed changes? Where is the brand equity in your name? Going back to the YouTube thing, I have made a conscious decision to host with YouTube for seanwes tv. I have my own local copies and I could always go with a different provider, but I’m using YouTube. We’re not saying, “Don’t use social media.” We’re saying that you want to utilize it, but point people to your home.
If you don’t have a home, you need to start thinking about building your own platform.
- 17:21 I’m using YouTube because it is the world’s second largest search engine. It is where people view video. You should go where the people are. If people are using Instagram, you should go there. It’s good that you have 10,000 followers there, but don’t let that be the only thing. The reason I’m hosting with YouTube is because I realize that this is where people are and where people find things. I point people to my site whenever I share. If I tweet about a new seanwes tv episode, I point them to my site, which has the video imbedded, the shownotes, and the audio, because seanwes tv is a podcast, too. They go there and consume the video there, but as they view the video imbedded, it also increases the view count, which helps it spread more on YouTube natively.
- 18:13 Ben: The great thing about social media, because it’s where the people are and because social media platforms are all about keeping people there, when you use their native features, you get wider exposure, generally speaking. They want people to stay on there as long as possible, because they’re selling people’s eyeballs for their ads.
Build & Emphasize Your Platform
- 18:37 Sean: They’re doing the same thing I’m trying to tell people to do, which is to point people to your platform. When you upload native content, say you upload native video to Facebook, that’s telling people on Facebook, “This is where you go to get the good stuff.” It keeps people on the platform. Yes, go where people are, but point them to your home.
- 19:14 Ben: I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of this, but for someone who doesn’t yet have their own home, their own platform, one question I would have is—what is the cost of that, both in terms of money and time? Time is probably the one of the first places I would look. When I was building my own platform, I didn’t have the money to pay somebody to do it, but I’m also a person who’s frugal in that sense. If I feel like it’s something I can figure out and I can do, I’d rather give that a shot first. The most important question for me was, how long is it going to take me to learn what I need to know in order to be able to set this up? Even then, there were some costs associated with it, the cost of purchasing a domain name and paying for hosting, which are ongoing costs.
- 20:14 Sean: Whether it’s paying a web developer or figuring it out yourself, signing up for a service or buying a theme, there is cost associated. You have to think about the long-term cost to you of not building your own platform. What is the price on being irrelevant? Dan points out in the chat, “Ten years ago, social media didn’t really exist. Where does everyone think we’ll be in another ten years?” Everyone says, “Oh, come on, Sean. It’s Instagram.” I don’t like doing these kinds of shows as much because they’re less evergreen, and I’m big on evergreen content, where the things you listen to are timeless and principal-driven.
- 21:01 I do want, sometimes, to come out and specifically talk about the current state of things. This episode is going to sound absurd in five years, when Instagram sounds like MySpace. I’m not saying that it’s going to be five years—it might be longer than that. Facebook has certainly adapted and stuck around as much as we all say that we hate it. It’s dying a long, slow death, if that’s really what’s happening.
You think everything in social media is so set, but it’s not
Ten years ago, nothing looked the way it does now.
- 21:43 There was no YouTube back then! YouTube was 2006.
- 21:47 Ben: There was this thing called Stupid Videos before YouTube, I think. You could go, and every day, they would post a new funny video. It would be stupid, but mostly funny, and it was daily. Then they got a little bit choppy and sometimes it was every other day, but I checked it all the time. I remember that. Now, on YouTube, you search for “funny cats,” and you get thousands of videos you can watch and laugh at all day long. It’s insane, in a relatively short amount of time, how much it evolves, grows, and changes. Ten years ago, people in the music industry were urging us to set up MySpace pages for our bands. They were saying, “If you don’t have a MySpace page, you’re going to be irrelevent!”
- 22:47 Sean: Cory Miller says, “The number one reason why people depend so heavily on social media is that it’s easier to use someone else’s method than crafting your own. Uploading a picture to Instagram is one thing, but doing that plus curating on your own website is another thing. People love imbedding and using auto-created pages because it’s not so much work.”
- 23:23 Ben: Even on your own platform, there’s a difference between the experience of someone watching a video without any YouTube branding on it vs. someone watching a video that does have YouTube branding. If you’re trying to keep people on your platform, imbedding a YouTube video is a window out. They can say, “Instead of staying on this website and viewing the videos on this page, I can just click this link, because YouTube does the same thing.”
- 23:57 Sean: Mike says, “This isn’t considered social media, but what about using different web hosting platforms like Squarespace? Is it safe, since you’re more separated from that business and it’s your own site?” It’s more safe because you’re paying. There is a little bit of you being invested in their ecosystem. Maybe you’ve got themes, plugins, or you rely on certain features that are native, and you can’t exactly take a carbon copy and port it to something else. It would take some work.
- 24:31 Ben: You could argue that for a lot of things, even if you’re building your website from scratch but you’re paying for hosting somewhere. What if something happened to that host and you don’t have a backup of your site somewhere? What if you build your own website and host it on your own servers in your own house, but suddenly the internet’s infrastructure collapses? There’s always some level of detachment that you have from control.
- 25:00 Rather than go into the definitions and trying to line those out, I think it suffices to say that we’re talking about the difference between social media platforms that somebody else owns, where community is built, and social media platforms you more or less own, where you get to control the experience people have there.
Micro-Celebrities & Numbers Don’t Matter
- 25:27 Sean: Have you ever gone on the app Vine? You’ve got these six second video loops. I have to describe it to people, because five years from now it’s going to be a relic. There are these people who made it big in the beginning, then they get featured more and more, more people follow them, they get more views, so they get featured again. They’ve become these celebrities, basically. With the internet, there aren’t “real” celebrities and “online” celebrities—there are just celebrities. It’s just attention. We’re not watching TV anymore, we’re watching YouTube, Netflix, and whatever’s in front of us and shared with us.
- 26:11 That’s where our attention is. If we’re watching people, they are celebrities to us. It’s like this new breed of micro-celebrity (Related: e100 The $1,000 Giveaway). The people you’re watching feel like celebrities to you. I’ve done an episode on the future of online video and the concept of micro-celebrity . In the past, the only way to get mass exposure was to be on big media, where these few players had the distribution power. You got your 15 minutes of fame, the whole country saw you, but only a very small percentage of those people cared about what you had to say. It’s very low targeting.
- 27:44 The beauty of the internet is that it’s high targeting. You say, “I only got 100 views!” But those views are very targeted. That is the beauty of search, the internet, YouTube, and things being tailored to people. You essentially have these micro-celebrities. They only got a million views, who cares! Of those million views, every single one is a rapid fan, vs. someone on big media who has tens or hundreds of millions of views by a bunch of people who don’t care. When people get mass exposure, it’s generally not reaching a bunch of people that care.
With the internet, the people you reach are generally the people that care, so you can have smaller numbers.
- 28:39 That’s where you have these micro-celebrities. We know people like Casey Neistat or Gary Vaynerchuck. Gary Vaynerchuck refers to himself as a “Z list celebrity,” but online, he’s becoming bigger and bigger. In the entrepreneurial space, everybody knows him.
- 29:07 Ben: When you have a smaller audience, you have an ability to reach deep into people’s lives. If you’re thinking about a graph and the audience is 100 people wide and that’s the horizontal line, and then there’s this vertical swoop. The swoop goes pretty deep. On the ends, there’s a shallow reach. There are going to be people in that audience of 100 who don’t feel the depth of your connection with them, but it goes really deep. As you stretch that out, that swoop becomes a little bit shallower.
- 29:47 To the degree that you maintain connections with people, that you scale the value of connecting with people on a deeper level, that swoop may stay relatively deep compared to the width of your reach. There’s got to be some sweet spot in there for the amount of depth you have with people and the amount of reach you have, and how that allows you to sustain and grow your brand.
- 30:19 Sean: There are a lot of people who are reliant on numbers that don’t matter. They care too much about numbers that don’t matter. I have friends with a quarter of a million, half a million, three quarters of a million, even close to a million followers on Instagram. Listen to this show. Those numbers do not matter! Maybe they look good and they get you a few gigs, but you have to care about the depth of engagement. You got featured on Instagram back before there was an explore page and a popular page, and they featured you when new people signed up.
- 30:57 Before everyone in the world was on Instagram, you were featured, so when they sign up and it said “Follow these people,” they said, “Okay.” You got a bunch of followers, but they’re low targeting followers. This is what happened when you get featured anywhere, when things get spread around. Don’t get a big head there, because you’re going to lose out to the people who have a tenth of the number of followers you do who are all engaged. You’re going to lose in a number of ways.
- 31:30 It depends on what your end game is, but if you want to make money, impact the world, have leverage and opportunities, depth is the real thing. It’s not just the numbers. Don’t lose me here if you’ve got 100 followers, because I’m trying to make a point on a big scale and there are people with this number of followers who listen to the show—if you have 600 followers on Instagram, you need to think about how you can diversify, how you can syphon those people off. This is what the Vine celebrities did really well.
- 32:10 Of course, it’s annoying, but you would see them saying, “Go follow me on this, go follow me on that.” They were trying to spread out and diversify so all their eggs aren’t in one basket and they don’t have one point of failure. This is what people need to start doing, even down to a few thousand followers on Instagram.
Don’t put all your stock in one platform—get people over to your site.
- 32:39 The value of your domain, your site, is really big, because you can control that experience. People know to come to seanwes.com, which is something I’ve harped on a lot. I say seanwes.com a lot. I don’t say, “Follow me on Instagram at seanwes.” I do say, “Follow me on Twitter,” as an aside, but people know that’s just if they want to see updates from me, they can check them out on Twitter, but that’s not the place to go. That’s not Sean’s home. Having that brand equity is huge, because even if the show goes away, people know the brand seanwes, and they can find me.
- 33:21 Even if you think email is dead, did you check your email this morning? Yes, you did, so it’s not dead. It’s attention. You can’t say something’s dumb or lame if you’re giving it your attention. If you are, there’s still value there. People still check their email, so there’s still value there. Don’t get caught up in the tool, whatever the brand is. “Oh, it’s a photo app, it’s a social media platform, it’s a this, it’s a that.” Where is the attention? That’s where you’ve got to be. With an email list, you control the email list.
- 34:02 When people sign up, they’re giving you permission to send you messages, and you have a CSV, a comma separated values file of email addresses and names. This is true whether you sign up with MailChimp, Infusionsoft, or ConvertKit, which you should check out, by the way, which is my friend Nathan Berry’s email service provider. It’s a cross between MailChimp and Infusionsoft. MailChimp is great, it’s fun, it has a great user interface and I love the MailChimp app and people, but it’s not super advanced. You can’t do tagging and stuff. It’s not so great for people who sell things or professional bloggers.
- 34:49 Infusionsoft, which is what we use, is way overkill for most people. We’re still building this insane rat’s nest of conditional logic crazy stuff a year later now. If you don’t want to be crazy like that, ConvertKit’s really good. Wherever you go, you have this list of emails. You’re not locked down. Imagine if you had that kind of power with Instagram: “You know what? I don’t like Instagram. I’m going to take my CSV file and go to this new platform, upload it, and magically I have 86,000 followers.” How great would that be? You don’t have that power because they’re locking down that platform, but with emails, you do. You own the list.
- 35:39 Ben: On one side, social media platforms do generate a lot of revenue from ads and that kind of thing. When MySpace sold for millions of dollars, it was because of the people, not because of the potential for ads. It was all of the data. Think about all the things you share with Facebook when you sign up. Think about all the information you give away when you sign up on a social media platform. Your friends are there, you want to connect with them, and you want to see the stuff they have to share.
In many ways, social media made the email address a more sacred form of communication.
- 36:33 In Invisible Details, another podcast here on the seanwes network at BehindtheBrand.com, they recently talked about the power of email. They likened it to somebody inviting you into their home. There’s a level of trust and intimacy there when someone invites you into their home that you don’t have when you’re just meeting them out for coffee somewhere. Tagging onto the conversation we were having earlier about going deep with people and how meaningful that can be, having an email list sign up on your website is evidence of the depth of relationship you’ve created with them. It also gives you access to them in a way social media never can.
- 37:27 Sean: We try to keep our inboxes somewhat sacred because we don’t want a bunch of junk there. It’s either where we get business done or where we write the people we care about, generally. Either of those things are important, and they take a lot of our attention. It’s a special place of attention, and more importantly, it’s something you control.
Your Own Community
- 38:01 Speaking of things you can control, if social media went away tomorrow, I know that everyone in the Community would be here in the chat, talking about, “Hey, is Twitter down for everyone?” This is where they would come, the fallback for them. That’s really powerful.
- 38:23 Ben: I check this more often than I check anything else because the people here are amazing, and I always know I’m going to find something valuable.
- 38:36 Sean: The people aren’t online at the same time, though. Why do you still check it?
- 38:40 Ben: The conversations are happening even when I’m not there.
- 38:44 Sean: So you could just scroll back and read it?
- 38:46 Ben: Yeah.
- 38:47 Sean: You can scroll back and read in your Facebook and Twitter feeds.
- 38:51 Ben: I know, but it’s not the same stuff. The information is not as valuable to me. For the time I’m going to spend, I get more value out of the time I spend in the Community.
- 39:08 Sean: Would you say it’s a higher value-to-noise ratio?
- 39:13 Ben: Yeah, even the quality of humor in here is phenomenal. It’s off the charts.
- 39:23 Sean: There are a couple things going on here. First of all, it’s a platform I built, and the people here are the people who have come from the content and other various forms of media I created pointing to my platform, but there’s something else going on here. There’s a pay wall. Yes, the quality is higher. It’s higher because a certain kind of person is being pointed to this platform, but it’s even higher because there’s a pay wall. You see a lot of noise on social media. Look at Reddit. You have all these platforms that are open, and the more open it is, the more likely the reputation for trolls. When we say, “YouTube comments,” everyone thinks, “Oh no.” That means something.
- 40:24 Reddit discussions, oh boy. That means something because it’s open. There’s no filtration. Social media platforms want the most attention because their business model is selling ads, selling the user, their data, their attention, and their eyes to advertisers. That’s how they make money. Some platforms make money different ways. They might insert an ad—now Instagram has ads, YouTube has ads. They’re inserting ads because that’s where the attention is, and the advertisers know it.
- 41:04 They’ll pay for it, and the platform makes money. Other people do a combination of this, like Google. They sell ads and they track your data. We volunteer this information, we give it up, we say, “Yes, Google, you can track me, read my emails, and look at the sites I’ve viewed. You can know my search history.” We’re giving up all this information, and that’s a form of payment. We’re giving up our data so they know more about us and they can deliver more targeted ads, which means they can charge for that.
Most platforms are free because of their business model, which sells your attention or your data to make money on ads.
- 42:00 There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just a business model, but if you don’t want that, the alternative is to pay for things. I think this is where the future of the internet is going, these micro-niche-communities where there’s a pay wall. You automatically know that filters out the people who aren’t serious, so you aren’t going to have as much garbage discussion here, because everyone who’s here has skin in the game. They’ve invested. They want to get something out of this. They aren’t just thinking, “I’ll show up and maybe I’ll write a troll comment today.” If you do that, you have to pay to be here. Most people who are going to troll aren’t willing to pay.
- 42:44 This pay wall filter is really interesting because if you’re able to introduce something like this into your own platform, you’re not only sustained in continuing to do what you do, whatever it is, whatever videos you post, articles you write, services you provide, or photos you post, but also, you’re able to bring together and create this community of people who are like minded, who believe the same things. Amazing discussion comes from that, the kind of discussion that doesn’t compare to any of these other social platform’s comments.
- 43:26 Ben: I don’t know what the process was for you, Sean, but I know it’s been very iterative from the beginning. Sean had an idea of what he wanted to do, and he wanted there to be a place where people could come, but it’s evolved and become something very special. As a fun exercise, as a person who may not have a platform yet, but you have a brand, what would it look like for there to be a community of people who were about your brand and your values who would benefit from being connected to one another, without all of the noise?
What would it look like for there to be a place on your platform for like-minded people to gather and talk about things related to your brand?
- 44:14 That would bring more value than what you’re capable of providing. Take some time and imagine what that would look like.
- 44:23 Sean: And answer the question, “Where do people who follow you have a conversation together?” Where does that conversation happen? We did an entire episode where I talked about why I don’t have comments on my website (Related: e163 Why I Don’t Allow Comments on My Website). I had a good reason for doing that, but there’s a lot of reasons for not doing that. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but even on the most popular websites, there isn’t much going on in the comments. If you saw an article with 200 comments, that is huge. That’s a rare exception now. We used to have thousands of comments, long discussions going. The comments were where it happened.
- 45:11 Ben: I’ve seen now where they get rid of comments on the native platform and they port in the conversations that are happening about the article on social media.
- 45:21 Sean: This is where the trend is going. People don’t leave comments in the comments box for the article anymore, but they share it on Twitter. They share it on Facebook, which creates a discussion there natively, and that’s where it happens. The people who are coming to comment are splitting off and having those conversations on social platforms. That’s reason enough to take them off your site. It’s not doing you any favors showing 0 comments. It looks like no one cares. I don’t think the solution is to imbed Facebook comments. My solution is to remove comments entirely and create a community where the conversation happens, where the magic happens, and where people come together.
- 46:08 You’re enjoying these shows, but if you want to talk to other people who are enjoying these shows, you join the Community. There’s no ambiguity. People muddy the waters here. They stream their podcast, they have an IRC channel, a podcast episode page with 0 comments, they tell people, “Tweet at me and use this hashtag, and by the way, go support my Patreon. If you want, you can donate through PayPal on my website. I’m thinking about starting a membership site…”
- 46:46 What are you doing? You have no currency. You have no attention currency to start a membership website or anything with a pay wall. You have to save up all of this ask, hold back. No, the conversation doesn’t happen on Twitter or in the comments on my site, the comments on Facebook, on Instagram, or wherever. No, we don’t stream it live publicly. No, there’s no IRC chat.
Built something custom, create a platform, and show that’s the place to be—that’s how you get people to come over to your platform.
- 47:26 Ben: I love the Community chat so much and I haven’t seen anything like it. When are you going to start selling this to other platforms?
- 47:37 Sean: My goal has been 2017. Yes, that’s part of the reason I made the investment. I realize that there’s more potential here for building something custom that’s built around the needs of a community. I do want to turn it into a SAS app at some point. I don’t know if 2017 is too soon, given all the projects we have, but it certainly won’t be before then. Certainly the people in the chat have seen it in action. Some people who aren’t in the community have experienced it when we do live events. If you’re interested, you can go to seanwes.com/communitytalk and you can sign up to be notified there.
- 48:23 Ben: Sean didn’t prompt me to say that, by the way. I want to give that disclaimer. I do love this so much, even as it exists today, not to mention all of the amazing features that are coming. I’ve never had an experience like this online with other people, where I’ve had this sense of community. On Facebook, my friends and family are there, and I post stuff and share it, and even there I haven’t had as meaningful an experience of community as I have in this Community. It’s not just to do with the tools—a lot of it has to do with the people.
- 49:06 The tools certainly help the conversations go more smoothly and help to have more access to folks. I felt like it was worth mentioning it and maybe putting Sean on the spot and asking him about making it available for other folks.
- 49:28 Sean: It’s the glue of the Community. Someone we know recently was trying out other communities just to see, and they thought, “Oh. Where’s it happening? Where’s the party? I see this forum here, but is that it? You just have a forum?” This is what happens with most membership sites. They try and lure you in with this seven day free trial and a library of training, and you come in, and there’s no live streams, no live chat, no interaction, no questions. It’s a forum and some videos you can watch.
- 50:14 People watch the videos and then they leave. These memberships have this really high churn rate, but here, the value is the conversations. The value is the people talking with each other. If you’re giving that away, if you’re saying, “Leave a comment below,” you’re telling people that this is where the conversation is happening. You can do that, but think about the value of those conversations. What if you held that back and made the value of the conversations the reason people join?
Social Media is Like Job Security
- 50:52 Ben: Since social media platforms do exist and conversations do happen there, it benefits you to get involved in those conversations. There’s a lot of value in going where the people are, going where the conversations are happening, but then pointing back to where better, deeper conversations are happening. You’re not pointing to those social media platforms as a place they should go to have those conversations, but where you see conversations happening, get involved and point people back to a better place.
- 51:31 Sean: If you want more on actually using social media to engage with people, we did an entire episode on it where we talk about being present and engaging on the ones you do use (Related: e170 Can Your Business Be on Too Many Social Platforms?). Maybe we should break this down for people. This whole episode, we’ve been making this case for why you might want to build your own platform, getting people in the head space of, “What if social media was gone? How much do you have invested in a single platform?”
Are you non-existant if your biggest social media platform account is gone?
- 52:18 That’s sobering. Right now, if I think about taking my biggest following, whatever that account is, and that’s gone, where am I? Right now, that’s probably Instagram, something like 86,000. It wouldn’t even affect me, not even a bit. That’s partially because I’m not super engaged there. I’m posting infrequently, and I’ve shifted my focus from doing lettering, but if that was gone, I wouldn’t be totally done. If my email list were gone, and this is a really hard one, that may not be fair to say, because I do control that. Do I get to keep those?
- 53:02 Ben: You get to keep those. That’s the point. We’re definitely not advocating abandoning or taking the focus off of something that builds your own platform, something that you own.
- 53:16 Sean: If you look at my website traffic, it is the most beautiful rainbow pie chart you’ve ever seen. It’s not quite perfect, but it’s very nicely distributed. My traffic sources from email, referral traffic, SEO, social media, and direct traffic. It’s so evenly distributed, it’s beautiful. There are so many points of failure. If anything goes away, if the pins I have on Pinterest that are doing well go away, I’m alright. If my SEO suddenly tanks or plummets, I’m alright. If I stop getting traffic from email, I’m alright.
If one of your engines goes out, can you still land the plane?
- 55:22 Ben: The principal there is to diversify as much as possible. That’s really hard to do when you’re experiencing a lot of success on a particular platform, because you get to experience that in real time, you see people responding to it, and you feel like, “Wow, this is really something meaningful.” It’s amazing how quickly that can go away.
- 55:51 Sean: Cory Miller says, “I’d prefer to hear you say what would happen if YouTube went away.” That one’s easy for me. If YouTube went away, right now, I’ve got 4,000 subscribers on one account and 6,000 on another. I think seanwes tv is going to be the biggest thing next year, five figures easy and growing. I’m investing there with purpose, but if YouTube went away, I’d be fine. My brand equity is on seanwes.com. People know where to go to watch seanwes tv, and there are people who subscribe to me on YouTube, but all of them know seanwes.tv and seanwes.com.
- 56:32 They know where to go, so if that was gone, they would go there and I could use a different host. Even if that’s premium and I have to pay for it, I can do that, not because, “Oh, Sean just has this luxury.” No, I didn’t always have this luxury. I earned it, and I can do that because I positioned things how I was explaining, holding back the value and charging for it, actually putting a pay wall. I’m sustained, so I can invest.
- 57:02 Ben: Looking at that on the surface, we’re thinking about, “Look at all those videos imbedded in your website.” Yeah, if YouTube went away, it would be a lot of work. It would be painful in terms of the amount of time you’d have to spend rebuilding some of that infrastructure. Owning that content is a great case for keeping original copies of your stuff. Once you upload it to YouTube, don’t erase it from your computer. Keep a copy of it somewhere. You can find another hosting provider, pay for a better hosting plan, and just host the vides on your own server. That sounds painful, but it’s worth it if it’s necessary to keep that content in front of people and you can own it on your own platform, because this other stuff goes away.
- 58:05 Sean: There may be some people thinking this is all kind of silly. They’re thinking, “Sean, YouTube’s not going to go away. I’m sure people would stop investing and literally having stock in YouTube if it was going to go away overnight. It’s not going anywhere. It’s a beast.” Okay, that’s true, but I hope you get the principal here. People have thought similar things about similarly large companies. If you’ve got a lot invested, you need to start thinking about this stuff.
Start thinking about diversifying and building your own platform, because that’s something you can control.
- 58:47 The situation is constantly changing. It’s constantly evolving, and you’ve got to be ready to adapt. Be ready to go with the flow here, and don’t have all of your eggs in one basket. It’s kind of like job security—there’s no such thing as job security.
- 59:06 Ben: With big companies, it’s in their best interest to let things ride as long as possible before they drop the bomb of going under. The sooner they make the announcement, the sooner all their revenue goes away that’s helping them sustain anything. The same thing is true with a job. The sooner they let people know that things are starting to get tight and they might have to start letting people go, the sooner morale goes down, people start looking for jobs elsewhere, and their employee base dissolves, which isn’t good either. It’s in their best interest to let that ride as long as possible. You can’t hold onto this false security if it looks from the outside like everything’s going just fine.
- 59:56 Sean: It will until it suddenly isn’t. They’re not going to say, “We’re doing worse this month than we were last month.” It’s going to be gone. Job security is a facade, and no matter how secure the job seems, there’s always the possibility of things going wrong. That’s what I like about entrepreneurship and why I don’t mind being transparent about struggles here, because that’s the reality of life and business, and I’m just willing to say it and talk about it. My employees can go work at some other job and it might seem more stable than the one here, but they can’t know that.
- 1:00:41 They simply can’t know that, so the reason I say it’s like job security is that when you work for yourself, nothing’s certain. This is the reason people are scared to do their own thing, because it seems uncertain—but it’s always uncertain. You have to know that. At least if it’s uncertain and it’s in your hands, that’s the most amount of certainty you have. You can always rely on, “Am I willing to do what it takes to make this work? If this is a failure, am I willing to keep trying or do something new?” If it’s someone else, you don’t know.
Assume Things Will Change
- 1:01:24 Charli says, “What should I do right now to start diversifying without building my own platform?” How do you interpret this question, Ben?
- 1:01:34 Ben: If you’re not going to build your own platform, diversifying can look like being on other social media platforms. That’s better than just being on one. I don’t like this question, because I really want people to see the value and maybe even the necessity of having your own platform for the long term. Don’t just think about, “If something happened today, yeah, I’d be screwed, so I should look at some other social media platforms.”
- 1:02:14 Sean: Assume something will happen tomorrow, not just the likelihood of it happening today. Assume it’s going to go bad in five years. You’re time traveling now, you’ve come back from the future. John was saying that he’s a time traveler, but one of the rules is that you can’t change things. I would bend those rules and say, imagine you’re time traveling from five years in the future and you can change things.
- 1:02:54 Ben: She clarified and said, “It’s not realistic that I build my own platform right now, so what else should I do?” Diversifying can look like going to other social media platforms, but also, you need to examine your definition of what having your own platform means. Maybe your definition is having the full-blown version, version three that you have in your mind, and unless you can have that, you’re not willing to do anything.
If you have a domain name with a page, you have your own platform.
- 1:03:26 Sean: Cory has a platform. What is your platform, Cory?
- 1:03:30 Cory: corymccabe.com, but I didn’t really think it was.
- 1:03:35 Sean: It is! What do you have on there? What’s the primary call to action?
- 1:03:39 Cory: Email.
- 1:03:43 Sean: Cory has a website, which is a platform, with an email sign up. I’m glad you brought this up, Ben. Let me do the time traveler thing really quick. You’re back from the future, and five years from now, you know this thing is going to go bad, whatever your biggest platform is. What would you do at this point? You would start trying to syphon people. You know the end is near. That is how you need to think, not, “What is the likelihood of YouTube going down tomorrow?” It’s not very likely. We’re being realistic here.
- 1:04:25 Stretch out that time. Stretch it out a little bit longer—the likelihood increases. You want to be telling people where to go. If you’re doing YouTube videos and you’re not pointing people to your own platform, you’re doing it wrong. You are putting all of your stock and your identity into YouTube, and they will love you for it. It’s why they’re successful. If all the top people went away, YouTube doesn’t matter. It’s invisible.
It’s about where people go to get the good stuff, and if you’re not pointing people to your platform, all you have is your social media account.
- 1:05:13 All you have is that and all your stock is in that. Ben said that he didn’t like the question, and I don’t like the question, either. People see what I have. When this episode goes out, it will be the day before my 27th birthday, and I was doing some reflecting on the past year and how much I’ve accomplished. It’s been a huge year. I’ve accomplished a lot, and I’ve calculated that I’ve worked a lot. A normal full time job is 2,000 hours a year, and I’ve calculated that even accounting for sabbaticals, where I take a week off every seventh week, I’ve worked 5,600 hours in a year, which I’m not proud of.
- 1:06:06 That’s nearly two to three times a full time job. I’ve also done this for five years, which is a huge investment, and people see this and think, “I don’t want to do that.” I don’t blame you. I don’t want to do that next year. I’m purposing next year to work less and spend that time on the things that will have the greatest impact and stop trying to accomplish three years worth of work in a year. Maybe I’ve been able to do a lot, but how sustainable is that? I’m wanting to start pacing myself and stop thinking of my life in yearly chunks.
- 1:06:49 We think of these birthdays as checkpoints. What have you accomplished in the past year? How are you better since your age has changed? As I get older, a year seems like a smaller and smaller unit of time, because relative to my age it’s smaller. Eventually, years feel closer to months. If we only ever measured our life and our accomplishments in monthly units of time, we would never make any big accomplishments, because some projects take longer than a month. Some projects and achievements take longer than a year.
- 1:07:24 I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to see birthdays as these check-in points. How have you changed the world? What have you accomplished in the last year? Instead, I want to think of them as, “You know what? Maybe I just made a sizable dent in my overall goal, and that’s okay.” I want to be smarter about the amount of time I’m working and what I’m working on, 80/20ing my 80/20. All that to say, I’ve worked a lot, I’ve worked hard, and I’ve worked for years to build the seanwes platform. It’s easy to see this and get intimidated and say, “I can’t build that, so what can I do now if I’m not going to build my platform?”
- 1:08:44 Ben: You can archive the seanwes website and see what the platform looked like five years ago. Sean, I hope you don’t look back at that and think, “Aw, man.” That’s the platform that was a stepping stone for getting to where you are today. You need those stepping stones. Don’t think about a platform as this pinnacle and this plateau you need to reach. Iterate it.You need to climb the stairs, and the first step may be a single page with text. No images, fancy design, or anything, just something really simple.
- 1:09:39 Sean: It’s an iterative process. What we have now is just the beginning. We’re continuing to iterate. The further we go, the more far removed it’s going to seem from your realm of possibility. Don’t try to create what I have.
Start by creating a platform and iterate on top of that.
- 1:09:56 As new needs and problems come up, iterate on that. It’s going to take years. This show has never been about the easy route and how tomorrow it’s going to be awesome for you. It’s going to take years. I don’t mind telling you that, but you should be starting now. Start like Cory has done. Put up a site. It all starts with writing, because that is the core of a website. A web page is text. We’ve talked before about how there’s a site called This is a Web Page. You have text? That is a web page.
- 1:10:42 Stop thinking that you need all this advanced, custom stuff. Cory has a single page. It happens to have a video imbedded, it’s got some text and an email sign up. That is a platform. That’s a place he can point people. It all starts with writing. If you’re having trouble starting with writing, check out SuperchargeYourWriting.com. I’ve got a workshop for you there, and it will tell you how to use writing for your business. That’s all you need. If you need to register a domain, register a domain. Set up a WordPress website. Make a home page. Write a story. Add an email sign up with MailChimp. All of this stuff is very doable for anyone. This is not extremely expensive stuff. Then, start pointing people to that.
- 1:11:24 Ben: Let me further adjust the expectation, too. Gone are the days when you would put up a website and you could just let that ride for three or five years. Even if it looks like the finished version today, a week from now, a month from now, and six months from now, you might have some adjustments you need to add or change. I know this because I’ve been helping Rachel work on her writing platform. I put that thing up there, it took me an afternoon, and I used a theme and a really simple template. Every week after that, I’ve been adding and adjusting things, because her platform has grown. If we waited until she had all this stuff together to put it out there, it would have taken a long time.
- 1:12:26 It would have taken us much longer to actually put something out there and make it available for people. I know you don’t want to sacrifice quality and your vision for what you want your platform to look like, but it’s like with products. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to start with something small. Start with version 0 and put it out there, because then you get to experience what it’s like to have people come to your website.
- 1:13:00 Sean: Cory, do you have subscribers now?
- 1:13:03 Cory: Yeah, I do.
- 1:13:08 Sean: It’s like that Gary Vee video, One is Greater than Zero. It’s such a great video. Cory may have five subscribers, but he doesn’t have zero. Those of you who haven’t started have zero subscribers, so Cory’s winning because he put up a single web page that is his platform now. If you’re really thinking, “I don’t want to build my own platform. What should I do instead?” What you should do instead is invest in the platform that’s doing the best for you. You might as well go all in on what’s working right now, because eventually, it’s going to stop working. Eventually, things will change.
- 1:14:01 Then, you’re not going to have anything, so milk what you can out of what you have now. You can’t keep playing and not take some of that money out and make sure that you’re covering your foundation. You’ve got to take some of those winnings and say, “You know what, yeah, I could get more results if I kept investing into this platform that’s working, but maybe I need to take some of that time, money, and resources, and begin to build out my own thing.”
- 1:14:36 Ben: I get what you’re saying about going all in, but I still see a great deal of value in diversifying when you can.
- 1:14:44 Sean: Was it not clear that I don’t actually recommend what I just said? I don’t recommend that. I recommend building your own platform, even if it’s just a single page. Start pointing people to it, and give them a reason to go to it. Give them some more value there, engage with them, get them to sign up on an email list where you go even deeper, provide exclusive stuff. Get people to your platform and get them used to going to your platform. All these other places are just entrance points. Build your own platform. There’s no option, just do that. If you want to do your own thing, just go for it, milk it for all it’s worth, because it’s going away.
Provide value on social media as an entrance point to something greater.