A cautionary tale: Putting your business in the hands of Facebook

social media dangers

As I enjoyed a mega-popular Kebab restaurant on my street, I wondered about the “secret” of their success.

Certainly one factor is the kebab itself — a delicious jungle of salad, meat, and fresh herb sauce that melted like Angel cream on your tongue. Mmmmmm.

The other aspect of their success, and frankly the more interesting part for us, is their Facebook presence.

The young owner has built an impressive online audience. The fan page attracted thousands of fans from around the country who post pictures and stories about their Kebab experience. Wowzee.

The owners fuel their presence through the share of fun restaurant pictures (guests posing, entertaining quotes, food pics), unique YouTube videos, and sophisticated social media give-and-take.

For a physical food biz to rock the Internet like that, I was truly impressed and as I heard his story, I almost let the Kebab slip through my fingers because of the sheer astonishment.

But when I asked them about their business website, they just shrugged their shoulders and laughed.  “Why waste time and money on building a website when you can do everything for free on Facebook ?”

I frowned.

“Because you don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket … and a basket that you don’t own.”

But the conversation was already over, because the business had placed its entire faith on Facebook’s free fan page which they’ve labored over for almost two years.  Argh.

A few weeks later, Facebook introduced the “promote your posts” feature.


Needless to say, interactivity and visibility of the restaurant’s fanpage dropped drastically. Now they are finally building their business website.

Lesson learned.

Now this is not a slap against Facebook, but it’s a mistake that happens all the time …

Every big online company wants to lock you into their platform…

…offering you free space and an incredible existing audience.

  • Amazon wants authors to mainly use their author’s page and discourages outside linking challenging
  • DeviantArt wants to display your entire portfolio on their site
  • Facebook “encourages” you to focus on building your fan page followers and marketing

And while their offers are all legitimate, they hide one important fact :

They make you totally dependable on them – and you’ll always be at their mercy.

Seriously, I cringe every time someone focuses heavily on building their online presence on a platform they don’t own.
Instead of worrying about getting email subscribers and customers, they obsess about getting likes and followers on Facebook and Twitter.

social media dangers

It may be accessible, free and powerful in the beginning, but what do you do if their platform rules change, which they eventually will?

  • What if the company changes from free sharing to paid promotion ? (*cough* Facebook *cough)
  • What if a big player platform loses out and becomes irrelevant  ? (Myspace is no space now)
  • What if a successful online brand creates a hyped platform that attracts more digital dust that visitors? (sorry Google)

No matter how much you luv a brand (and I like Google a lot), always be suspicious of their offers to rely on them for your business  infrastructure and marketing presence. It’s their game, and we all know you’ll never win by rules that have been set by someone else.

You can actually WASTE years of building your brand on someone else’s platform and then lose out when the tide changes. Nothing, nothing and I mean NO-THING is more important than channeling your audience attraction to your self-hosted platform. That’s why I focus the majority of my time getting people on MY site, instead of getting likes and followers somehwere else.

Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr … and sometimes even Google+ …  all help me extend my reach, but each of them could vanish in an instant and I’d still have my audience and profits.

The web is in constant flux. The big platforms of today could become the no man’s lands of tomorrow.

Placing your bet on an outlet you don’t own is the riskiest and dumbest thing you can do. Treat them for what they really are – marketing tools that attract visitors to your own online real estate where you’ll turn them into subscribers or even paying clients.

Don’t be a leaf in the wind – a brand whose long-term success you want to control is dependable on a platform you own. Agree or disagree?

mars dorianMars Dorian describes himself as a creative marketeer with a moon-melting passion for human potential and technology. You can follow his adventures at www.marsdorian.com/

Original illustrations by the author.


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  • I’d like to support your basic argument, but have 2 points of disagreement.

    First, no one that I know of has been able to definitely show that page reach decreased at any point recently. Blitzmetrics supposedly has the largest data set on this, and they haven’t said they saw any specific change. Neither has PageLever or any other analytics company I’m aware of. It’s nice to believe the bro social media that this happened, but I don’t see any proof.

    Second, the recommendation to not have your marketing rely solely on another company’s platform is shortsighted. Lots and lots of organizations have gone even further and built their entire business models to only leverage another company’s platform. Just a few examplse are Zynga (Facebook), Rovio (iOS for a long time), Hootsuite (their entire model is using other platforms), and Seesmic (same).

    Relying solely on one platform or another for your marketing, and even your business model, sounds silly. You can’t control it, so why would you do it? And, that’s why it’s such an easy argument to make, but in reality, you do what works as an entrepreneur, and if that means not having a website, so be it.

  • I don’t know about all the metrics. For me it’s fluctuating. Some updates stay below 10%, most are normal, paid works like a charm.

    As far as “the other platforms” go, the point is not to have everything in one basket, say Facebook. If Facebook for some reason decides your page should be killed, they kill it and you loose all your online presence.
    Hootsuite floats on other networks, but when Twitter dies, it just gets booted from Hootsuite. If MySpace comes back to life, Hootsuite will bring it into the fold.

    Triberr is similar. They do not depend solely on the existence of one platform.

    Bottom line is, you need a home base, and you need to be in control of that home base to ensure an online presence.

  • Agreed…

  • I’m no expert but I can tell you, if I post with no thumbnails or previews, I get reach. As soon as I include those 2 factors, it plummets.

    It makes for an extremely boring looking biz page and I have got to the stage where I don’t really care. So I post across the platforms I want and just go about my business.

    I don’t know if prices fluctuate for how popular your page is, but at the moment I am not prepared to pay £4.99 to promote posts.

    I find it all very disappointing as I am sure Mark’s kebab people have. Small businesses don’t have massive resources like the huge brands (who will get followers etc anyway), so when we put in time and effort to make our page and brand interesting, to get engagement, to have it snatched away – well its sucks!

  • 100% Agreed with your perspective Mars! and You are invited to Karachi, Pakistan to taste hundreds of Kebab varieties that you haven’t ever imagined. We are really the MASTERS of Kebab cookery!

    Apart from deliciousness, you are absolutely right that the audience engagement is only 10-16% max since Facebook has introduced Promoted Posts! – I have owned two Fanpages of about 25000 people on One and 10000 on other. And i have seen a drastic change after the changes.

    I have tried every single way to enhance my engagement by applying all the tricks and techniques but i couldn’t be able to take my reach above 20-25% – that means whenever we publish our content, we are not reaching to our audience at all.

    Website is indeed becoming a more powerful platform. Responsive design and interactive workability is the need of time. A blog with a great content can also great advantage. Twitter communities are also playing well for me, i engage hundreds of people around them, which helps me reach to more specific and targeted readers around them.

  • awesome, man, looks like you’re fully aware of your community effects, which is SWEET. I luv Twitter and communities, prefer it very much over Facebook, but I’m afraid it’s only a matter of time before something similar hits the platform – either you will pay for the platform or you need to put money up front to get more interaction with your followers…

  • Interesting view Eric, and with Zynga stock value plummeting, we see how dangerous it is to rely on one platform. The company now focuses to separate itself from Facebook, because
    the relationship is getting wonky. Actually, many Facebook based social game companies now focus on getting their games on Android, iOS and other systems as well, spreading their reach and getting independent from one single platform.

  • Yeah, I know so many biz people who focused on building a superb Facebook fan page, and worrying a bit too much about getting more Facebook likes, instead of getting those visitors back on their site. The Facebook promotion update dramatically hurt their reach, and now that the company is public and more money-focused, it won’t get any better.

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  • Very True Mars! Mobile is present and its future as well. Its very essential for business owners to think about how they can get to the pockets of their customers, and mobile is the answer.

  • Thanks Man! and You are absolutely Right, Everyone wants to make money out of us now 😀 Well, i was just checking out the Forbes Social Media Section after reading your awesome perspective, i found an article writtne by Rob Tarkoff, CEO of Lithium Technologies – and his point of view also acknowledges your points on a great deal.


  • I wholeheartedly agree. It’s the same discussion I have with every potential client – some of whom turn in to clients because they see the value of owning their business assets. It’s not that Facebook doesn’t work. Or Twitter isn’t a good thing. It’s about a business owning it’s own assets. Once those assets are in the hands of someone who isn’t concerned about your business – anything goes.

  • Mars great strategic thinking. You know it is akin to a successful investment strategy in a way because it is about diversification, while focusing on your own business and retirement objectives. I use many sites to help expand our hub, but I focus on getting our hub, (our main site) optimized and humming. This is also important not only to prevent a disaster happening if one of the platforms decides to change the rules, which will always happen sooner or later, but also to take full advantage of making the right things happen when people do visit our site. My advice build your hub, make it as super as you can, then use all the tools at your disposal to attract more viewers to it.

  • Eliz Greene

    I like the concept of considering your website your real estate and everything else tools to get people to visit – thanks for a great article!

  • Great point, Mars. The “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” theory is a point for email marketing, too: As long as you have your list of subscribers backed up outside of your email service, it doesn’t matter what service you use — you can always take your list elsewhere if the provider disappoints, goes kaput, etc. -=Tristan

  • yeah, you make a great point – I haven’t secured my email list in AGES. I’m going to do that now, thanx 😉

  • exactly – you will be just a leaf in the wind.

  • that’s the exact strategy I’m following now, Tom. Every social media outlet is just a tool to drive traffic to my hub.

  • Page owners just assumed that their posts went to every one of their fans and that was never the case. We have around 40 pages we manage at my agency; some reach is down, some is not. I noticed the holiday weekend brought things down and that’s going to happen when everyone and their brother is promoting Black Friday specials. I haven’t quite bought into the “Mark Zuckerberg is hiding my posts and demanding payment” thing. I’ve recently had a post get 40000 likes after just one promotion, and was still getting hits after a month. Edgerank can limit your content; it can also extend it far beyond the moment it is posted.

    That being said…I agree with maintaining your own real estate and drawing folks there ultimately. Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio is an app I use; it brings all the audio feeds of their stations as well as several other companies stations together in one place. Problem for the stations is you can now hear their stream without ever visiting their own websites. I can see this being a problem (especially for non-Clear Channel stations on the platform).

  • Everyone in the world is telling me that they’re getting quadruple the reach with text-only posts and honestly, I’m not seeing it on any consistent basis.

  • Eunice Coughlin

    Preach it! PREEEEEEACH IIIIIIIT! I keep banging this drum to clients and business colleagues but they turn a deaf ear. Yes, they have noticed a drop in engagement since the “promote your posts” feature started but they still don’t understand that they don’t own the FB platform, it can go away any day and so can their “fans” and any business they may bring. Any decent marketing plan would re-direct traffic to the their website. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this post. Maybe they will listen now.

  • Great post, Mars. Short and to the point. It’s always easier to ride the wave (and get sucked in) than to think in terms of the long road. Thanks for bringing us back to reality!

  • That’s all very well, but what do you use? My site is hosted on WordPress, which means it looks professional and I don’t need to worry about the technicalities, but WordPress is still a big online company with its own agenda.

  • Well, when a service is free there will ultimately be a payback. It was only “FREE” to get you hooked. This is a very common business practice. People need to understand this fundamental. Regarding Facebook as a strategy, for some it makes perfect sense. A small business may never get the visibility by itself so a FB approach could well be the most appropriate course of action, initially. But, when the fees start, they then need to consider if it’s worth it and if there is a more effective alternative. I can just never understand why people continue to think anything is “Free”………… Could they run their businesses without any income?

  • Thanks, Mars.

    Zynga saw a huge drop from March to April, which happens to be when they bought Omgpop, makers of Draw Something, for $180 million. That was a hugely criticized, defensive purchase that drew attention to the fact that their P/E was way, way, way too high. The drop in their stock price wasn’t due to the market thinking they shouldn’t be reliant on Facebook. It was due to investors realizing they were overpaying for Zynga’s stock.

    This has happened to almost every casual gaming company – platform-diversified or not.

    Either way, the point that I want to make is that it feels right to say and here that you shouldn’t build, on be reliant, on someone else’s platform, but ultimately, it’s all a matter of circumstances. Sometimes, it is right to do just that.

  • Also Zynga lost a lot of key management. They have had a tough ride.

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  • I think we people are generally inclined to believe that things somehow stay as we want them. I heavily use Twitter, both for sharing stuff and connecting with my audience. Many people have the notion of Twitter staying free, but who knows when they’ll switch to the paid model, completely changing the interaction style ? I’m afraid that will also happen at some point.

  • pleasure, Eliz 😉

  • I sometimes get lost into it, too 😉

  • That’s true Matt, I use WordPress too, but at least I can backup and save all of my content and code (which I do every week), so I still have all my treasure even if WordPress does something that I won’t like.

  • Lydia Sugarman

    What ESPs are you all using? We’ve been around since 2001 and would never ever leave our customers high-and-dry.

  • Lydia Sugarman

    You’re comparing apples and oranges to an extent. Seesmic doesn’t have to be concerned since Hootsuite bought them. Zynga has been desperately trying to find a successful game that will deliver the same success as Farmville that is independent of FB. They see the writing on the wall, not to mention the threatening rumblings that come out of FB headquarters every so often. And, don’t forget all the apps that were built on top of Twitter….

    That being said, building an app on top of another application is very different. You’ve made a conscious decision to “leverage” the “host” application. It’s less symbiotic and more parasitic. A brick-and-mortar business is looking for a more fiduciary relationship. At the end of the day, any business that places all its marketing eggs in one basket, especially when someone else controls that basket completely and has demonstrated that they feel no obligation to you or your business, but are simply using you to enhance their business and wil do whatever necessary to build their business is gambling and the house is always going to be controlling the odds.

  • Wesley Picotte

    Interesting potential. It doesn’t seem apples to apples with the FB comparison, though. Facebook is free to use, and so is Twitter. For businesses who want to broadcast their messages, Twitter already costs money (promoted tweets/promoted accounts). Facebook basically did the same thing, and why not? It’s their platform to monetize.

  • Wesley Picotte

    Thanks for the post. Good points.

    Seems to fit with the maxim ‘don’t place all your eggs in one basket’.

    It equally reinforces the value and wisdom of building equity in a website capable of serving as the hub for your online marketing, while leveraging social media and other avenues as its spokes.

  • In most cases just the leap to create a presence online is so great that idea of “thinking” about where it should be and who owns it and would could happen in the future is an impossibility.

    These things usually come back to psychology and this “I think we people are generally inclined to believe that things somehow stay as we want them.” is the deal…

    Good stuff Mars.

    Oh and you draw cool pictures too.


  • I really enjoy this piece of thinking. Absolutely, spot on!

    I use Facebook to keep and expand my business connections. I use Twitter lists to feed them with fresh and latest trends. In my business presentations, I leverage on Pinterest to make simple interpersonal encounters effective and memorable. I use creative Pinterest boards to have exciting ice-breaking session, vary my presentation approach and cement my ideas through the visuals (Pinterest pins). Once they are willing to accept and adopt my business ideas, them only I present my business infrastructure i.e my website. It is very effective!

    Thank you, Tom George for sharing this article with me.

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  • Exactly!!!! In fact, Twitter is also selling Tweets (yours) to analytic services worldwide. Others are now starting to do this which introduces an interesting side issue “Do you own your own posts”? Again, the need to monetize these services is going to certainly introduce some interesting challenges for everyone.

  • Confirmation bias. That’s what this is.

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  • Couldn’t agree more – there’s some additional complementary tips in this article I wrote a couple of moths ago: http://latinbusinesstoday.com/2012/05/business-website-tips-and-insights/

  • We have encountered the FB’s enough mentality too. Business need comprehensive plans not one trick ponies.

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  • You couldn’t have said it better and I think the recent announcement of Instagram having rights to the photos you post is a foretaste of what “free” media can become. On one day you’re posting ‘on behalf’ of your company. The next, you’re posting ‘on behalf’ of the free network (worse, your content can now be sold to another company?).

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