As a marketer, you are likely publishing content on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social platforms, which can be a good way to drive traffic to your website. At the same time, when marketers and companies leverage other platforms such as these, they are not hosting all of the content themselves. As a result, they give up control, revenue and ownership of valuable audience interactions.
Instead, marketers need to strive to “own their audience” and to directly communicate and build relationships with them. This can include hosting video and brand content on their own websites, developing a content strategy with offerings, and maintaining regular communications with their audiences. Here’s why owning your audience should be critical to your company.
The Case for Owning Your Audience
When you work hard and publish good content on your website, it can help to influence SEO, site ranking and visitors. But when you publish the same high-quality content on third-party sites like Google, Instagram, YouTube or Facebook, you may quickly realize you have to wait for the platform to send you traffic. Contrary to popular belief, in the case of most popular third-party platforms, it’s not the users but the platform that decides what content users will see.
If the platform does decide to show your content to its users, there’s no telling for how long or how much of it they’ll show. A common strategy many of these third-party platforms used early on in their life cycles was to encourage content creators’ adoption, hinting that these influencers would get a large following quickly. Many hardworking content creators fully embraced this opportunity and began creating an enormous amount of high-quality content for free on these platforms, hoping followers would eventually become subscribers of their personal websites as well.
This worked for a while, but then the platforms changed their algorithms. Countless companies took major hits and some even went out of business altogether in a matter of weeks, as a result.
There are countless examples of this. In 2018, Facebook’s algorithm change caused LittleThings, a feel-good stories content company boasting 100+ content creators, to lose 75% of its audience nearly overnight, resulting in a complete shutdown and leaving 100+ creators out of work. In 2020, Amazon decided to slash its affiliate payouts from 5–8% to a measly 1–3%, causing countless content creators to lose a majority of their income.
Even Google has shown these tendencies before. It’s easy to forget that Google used to—and still does—make changes to its search index rankings formulas that have shuttered some businesses, seemingly, overnight. While the days of the Hummingbird and Panda updates are easily forgotten, those that were hit by them know the levels of their reach and disruption.
In many ways, Google is also a publisher, after all. You can type in questions in Google search and Google itself will show you the answer without you needing to click on any other websites. I used to work with a site that ranked #1 in Google for the question, “Is it going to rain today?” But now, Google simply tells you the answer on the Google search results page itself, rendering that site almost useless.
This is just one of the reasons why owning your audience is so important.
Feed the Beast, But Not So Much That It Eats You
On the one hand, businesses should look to Facebook, Google or other platforms. If you’re a responsible, savvy marketer or content creator, these platforms can help you to significantly boost your business. The key is to never rely so heavily on them that if something changes on their end, your entire business could fail.
Traffic from Twitter, Facebook and other platforms doesn’t belong to you. Canada-based TikTok user Kevin Parry published a truly viral video that gained over 100 million views, but he later revealed the video didn’t earn him any money. Sure, his TikTok channel got a lot more followers, but if you had a nickel for every influencer who got unceremoniously banned from a social media platform and lost all their followers, you’d have more money than Parry did for his viral banana video.
Just because you’re getting views doesn’t mean that traffic converts into any meaningful metric. But the more you can capture traffic from these sites and convert it into traffic you own (like email subscribers, customers, etc.), the better off your business will be and the more revenue you’ll likely make in the long run.
Russell Brunson, multi-million dollar marketer and founder of ClickFunnels, once explained that there are three kinds of traffic: traffic you don’t control, traffic you control, and traffic you own. Most of your traffic is traffic you don’t control — this includes traffic from anyone viewing your content that has no formal connection to your site. It’s hard to make any long-term income from this traffic, because who knows when they’ll be back?
Even traffic you control — usually from paid advertisements and promotions — still doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the platform you’re paying. But the more you can build traffic you own, the more revenue you can earn for your site and business.
Owning traffic doesn’t just ensure a reliable monthly traffic and sales source; it also gives you one of the best pieces of insight any business can get their hands on: customer feedback. But make sure you accurately identify and understand your audience within that traffic. Don’t mistake “visitors” for audiences or an audience as “your audience.” For instance, The Super Bowl has an audience. And, NBC has an audience when The Super Bowl is on. But the latter includes many people that are not its regular audience and instead simply watch for The Super Bowl.
Use Your Audience to Get Data for Critical Business Decisions
Owning your audience and content allows you to build crucial user feedback that informs your marketing and content strategies. Being honest about what the data tells you about your audience can be the difference between a disruptive business and one that eventually goes bankrupt.
Make sure you identify and ask the right questions of your audience. You might think you’re sitting on a goldmine, but 95% of your audience might tell you otherwise if you listen. Nintendo almost went all-in on lewd and unusual trading cards. The Gap was a record store that happened to sell jeans on the side. Good thing these companies listened to their customers and audiences to make better business decisions!
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how the feedback loop should work:
- Step 1: You ask your audience what kind of content/products/services they want.
- Step 2: They tell you.
- Step 3: You create more specific content, products, and services for your audience.
- Step 4: You get more customers, happy to see a company finally listening to their needs.
This simple process is one of the most effective sales structures a company can utilize, growing their audience and income at the same time while becoming a thought leader in the industry. Marketers and companies will also need to balance providing the market what it wants, and delivering what the market needs but doesn’t know it wants yet. This means knowing what an audience truly is looking for. If you can’t count yourself among them, you need to spend a lot of time with your audience to understand them.
It’s almost impossible to get customer feedback when you’re posting content on sites you don’t own, to audiences you don’t own.
Prioritize building your email list. Spend time analyzing and getting to truly know your audience. Understand how useful third-party platforms can be – and how dangerous it can be to rely too heavily on them. Focus on building your own audience so that you can have a solid foundation to stand on when algorithms and the markets continue their unpredictable fluctuations.