Two weeks into Elon Musk’s takeover of the social media platform Twitter and it was already a wild ride.
Within days of assuming ownership, Musk had fired about half of the workforce, then invited some of them to come back. Then he fired large numbers of contractors. According to insiders, the dismissals left anyone left standing unsure of who was in charge, who had access to what, and what the new policies and procedures were going to be.
Even as the pink slips landed, Musk attempted to roll out a brand-new feature, a blue ‘verification’ checkmark that you could acquire for a small monthly fee, that simultaneously didn’t actually verify the identity of users, while looking a lot like a previous feature that had verified users. The result was a slew of impersonators that did everything from making the Nintendo character Mario flip a middle finger at Twitter users, to causing a stock price to nose dive.
Following that, Musk fired off a memo demanding that remaining workers commit to “hardcore Twitter” (read: long hours, fewer benefits, and almost certainly more chaos) or take a severance package. Meanwhile, many major brands either withdrew from advertising on the platform completely, or paused their ad spend.
Whether Twitter survives Musk or not remains to be seen, and lots will be written in the years to come about how all of this went down.
Here, today, we want to talk about how this perfectly illustrates the danger of relying on something you don’t own.
Because something that has been overlooked in all the discussions that we’ve seen to date is how this affects small business owners, freelancers, and indie creators.
Many of these Twitter users depended on the platform to create buzz, gain fans, spread the word about projects, and in some cases, directly sell products and services.
Which, for a long time now, seemed like a solid bet. Founded in 2006, the Twitter platform was mostly technologically stable, had more than 200 million users, and was free. It was also pretty easy to use. Posting on it was a no-brainer. A large proportion of these users are also women, people of colour, LGBTQ2+, or other underrepresented communities, who didn’t have access to more traditional public relations opportunities or resources. It definitely had its issues – it was rife with bots, had very poor harassment and safety controls, and was the source of a lot of disinformation – but it was a viable channel.
The problem is, many people let it become their only channel. And all the hard work they’ve done to produce interesting Twitter content and gain followers is at risk.
The kicker here is that this can also happen to any other channel at any time. Facebook isn’t a sure bet either, and neither is Instagram (which Facebook owns); the company is currently laying off workers. TikTok is a source of concern to the US, because it’s owned by the Chinese, and thus might be subject to a batch of new regulations.
And even if these companies – or whatever else is hot when you read this — stay solvent and stable, they’re free to make changes to their platform at any time that might eviscerate your audience or significantly impair your ability to reach new fans.
So, now what?
If you’re one of these people, or you’re just starting out, here’s what you should do.
First, create your own platform: a website. It doesn’t have to be fancy and expensive, but it should have information about who you are, what you do, and why anyone should care. It should also include a way to contact you (probably email). If you can’t easily set up an email form on your website, consider setting up and just posting a ‘public’ email address to receive messages from your website, so that if you attract spammers, it’s not clogging up your regular email. And of course, don’t forget to check that new email address regularly.
Not sure where to start? Take a look at Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, and WordPress. Most of these are free or cheap, and you can build your own basic site reasonably easily, even if you’re not technically inclined. There are lots of free tutorials offered by these platforms, and there more on YouTube.
You can also hire people to set up a basic one for you, but buyer beware: if they propose to charge anything over $1000 for a basic website on any of these platforms, it’s too much.
Second, set up an email list for people to subscribe to. We personally use Mailerlite because it’s relatively inexpensive and simple to use; there are a number of other platforms available.
Third, start encouraging your followers on social media to subscribe to your email list. You may have to offer some incentive – a freebie perhaps, also known as a ‘reader magnet’ – to get them to sign up.
Finally, create a routine to back up your website and your list of email subscribers regularly
Now you own the relationship… and the content
Now start thinking in terms of website content first, and repurposing for social media channels second, and you’ll be on much firmer ground.
That’s because you own your website, and even if your specific website host goes belly up, you can just put up the same site with the same URL on another host. And you’ll own the relationship with your subscribers.
Definitely make use of social media to expand your reach, but always own your home base and point your fans to it regularly.
Image credit: Midjourney