Dependency on social media represents a business risk

Don't forget what's really yours

On 29 and 30 January, Utrecht's Jaarbeurs exhibition centre hosted the annual Webshop Trade Days. More than twenty thousand e-commerce professionals attended the fair. SIDN was indirectly represented by the registrars Mijndomein, PCextreme and XXL Hosting. The event serves as a useful barometer of the e-commerce climate. A recurring theme of this year's programme was how an internet-based business should approach social media.

Keynote speaker Juul Manders

One of the most interesting keynote speakers at the event was Juul Manders, entrepreneur and CEO of companies including BALR, Wannahaves and 433. Manders has achieved great success by using social media to promote both his own brands and other brands. His football-themed social media platform 433 has become a global player, with billions of views worldwide.

Competing with mega-brands

Manders loves social media. As his CV attests, the world of likes, posts and influencers is where he feels most at home. And his approach is ideal for SMEs: agility, distinctiveness and small, tight-knit teams are central to his strategy. A strategy that's enabled him to compete with mega-brands.

Organic growth is now rare on social media

All the same, Manders' experiences also raise questions about the limitations of social media. He acknowledges that having your own follower base is essential for success. But to call your followers 'your own' is actually misleading, because they aren't actually your followers; it's Facebook, LinkedIn or whatever medium you're using that holds all the cards. In recent years, the platforms have made it increasingly difficult and expensive to build a following organically. On LinkedIn, for example, a commercial post is often shown to fewer than 5 per cent of the relevant business's followers.

What about structured growth?

That prompts the question: can't a business go for structured social media growth instead? The danger there is becoming dependent on one or more platforms... locked in to paying the cost of exposure, whatever it may be. Manders is nevertheless confident that market forces will neutralise such risks. Questioned about the danger of dependence, he said that the social media industry's dynamism -- as illustrated by the recent rise of TikTok -- coupled with the common sense of corporate decision-makers would always keep the platforms accessible.

However, I can't help wondering whether that isn't wishful thinking. TikTok is as likely to be bought up or fizzle out as it is to shake up the big players. And history tells us that executives' desire to please shareholders can result in them losing sight of their companies' long-term interests. Manders’ own success in taking on the heavyweights illustrates that very point.

Don't forget what's really yours

My advice to people in business is therefore to recognise how important social media is, to invest accordingly, and to use the platforms as vehicles for success. But don't forget what's really yours: your customers, whose contact details you hold and can use without paying... and the content that you make available on your platform, without relying on anyone else.

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