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Social media is like riding a dragon

Source: HBO

Source: HBO

Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook have the power to drive a tremendous amount of traffic to your site. If something goes viral, you could see tens if not hundreds of thousands of visits.

They are extremely powerful.

They’re like dragons.

If you do them well, they can be a boon. They’ve propelled many a blogger to fantastic heights. Single-blogger operations with hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans, millions of pageviews a month, and all built off social media. It’s amazing.

But it can also be a huge risk.

I’m a part of several groups of bloggers, in a variety of niches, and there’s been a lot of talk about how Facebook is messing with engagement for many of them. Engagement and reach are all down. Bloggers have to play games like uploading photos from their computer or publishing text updates and putting their link in the first comment, just to reach people who have liked their page.

Some bloggers have said that their level of engagement is barely 1%!

It’s unbelievable.

Mark Cuban ranted about this back in November of 2012. It’s the reason why I haven’t spent a lot of time promoting Microblogger on Facebook.

Can you imagine having an email list and only 1% of them actually get the email?

It all boils down to platform risk.

Just as a dragon (or three) can propel you from an exiled daughter of an ousted king (who, by the way, was sold into marriage) to the commander of an enormous free army… their departure can have just as sudden and shocking and result.

When you rely on social media, it’s like riding a dragon.

I want to share with you a sobering story about the risk of relying on dragons.

Cautionary Tale about Pinterest

In this case, it was Pinterest but it could apply to any platform. I redacted identifiable information but the message still rings still true:

Here’s my cautionary tale about Pinterest: I don’t think I’m alone when I say I generally have loved Pinterest in the past, and not only do I enjoy it as a user it has brought me tons of traffic to my websites. But about a week and a half ago quite a number of readers began contacting me and sending me Facebook messages saying they couldn’t pin anything. Pinterest had blocked my entire site. (No notice was ever sent from Pinterest itself.)

I have literally probably a million pins from my [site] site on Pinterest, some pages being pinned hundreds of thousands of time. Every time someone tried to repin one of these pins, or to pin something directly from my site it put up this ominous message: “Users have reported that this url links to spam or inappropriate content.” It wouldn’t let anything be pinned, nor for anyone to visit my site from the link.

Aggghhh! I work really hard on my site, as I’m sure each of you understand because you do too. I do not have spam. I do not have inappropriate content. It’s a home organization site for goodness sake. People like my stuff. I have 55K email subscribers, I’m not a porn site masquerading as something else or something horrible like that. My images are not misleading. If it says you’ll get tips on organizing pots and pans, then the page you’re sent to will tell you how to do just that.

This is also my huge time of year — money and traffic wise, with organization being on everyone’s mind. But with Pinterest’s decision I was losing money and traffic. It literally made me sick.

So, I calmly searched Pinterest’s help section to try to email them and resolve the problem. There was NO RESPONSE. Over a week and a half this went on. Not even a “we don’t care” response. Now I know Pinterest owes me nothing traffic wise, nor is it obligated to allow people to pin my stuff. But not only were they not letting people pin or repin my stuff which was honestly bad enough in my opinion, but they were telling each person that tried that I was a scummy site. NOT GOOD.

On top of that, I have over 8K Pinterest followers, which I know is peanuts compared to some, but the number has been consistently growing as I have been trying to strategically build my boards. Over the last two weeks I have had far fewer people follow me, and some even unfollow. Of course they would. They’ve been told by Pinterest that I pin inappropriate and spammy stuff. Again, NOT GOOD.

I knew I had done nothing to warrant the block, but there is no way to contact Pinterest beside through the email which clearly they don’t respond to quickly. What I finally did, although I have no idea if this is what finally worked, but after starting four different help threads since none of them were ever responded to, I Facebook emailed them on the Pinterest business page, and also tweeted them (and their general counsel) explaining that the message they were putting up each time someone tried to pin something was defamation (which is what it was — I’m actually any attorney so that is legally actually correct).

Just a few minutes ago, 10 days after this all started, and 9 days after I emailed them the first time, I finally got this email. “I’m sorry we weren’t able to follow up with you sooner! We reviewed your website and decided to unblock it. We blocked this website because several users reported content from this site as spammy. You can find out more about our Acceptable Use Policy here.

Sorry for the inconvenience!”

Here’s the link to where they sent me: http://about.pinterest.com/use/

Moral of the story –> this scared me to death. I have been a wreck about it since I found out they’d done this. I even cried, and my family has felt my wrath as I took out my worries about my business on them. (I support my family of 5 completely and totally on my business income, so this is no small issue for me.) I’ve obviously apologized several times to my loved ones who have been graceful in their forgiveness of my stress induced anger, but I really felt helpless.

I don’t know what to think anymore about Pinterest. Obviously, I am relieved that Pinterest has unblocked my site, but how can I prevent this in the future? I have no idea. I know of nothing about my sites that is spammy so there is no way to correct the “problem” so it doesn’t happen again. Instead cranky people complaining about something that I don’t even understand (was it malicious, I sure hope not and doubt it, but you never know) cost me a lot of traffic and money over the last week, and then to make it worst Pinterest just sat on their thumbs and ignored me. Who knows how many people also now have a negative opinion about my site, and will not come back again because of seeing that message when they tried to pin or repin something.

I hate feeling out of control, but that is what I am. That is what we all are, really. I know we should all diversify our traffic sources, and Pinterest does send me a lot of traffic and I hope it will in the future. But I’m honestly wary of encouraging people to pin my stuff anymore. I would rather not have any Pins on Pinterest than have everyone told over another 10 day (or longer) period how my entire site is spammy and inappropriate.

I know I said there was a moral of the story. I’m not sure there is. I just guess I wanted people to be aware of this potential issue. All I know now is that it really sucked and I hope it doesn’t happen again.

That’s a scary story but it applies to any platform.

Facebook can shut down your fan page. Pinterest can label your site spam. Google can remove you from their index.

Consider this – what if people started doing negative social media, as they are currently doing negative SEO? What if someone just started submitting your pins from a million different accounts and otherwise broke every term of use out there?

What if Pinterest decided you were at fault and banned you?

You’d be in the same situation.

That’s platform risk. That’s the downside of riding a dragon.

I experienced this personally with Bargaineering because it was reliant on search traffic (70-80% of all traffic came from Google). One Friday, many many years ago, I stopped getting any traffic from Google. This was a drop of several hundred referrals an hour to ZERO.

Very few times have I been so panicked that I felt the color drain from my face. I really felt like someone reached into my chest and tore out my heart (this is not hyperbole, I felt short of breath and had cold sweats).

This fledgling business I had created, that I had been so proud of, just had a heart attack and was just lying on the ground.

This pre-dated any big algorithmic announcements so I had no idea why, on a random Friday, all traffic disappeared from Google. Traffic wouldn’t come back that Sunday, nearly three days later, and to this day I have no idea why. My only guess was there was a data refresh that deindexed my site for a while. To this day, I have no idea, but that day taught me that you can’t rely on another platform for your traffic. (scary part is that there’s no one to contact at Google about this sort of thing!)

Whether it’s data hiccups like what I experienced, bad luck like our friend, or potentially bad actors out there trying to win by taking others down — platform risk is a huge issue most people don’t think about.

How do you avoid platform risk?

Besides diversifying your traffic sources, which is not easy, the only immediate way is to convert visitors into email subscribers.

It’s the only way to reduce platform risk. There’s still risk because of deliverability and the email platform itself, but it’s not like a social media site.

In fact, the blogger who shared her Pinterest story actually told me that she felt better about her site’s performance during the Pinterest outage because she leveraged email:

I did a much better job with grabbing visitors from viral surges and making them email subscribers. I also created a weekly challenge to keep people coming back. That has been really important, and ironically it was Pinterest back in late 2011-early 2012 that brought me my first 25K of subscribers for a site that at the time had less than 30 pages at the time.

I just hit 56K email subscribers recently, and it really has kept the traffic up while this whole Pinterest thing was happening. It meant I had people that knew me, knew my name, saw me twice a week in their email inbox, and knew that I wasn’t spammy, that I had good stuff to share, that I helped them. That my information is good quality.

Even email traffic isn’t guaranteed in a way though. I have noticed a huge difference in open rates since Gmail did their darn promotion tabs. But such is life. You live, you adapt.

The future is uncertain, it always is, but the less reliant you are on another traffic source, the better off you’ll be. Pinterest, Facebook, and all those places are still worth using, to share your content and reach more people, but relying on them for traffic is extremely risky.

If the dragon lets you ride, you ride. Just don’t rely on the little guy to always be there.

How reliant are you on other platforms? How will you reduce your reliance on those services today?

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Jim

In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog (Bargaineering.com) that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

61 responses to “Social media is like riding a dragon”

  1. Great post. Words of wisdom. Email is the root, unless Google keeps meddling with their silly tabs inbox.

  2. Business is no different than investing – diversify and minimize your risks. Business owners become great at risk management. If not all it takes that one missed risk and BOOM!

  3. This is why I’m using Hootsuite in order to easily build my audience on a number of different social networks. Using this tool (or other equivalents) I can post quickly to Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus with it taking me barely longer than posting to one.

    In addition I’m pinning on Pinterest and sharing on Tumblr so my “social homes” are pretty diversified at present.

    I completely agree there are risks involved and want to spread my risk wherever possible to maintain long term growth no matter what the bumps in the road may be.

  4. Erica says:

    This is so important. So many bloggers do not get this concept. Thanks for this.

    Erica
    We Three Crabs

  5. Jennifer S. says:

    I’m still fairly new to blogging so all of this information is new to me. This has given me some things to think about for how I can increase followers.

  6. Sarah Arrow says:

    Like you I’ve never focused solely on one platform, although I’m possibly a little Twitter heavy. in 2009 a forum said I was a fake account (despite the owners having met me in real life) and pulled my site links and cancelled my account. My traffic ground to a halt and I thought never again, started my own newsletter and swore that I’d never blindly build my business blog on a site that I don’t own. So far, so good πŸ™‚

    • Jim says:

      Sometimes we need that wake up call, you know? If something works, you should do more of it… which leads to too much reliance on something. It’s good you’ve been able to diversify.

  7. Gina says:

    I am totally new to blogging. I’m getting into it because I love to share with and teach others. Making an income with it would be great! I’m thankful there are so many, like you, who have gone before me and can offer wisdom like this article.

  8. Thanks Jim, this is very eye-opening. Other than facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, which social media do you find best for traffic?

    Thanks very much!

  9. Donna Stephens says:

    She’s lucky, Pinterest totally shut my site. Back in 2012 I was on disability and started an online business, pinterest made it easy to pin pictures and direct it to my website store. I wasn’t concerned with emails or with who could tag me. What I was concerned with was a company was interested in buying a bulk of items from my pinterest. When I saw they had tagged my picture I quickly emailed them and asked if they needed assistance and sent them a link to my actual website. In September of 2012 when I was checking my email I saw my account had been deleted. Yep, gone. Deleted, and said “sorry you left please reactivate your account”. I wrote to them and explained the situation but by that time I was done with them. All these platforms are money grubbing making platforms. Collecting from you the small business person. My advice, create your website, create your email and move forward. If any platform sees you’re making money they can and will shut you down, Facebook will ask for a fee and then shut you down. $$$ is the root of all things!!!

    • Jim says:

      It’s sad but true. While I don’t think they’re intentionally being vindictive, they are still a business with shareholders that require them to make money. Sometimes that means making businesses pay to advertise. πŸ™

  10. I’ve heard these stories before about how pinterest can label your site. It gets rather annoying and I can see how it could totally threaten a business.

    But what is the long term fix? IS there a long term fix or will people just always be at the mercy of others and the customer service abilities of on-line companies?

    I don’t know the answer either.

    diversify, diversify…

  11. Angie Astry says:

    Wow very interesting article, thank you for posting! I’m learning more and more every day πŸ™‚

  12. I’m not overly reliant on any social media platform, however I do see tons of referral coming in from pinterest, so I am attempting to start making my posts more pinterest friendly in the future πŸ™‚

    • Jim says:

      Yeah, Pinterest is huge, but it’s important to get them on an email list so you can reach them again in the future… just in case Pinterest decides, on a whim, you’re a spammer.

  13. Deb says:

    I know a lot of bloggers that are abandoning Facebook altogether. I still get the majority of my traffic from there with Pinterest second. I do agree you need to diversify. Thanks for a great blog!

  14. What helpful and scary information. I am just getting started and have a lot to learn. Thanks for the post!

  15. Becky says:

    I can’t believe Pinterest did that! That is crazy! I recently started blogging, so I am just getting the hang of it, but you offer some great advice here.

  16. Diversifying is so important in social media. Pinterest is my #2 traffic source and has been for 6 months and G+ brings me less than 1% of my traffic but since it is Google I continue to work away at it. I just wish I could crack the money making side. Five years in and I could make more money babysitting on a Saturday night.

  17. andrea k says:

    Whoa. There’s so much scary stuff out there. I’m am SO new at blogging that I don’t even know where to begin. I’m trying, but it’s so confusing! Thank you for the warnings…they are going into my vault.

    • Jim says:

      I like to use bookmarks for this purpose, so that when I am ready to read about something I have a library of articles to start with.

  18. I hate this story about Pinterest, luckily I do not use it so much! Generally I know social medias are big and we should invest time in it but I simply do not have that much of it, life to precious to waste it in front of computer. I already spend few hours a day, writing for my blog and dealing with every day life stuff such as emails with friends and family.

  19. Brittany says:

    Very interesting! I know Facebook doesn’t display everything we post, but I never thought about getting deindexed by Google or banned from Pinterest! I guess I should work on my email list more…

    • Jim says:

      Facebook doesn’t show everything you post to everyone who is your friend, which makes a little bit of sense since there is only so much room. After a certain point it becomes a fire hose of updates and that’ll turn anyone off.

      Work on that email list!

  20. I have a new blog and am just learning to navigate the social media maze. This is a little intimidating. I am definitely going to learn how I can diversify. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Awesome article! I agree that diversity is key, and it is so hard to find out which one works best for traffic for your site. I feel like FB only brings me a lot if I am posting constantly, which isnt fun for me or the readers im assuming.

    • Jim says:

      You really need to play with each of the networks to see what sticks, I imagine that with your photos you probably do really well on a site like Pinterest.

  22. Sheila R. says:

    Great information! I am also just getting started and I am constantly reading anything and everything I can to help improve my traffic flow. I have worried about something like this happening (down the road) so I try not to rely on any of the many, many social media sites that I use to get my name out there!
    Thanks so much for this post…I shared it on all the social media sites! LOL!

    • Jim says:

      Thanks Sheila!

      Pinterest, and any other social network, is still worth using, it’s just that it’s so easy to get tunnel vision and focus TOO much on one thing.

  23. This is great information! As a relatively new blogger, I am trying to expand my reach on as many social media platforms as feasible. You make some great points about how you can never rely on a single source of traffic and must be ready to adjust efforts as things change. I am currently working to build my email list.

    • Jim says:

      That email list is very important, lets you reach those people in the future should anything ever happen to your social media accounts.

  24. Jessica says:

    Wow! Great post, I can only imagine how scary that was to lose all that business because of an unsubstantiated “spam” accusation. I’m glad she got it resolved. Thank you for posting this, it really made me think about making sure I push the email subscriptions.

  25. I really enjoyed reading your post. I know I almost had a heart attack when someone hacked into my Pinterest account, and was pinning their spammy ads onto a board they created in my account. They didn’t go overboard, but they were able to get into the accontt on 2 separate occasions…I think I may have changed the password and it stopped.

    Anyhow, I rely on various platforms to interact with others, but not to necessarily drive traffic to my site. I mean, I put my stuff out there, interact with others, and if traffic happens, fine…but then again, I’m not blogging to make money or add to my income really…so I don’t have the same concerns as you.

    I would love to have something go viral one of these days…that would be cool. The most action that I’ve gotten so far is more than 500 repins on a single Pinterest pin. I was thrilled when that happened, but reading your post…it all seems so small now..lol.

  26. This is a great article. I’m bookmarking it for future re-reading and reference. I’m finding this whole “dragon thing” (very apt description btw) confusing and overwhelming. Thanks for the info. I’d love to hear further advice on this!

  27. Diana Marie says:

    I am new to blogging. This post is very insightful and makes me want to start working on my email list pronto!

  28. Shaleen says:

    Im sure you already know this man.. but just for other readers, facebook only allows you 11% to 16% exposure. Beyond that you need to go for paid promotion. At the end of the day even Zuckerberg is a website owner, like the rest of us. Lol. So yeah, they can pull the plug on you if you are getting popular through them but not helping them make money in return.

  29. Abby says:

    Wow, this is some really helpful info about building your blogging audience. I haven’t been blogging long and haven’t yet invested the time I would like to increase my followers and spread the word, but this is definitely I post I will keep in mind for good advice when using social media. Thanks for sharing.

  30. I have really been trying to build up my email subscribers. The fact that we don’t have “control” over those things is rather scary. I can’t imagine being in that situation. I would have had a heart attack!!!

  31. Charity says:

    This really has me rethinking the importance of email lists. I was planning my promotion strategy, and I had decided not to bother with email. I have a diversified plan, but it relies on other platforms.

  32. Ana says:

    I definitely think diversifying is key when it comes to keeping your traffic and visitors. I’ve heard many stories similar to this, coming from the SEO world where many brands lost more than half of their traffic because they put all their eggs in one basket (i.e. Google). Thus, I can see how focusing on something you can control like email subscribers is crucial. I think it’s a bit harder sometimes for bloggers, though to build their email lists because most of these types of visitors follow via social platforms.

    • Jim says:

      I’ve heard similar stories, when you rely on one thing it’s so so risky.

      It really depends, sometimes your followers will only want to follow on Facebook or within a Facebook group, but you don’t know unless you ask if they want email too. πŸ™‚ Plus, if you have thousands of followers and only a fraction see your updates, are they really following?

  33. Carmen says:

    I had no idea of the platform risk. As a new blogger, I am slowly learning the ins and outs of getting my message to the readers. Thank you for your insight in this article. I

  34. Great words of wisdom. I agree — we need many platforms, and mostly the mailing list, which I have a LOT of work to do on! Thanks for sharing. I love when I hear about bloggers who have been able to quit their day job to pursue writing!

  35. Lisa says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with social media…and am still finding my way. Thank you for the info!

  36. Stacie says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve heard that Google+ is the future because they don’t have all the rules and regulations that facebook has. Too bad G+ is slow to catch on with the rest of the world.

    • Jim says:

      Each social network is ideal for a certain type of site, it really depends on the audience that uses it. I think it’s important to test each and then retain as much as you can into your own email list. G+ might be the future for one site, Pinterest for another, etc.

  37. Sasha says:

    I am so glad to have found your blog! I’ve been blogging blind, mostly for fun, for years, and am ready to try to take it to the next level, and I have SO MUCH to learn! I’m definitely bookmarking quite a few of your articles I’ll want to read more in-depth later. Thanks!

  38. “Riding the dragon” is a great analogy! I am such a new blogger that it’s hard to diversify when we’re still talking hundreds of followers, not thousands. Even less on email. But I’m working on it! Your Pinterest story scares me, because I do see a ton of traffic from Pinterest. I have such a visual topic that pinterest is the natural place to promote and be found. So, I look forward to your tips on how to grow followers for other platforms and email lists!

    • Jim says:

      Diversification is just a long process that happens over time, you do something well, keep doing it while trying to find something else you can leverage to get more traffic.

      If you can, try to get as much of that Pinterest traffic into an email list so you can reach them in case something happens. Think of it like an insurance policy… plus you can get the reach those readers in their email, rather than compete with them on PInterest all the time.

  39. Natasha says:

    This is a very interesting point of view. Not sure how it applies to my blog — which is personal and not for profit. I have a blog facebook page, but my Pinterest is purely personal and idiosyncratic. I do share my pins with my readers… but I’m pretty sure my pins do not generate new readers… and that’s OK, at least for now.

  40. Sheena says:

    I’m glad I diversify!! Thanks for the info.

  41. What a great post! Not only do you give a lot of useful information, but the cautionary tale about Pinterest is something all of us need to know. Diversification is a key in social media, just like any other form of investment (whether its our money, time, professional reputation, etc.). Thanks for sharing, Jim! ~ Bobbi

  42. I love the internet and social media, I really do. But it’s scary how much power Google or Pinterest has over us. The power to affect our lives.

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