Social media is like riding a dragonPinterest, 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%!
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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