(Cross-posted from the Klick Health blog.)
A few weeks ago, I received an alarming email from Twitter stating that my account was suspended for impersonation. At first, I thought it was spam. But after navigating to my Twitter profile and seeing an account suspension notice, I went into panic mode.
I’m by no means a huge Twitter user, but like many people and brands, I use it to connect and communicate with an audience, and have cultivated a presence on the platform for more than four years—all the while dutifully staying within the boundaries of Twitter etiquette and rules. Losing my account felt like being evicted from a house that I built.
It was, however, a house that I built on someone else’s land. And being so abruptly removed was a reminder of the risky path many brands walk by putting too many eggs in other people’s baskets—be it Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.
What’s your company’s AOL keyword?
I often hear marketing managers talk with reverence about platforms like Facebook and YouTube while grudgingly acknowledging that they need a website at all. Some companies go so far as to redirect their domain to their Facebook page, and Facebook reps have talked about a future in which companies with Facebook pages won’t need websites.
And it seems appealing. Who wants to maintain a website when companies like Facebook give you the tools to communicate and engage directly with your audience? Free? (And pharma is by no means exempt; an increasing number of pharma brands are launching branded Facebook and YouTube pages, albeit with modifications such as removing comments to avoid regulatory issues.)
But I’ve seen this story before, and it doesn’t end well for brands. Remember AOL keywords? In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it seemed like every brand was promoting its AOL keyword rather than its own URL. How about MySpace? Today, it’s Facebook pages and Twitter hashtags. Tomorrow it will besomething else.
The risks of relying on other people’s platforms are many. As I experienced, you can be shut down, with little recourse. Even if not, you’re investing in building content on someone else’s platform that doesn’t benefit your owned properties (for example, by increasing your inbound links and search engine rank). Then there’s the bait-and-switch, whereby platforms tweak their original offering to the point where brands find themselves increasingly paying for what was originally free exposure. Perhaps most importantly, yesterday’s hot social network is today’s viral joke; all that investment is wasted if users turn elsewhere, and history suggests they will—while websites endure.
Spokes are fine, as long as there’s a hub
Unfortunately, I haven’t been entirely heeding my own advice. At the time my Twitter account was suspended, I had let my personal blog lag. I wanted to tell the world about the incident, and see who could help. But I had few blog readers who would listen.
Fortunately, I still had Facebook and email. So, after using them to track down a Twitter contact, and submitting a formal appeal through Twitter online, my account was eventually reinstated—albeit with little explanation. (It probably helped that they accused me of impersonation, but the domain name of my personal email address, simonsmith.ca, is the same as my Twitter username, @simonsmith.)
The experience reinforced to me the value of the hub and spoke digital marketing model. Other people’s platforms—the spokes—can certainly be useful in achieving your marketing objectives. But it’s critical to diversify—a wheel with two spokes will collapse—and to develop a strong hub to which the spokes drive traffic.
And never rely on just one platform. Because one day, you could be kicked off.