It’s interesting as a marketer to watch how the Internet has changed over the last ten years, especially what has changed for solo entrepreneurs and small business owners.
When I started investigating how to make money online in the late nineties, most strategies were e-commerce focused, or built specifically to take advantage of the dot-com bubble.
You either set up a website to sell something physical like Amazon.com did for books, or you set up some kind of service and focused solely on user-acquisition, since most entrepreneurs were more interested in growing fast rather than making profits. The logic being you could figure out a way to make money after you built a huge user-base, but you usually get bought out way before that happens, so you exit rich, even if the company doesn’t make a dime.
I was keen to cash in on the dot-com bubble myself, though being in Brisbane Australia, not exactly a hot-bed for Internet start-ups at the time, it wasn’t easy.
I remember calling a mastermind meeting at my friend’s house to discuss opportunities. We had some good ideas, and some bad ones, but nothing really cemented together. My friends went off and started or continued their careers, while I went back to fiddling around with different web projects in my spare time.
Back then there was no blogging, or social media, or even Google. AdSense and Adwords didn’t exist yet, and affiliate programs were only just becoming readily available in different niches.
That’s why so many people had to focus on selling physical items using online stores. You could make money with advertising or information publishing, but most people didn’t have a clue how to do it. There weren’t courses or all the free information we have about these subjects today to help guide you. You had to figure it out yourself.
Fundamentals Stay The Same
As I’ve watched things change over the previous years I’ve noticed a few key fundamentals that haven’t change, namely –
- Building an asset is the most important thing, and in most cases the best asset we have as a small business owner is your contact list. In the online world, that means your email list.
- Websites increase in value over time, especially if you have a mechanism to continually improve your site, for example by constantly adding new content.
- Branding is more important than you think. In an increasingly noisy environment, your brand is your means to stand out. If you can become an authority, you win.
All three of the points above are interlinked. When you carefully nurture your email list and build a solid authority website, your brand is enhanced. Your brand is the intangible energy force that is created as a result of the relationships you build through your email list and website.
If you combine these three elements you can build a sustainable business that has the potential to become life changing, if you work at it long enough.
One of the wonderful things about spending time in an industry long enough is you start to see what is a trend and what is here to stay.
The three elements I listed above haven’t changed, however the environments they operate in have.
Having an authority website has always been an advantage and very likely will remain so as long as humans consume information using the means we do today (text, audio and video). However, how we build authority sites has changed. The tools are constantly evolving and what worked before doesn’t work as well today.
For example, back when I was building websites before blogs, everything was about getting links, any links, to improve your organic search rankings. Attracting links ten years ago was as simple as asking for a link exchange, and later on techniques like article marketing through article directories like EzineArticles.com became popular.
Google was just entering the search engine wars and the current leading search sites like Yahoo!, Excite, Lycos, Hotbot and Looksmart were more about keyword density than clever things like Pagerank.
As long as you used the right keywords in the right places and gathered a handful of links, regardless of where they came from, you could start ranking well. It was a very unpredictable science, oftentimes highly frustrating and plagued by keyword stuffing spammers.
The Pitfalls of Social Media
Over time new techniques came and went (remember banner networks, web rings, and blog and ping?). Link building is still important, but how you go about it has changed a lot, as has the entire landscape of Internet marketing.
If we look at the environment right now, you can easily see that social media is in focus, although the term “social marketing” is perhaps too broad, as it includes lots of technologies and techniques that need to be examined individually.
Let’s take for example two of the early social networking sites – Friendster and Hi5.
Now I profess to never being a huge user of either of these services, but I do remember when they enjoyed their time as leaders in the social networking space (pioneers even). I used to receive daily invites to join these two networks (spam), but they lost ground and eventually MySpace surfaced as the leader.
Today though it’s clear that Facebook is the dominant player, although it’s tough to say for how long. MySpace still has power, but you can feel that it’s no longer a trendsetter.
If you look at social bookmarking, the first site to get my attention was Del.icio.us. It was quickly superseded by the explosion that was Digg and later all I could hear about was Stumbleupon.
All these sites continue to command large pipes of traffic, but you can feel the energy shifts are constantly moving to what’s new. Twitter is a great example of this. It’s cool right now and enjoys the lion-share of media attention, but for how long?
All of the tools I’ve mentioned have been studied as marketing resources as well. You’ve got your Digg guides, your MySpace Marketing resources, your how to get the most from Stumbleupon articles, how to leverage Squidoo lenses, how to Tweet your way to riches, etc etc.
The problem, as I see it, and one that many new marketers fall into, is that few people understand how best to use these resources to reinforce the fundamentals I listed previously. The mistake is that they try and use these resources AS the fundamentals, which will result in a critical failure long term.
What do I mean by this?
Here are some critical problems…
- People look to create assets – authority sites – from resources they can’t control. You can’t rely only on your MySpace page, or Facebook profile, or even your YouTube channel as your asset base because you don’t own it.
Your degree of manipulation over these resources is limited to what the companies who own the services let you do. If your means to reach people is only through MySpace, then you’re in trouble when they delete your page or change the rules regarding how you can communicate to your followers.
- You can’t control the subscription mechanism, nor do you own your list. List building is vital to any business, but if your only subscription mechanism is how many people are friends in your Facebook profile, or your followers in Twitter, you’re in trouble.
- Most social media is a trend, it won’t last. If you rely on certain channels of communication, for example Digg or Stumbleupon as your main source of traffic and eventually people move away from using these services to something else, you’re screwed.
Obviously not having all your eggs in one basket is a sound business practice, and it’s just as important to understand the transient nature of the Internet and marketing. NOTHING stays the same, accept that and never get too comfy with any one technique.
So What Is The Right Way To Use Social Media?
The first thing you need to do is lay the framework to build your fundamental assets: Your authority website and email list.
I won’t go into detail into how to do this in this article as I’ve written plenty regarding how to use a blog to build authority online and how to leverage email marketing for massive profits. If you’re new to this, check out my Articles Page under the appropriate topics, and read my free reports, The Blueprint, The Roadmap and The Masterplan.
The key point to understand is that you use social media, while it’s popular and applicable to your industry and situation, to build your assets. Social media are communication channels, marketing techniques, just like all the techniques that have come before. Some will last longer than others, and they can represent huge opportunities, but don’t see them as the bricks to build your business upon – they are merely the roads to drive on to get where you want to go, you have to build your vehicle using much stronger stuff.
At the heart of all online marketing is an effective content strategy. Distributing content first through an asset you own, such as a blog or website, is the first step. Leveraging that content through social media is a fantastic way to increase throughput of traffic back to your site, and then, once it’s there, you need to use a mechanism to capture that traffic on to a permanent subscription base you control, in other words, your email list.
In what is typically termed the hub-and-spoke model, the different social media tools make up some of the spokes, while your blog/website and email list are the hub. The hub is solid, the spokes are changing, with new spokes added and old ones removed as they become ineffective. The content you produce is the grease that keeps everything working.
If presently your online strategy relies extensively on any resource you don’t own, or you’re not building a contact list you control, or you’re too heavily invested in a single marketing technique, then you’re asking for trouble. Get the fundamentals right first, then leverage the power of whatever is trending upwards now, by injected your current content strategy into the mix.