193/365 Caution - Jazz Hands! by Mykl Roventine on Flickr

193/365 Caution – Jazz Hands! courtesy of Mykl Roventine on Flickr

Job Change Notifier is shutting down. They’re a utility that allowed LinkedIn users to be notified via email whenever one of their connections changed jobs. They didn’t run out of money due to mismanagement and their app is extremely popular. So why are they shutting down? Because LinkedIn is turning off the hose. They’re changing the API (application programming interface) so that the user has to log in every 60 and re-authorize program access. Company founder Roger Lee says this fundamentally damages the utility of his product.

“We’d have to remind users to log in to the app at least once every 60 days, or else the app would lose access,” Lee explains. “This, of course, makes the service a lot less useful.”

The startup graveyard is full of tombstone epitaphs with similar messages: “Our product was so awesome, <insert company name here> shut us off and did it themselves.” What does this have to do with social media marketing? It’s another reminder that all third party social media platforms are built on quicksand. Which means that it’s quite possible your marketing strategy is, too.

Here’s how to protect yourself.

A Short History of Social Media Marketing Rug-Pulling

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Job Change Notifier probably wasn’t a major cog in your social media marketing machine. But it could have easily been a different API change that led to your favorite client service shutting down or key component of your marketing workflow that suddenly stopped working. Twitter has been one of the most notorious rug-pullers and here’s a short list of casualties:

You get the picture. You might think that the key to protecting yourself is not to put all of your eggs in one basket. You wouldn’t be wrong but there’s a little more to it than that.

Marketing Asset Allocation

From Wikipedia:

Asset allocation is an investment strategy that attempts to balance risk versus reward by adjusting the percentage of each asset in an investment portfolio according to the investors risk tolerance, goals and investment time frame.

Asset allocation is a little more involved than simply diversifying a portfolio. As this Wikipedia definition suggests, it’s about actively balancing allocations based on risk. So let’s take a quick inventory of a typical set of online marketing assets:

  • Your domain and its link profile on the web is a major marketing asset. It makes up a large portion of your organic SEO ranking factors.
  • The content and pages on your website comprise another major portion of SEO ranking factors.
  • Fans, friends and followers on social media.
  • Engagement metrics on social media (likes, shares, retweets, +1’s, etc.)
  • Social media content
  • Email marketing lists

When examining these assets, I find it useful to classify them into two categories; stuff you own and stuff you don’t own. Your domain, website and email marketing lists are all assets you own and control. Anything that is associated with social media would be stuff you don’t own and only partially control. Remember that check box you clicked when you created your Twitter account that acknowledged reading and agreeing to their Terms of Service? Well, here’s a partial list bad things that can happen, all of which you agreed to:

  • Your content could disappear at any time for any reason (virus, hacker, hardware failure) and they have no obligation to give it back to you.
  • Accounts can be suspended or deleted at any time, for any reason, with not notice and no recourse. This happens more than you’d think on Facebook.
  • There is absolutely no guarantee that the service will be functional at any given time. Hello Fail Whale?
  • They reserve the right to add or remove functionality at any time at their sole discretion. See previous discussion of API changes.

You get the idea. So let’s take a look at how to assess and deal with these risks.

Taking Inventory

The first step is to take a quick inventory and understand where your website traffic is coming from. Which of the following looks more healthy to you?

Traffic sources 1

Web traffic sources #1

Traffic sources 1

Web traffic sources #2

What would happen to website #1 if a Google algorithm change dropped their search traffic by 50%? Their overall visits would drop by more than a third! If the same happened in example #2, they would only suffer a 10% drop. The second picture is obviously a much healthier picture.

The next step is to take a deeper dive into each of these sources and find out how segmented they are. For example, in the case of website #1, if their traffic is evenly spread across many different keywords, then the risk exposure may not actually be that great. But here’s a picture of the referral traffic for another website:

Referral traffic

A worrying 84% of this site’s referral traffic is coming from Facebook. As long as it continues, that’s great but it is a risk factor.

Taking Action

Once you identify where your traffic is coming from, it may be useful to perform a risk analysis. This article is too long already so I’ll save that topic for another day but essentially, it involves identifying the likelihood and consequences of bad things happening for each of those channels. As I mentioned earlier, the risk profiles for stuff you own are drastically different from the stuff you don’t own.

It’s important to understand that the goal is not to avoid risk. Instead, it’s to estimate it as best as possible and balance the risk against the reward. Social media may be more risky than blogging but the rewards can also be great. Once the risks are estimated, it’s all about striking a proper balance between risk and reward.


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