Audience Growth without Social Media

🌲 Have you been shadow-banned?

Read Time: 12 mins (or listen to this issue)

Over the last several years, the creator economy has blown up. Credit the pandemic, the market contraction and subsequent quiet quitting movement, or the explosion of online creator tools.

Maybe we’ve reached critical mass of enough human beings witnessing other solopreneurs earn 6 and 7-figures. They’re convinced it’s time to take the leap.

Whatever the reason, it’s a glorious time to invest in building your own dream (instead of someone else’s).

In reality, there have been individual business owners since the dawn of enterprising humans. And those folks faced the same core challenges we do today.

They had to pick the right business to launch, attract enough customers to stay in business, turn a profit, and fulfill the promise of their product or service.

100 years ago, savvy solopreneurs attracted customers with:

  1. Door-to-door sales

  2. Storefront displays

  3. Radio advertising

  4. Print advertising

  5. Word of mouth

  6. Events & PR

  7. Direct mail

  8. Billboards

These methods obviously still exist.

But times have changed for today’s lean and mean solopreneur. By far, the growth lever with the most ROI is organic reach on social platforms.

If your audience is online, there’s a social platform to reach them:

  • LinkedIn: Ideal for reaching working professionals. Best for B2B connections, networking, and sharing professional content.

  • Instagram: Attracts a broad demographic, with a strong presence of Millennials and Gen Z. Designed for visual content — photos and videos. Best for lifestyle, fashion, food, and art-related businesses.

  • TikTok: Dominated by Gen Z and Millennials. Typically short, engaging video content. Best for entertainment, informative content, trends.

  • Facebook: Has a diverse user base of all ages but is particularly popular among Gen X and Boomers. Best for building community through groups, sharing updates, and running targeted ads.

  • X/Twitter: Attracts a wide-ranging demographic, including Millennials and Gen Z. Ideal for real-time communication, news, and trends. Best for thought leadership and viral marketing.

  • Pinterest: Popular with Millennials. Used for visual discovery and inspiration. Best for DIY, fashion, beauty, home decor, and cooking.

  • YouTube: Appeals to a wide demographic and is particularly strong with Millennials and Gen Z. Best for long-form video content, including tutorials, reviews, and educational content.

  • Reddit: Popular with Millennials and Gen Z. Best for niche marketing and deep engagement with specific interest groups and communities.

Super. Awesome. Lots of options.

The problem? With ZERO control of how these platforms operate, it’s like building your business on rented land.

Rented land?

All of these platforms are run by companies and teams with one primary focus: Get as many paying customers into the platform, and retain them as long as possible.

They’re the landlords, giving (or renting) space to us, their tenants. We set up shop on their land, where lots of our potential customers exist.

They appreciate us, but they’ll kick us to the curb the minute our efforts there no longer align with their revenue goals. Especially when there’s a line of prospective tenants waiting to take our place.

The landlord needs creators. They don’t need any single creator. They have all of the leverage.

For instance, YouTube infamously removed 2.25 million user-generated videos in India between October and December 2023 for violating its community guidelines.

And while you’re reading this, TikTok is officially on notice. Their owners, ByteDance, have 270 days to sell TikTok. If not, they lose access to the US market.

That move completely disrupts 1.1M TikTok creators. Ouch.

Thing is, it happens on all of these platforms. Your account is shadow-banned or closed. Your content is flagged as spam or removed. And all of your hard work and reach, in an instant, is gone.

This has been happening to me (and many others) on LinkedIn. Ironically, as I’m about to eclipse 10,000 followers, my account has never been on shakier ground. Over the past 12 months, my account has been shadow-banned dozens of times.

To be shadow-banned means that your account isn’t closed, but it’s not in good standing either. It’s in limbo.

While shadow-banned, your content is significantly throttled from reaching anyone in your network.

Hers’s how to check if your LinkedIn account is shadow-banned:

1) Tap on your profile avatar, then “View Profile”

2) Tap “Show all analytics →”

3) Find the “Follow link”

If it says “Available” you’re all clear.
If it says “Learn more” you’re screwed shadow-banned.

4) You can tap “Learn more” for some extremely insightful information…

Let’s look over these 4 criteria:

1) You have abided by our Community Policy Guidelines
This would be helpful, only it’s a vague wasteland of useless information. Unless you’re using hate speech, cursing like a sailor, or being an awful human, you’re probably not in violation. Technically.

But if you are, and your sin was bad enough (or you’re a repeat offender) you’d trip the criteria: (2) You have no egregious violations in the last 12 months

3) Your account is more than 48 hours old
Is this June 2003? No? So then let’s move on.

4) You have no spam flag in the last 30 days
This one is a rat’s nest. In my MANY run-ins with LinkedIn support, I’ve been told, flat out, that my content was marked as spam.

By another user? By the algorithm? By a LinkedIn employee?

They won’t say. Maddening, because if I understood the rules, I’d play by them. Truth is, it’s nonsense. If I may toot my own horn for a hot second, I’ve spent 10+ years serving on LinkedIn, giving value, and being a kind professional.

My best guess? Some other user — an angry little troll — who’s trying to compete in the pond I’m swimming has marked my content as spam. Instead of performing proper due diligence, it’s easier for LinkedIn’s staff (or the algo) to send me to jail. But I digress.

Look, I have a million and one ideas for LinkedIn to improve their platform and incentivize more creators to bring more content — ultimately driving more users, higher engagement, and increased revenue.

But I don’t work for LinkedIn, and neither do you. So our opinion doesn’t count. Which brings us back to the entire point of today’s issue…

What we can do about it

The goal is for us to build our audiences, without all of the fuss. With an engaged audience of people that know, like, and trust us, we can sell them products and services that solve their unmet needs.

So then what options do we have when our social platform-of-choice fails us?

Here are three alternatives I’m using to continue building my audience:

  1. Move to another platform

  2. Build a community

  3. Double-down on my newsletter

There’s one that didn’t make the cut: Building a podcast.

Podcasts are mostly owned media. You still need to rely on revenue-hungry platforms (e.g. Apple, Spotify, Google). You still need to sweat that your show is discoverable. However, the odds of account and content deletion is minimal compared to social platforms.

That said, podcasts are not a priority for me right now. Between the overhead to record, edit, and publish; and the hefty time horizon to pay dirt, building a podcast is on the back-burner.

1. Move to another platform

At the opening of this issue, I shared a list of social platforms. These are the big players. Far from a complete list.

With my recent LinkedIn debacle, I’ve started drifting (back) to X/Twitter. I created an account there in 2006. I’ve posted at times, but sporadically.

Say I were to pick up and move to X. Maybe in a year I’ll have grown my 1,345 followers to 5k or 10k. On one hand, there’s a wider & deeper concentration of my customers on X than LinkedIn.

On the other hand, I’d still be building on rented land. Worse, it would be like starting over. I have far less credibility on X. I would need time to demonstrate my worth to the algorithm and my X audience.

Moving to X (or any other social platform) feels like a gamble. A less-than-ideal plan B.

Here’s what I will do:

  • Ride out the storm on LinkedIn

  • Post less while order is restored

  • Prioritize my LinkedIn newsletter
    .. and as my Follow Link returns for good ...

  • I’ll increase my posting cadence

  • I’ll refine my content

  • I’ll expand to X

💡 Your takeaway: Is there another social platform that will provide shelter while you wait out on the storm?

P.S. One reader wrote to remind me about Bluesky. A decentralized social platform without all of the greedy landlords.

2. Build a community

Another option, that gets us away from building on rented land, is creating our own social hub — AKA, a private community.

For that, there are oodles of options:

  • Slack

  • Skool

  • Circle

  • Discord

  • Superwave

  • Mighty Networks

Whichever we choose, the community is ours to own and moderate. We can spam every single member, twice a day with sales pitches. Good luck with that. Point being, it’s our call.

The challenge is that we need to build and nurture that community. It’s not something we can feign. Tending to a community is a job.

I don’t have the time right now to build my own community. But there’s a nice middle-ground. I’m joining complementary communities.

Complementary? I help aspiring creators earn passive income with digital products. Complementary communities are places my customers hang out for related products & services — but not directly competitive.

  • Passive income enthusiasts earning via real estate or stocks

  • Corporate professionals exploring career transitions

  • General entrepreneurial communities

  • Newsletter operators

I recently joined a few of these communities in Skool.

A few months ago, I also joined beehiiv’s Slack community — the “hiiv”.

I’ve spent all my time there learning and being of service. I share things I’ve learned, answer questions, celebrate others’ wins, and help connect people.

I become known as the guy to talk with about passive income and digital products. People connect with me, send me DMs, subscribe to my newsletter, and ask for help. Everyone wins.

I did this so well within the hiiv, that their founders asked me to become one of their first moderators. 🎉

The job? Continue doing what I’ve been doing. In exchange, I get some very nice perks.

But I also get the backing of a major player in my industry. That means, they +1 my content, they point their network to me / my newsletter / my offerings, and they (soon) partner on my events. Sweet.

💡 Your takeaway: What existing community can you support that raises your personal brand?

3. Double-down on my newsletter

The silver lining of this LinkedIn fiasco is that it’s prompted me to appreciate and focus on my newsletter.

I may not own the email servers, but I do own:

  • Who is a part of my newsletter community

  • The relationship I build with each of them

  • How and when I communicate with them

  • What kind of content they each receive

It’s my account. It’s my content. It’s owned land I’m building my newsletter atop. That feels healthy. As a result, I continue to pour more time into my newsletter. I labor to ensure the content is loaded with insights, value, and delight.

Of course, newsletters lack the discoverability and network effects of a social platform. But things are changing.

With the time I’ve recouped that I’m not spending in LinkedIn, I’m reinvesting it in building relationships with other newsletter operators. They recommend Passive Profits to their subscribers, and I do the same in return.

Some of those operators are paying me to recommend their newsletter. That cash opens up another growth lever for my newsletter — paid growth.

I’m funneling the money I make recommending other newsletters and the $70/mo I’m no longer spending on LinkedIn Premium, into a modest advertising budget that I use to pay for qualified newsletter subscribers. Early signs are very positive. My subscribers are growing and staying.

💡 Your takeaway: Consider an owned channel you could divert your recouped time and money to.

Wrapping up

Losing your content and reach on the platforms you rely on for business growth sucks. It feels like your years of effort have been flushed down the toilet.

But I believe every challenge presents a new opportunity. I also believe that the most successful entrepreneurs know how to roll with the punches — there will be plenty.

By LinkedIn failing me, I’ve been forced to discover new, more effective and resilient ways to grow my business. I’ll continue to divert energy into alternative platforms, private communities, and my newsletter. In doing so, I’ll not only bolster my growth, but discover new audiences.

So, thanks for being a shitty landlord, LinkedIn. Turns out, it was a blessing in disguise.

Jay Melone
Passive Profits
Connect on LinkedIn

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