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:

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