Don’t Build Your Social Media House on a Rented Lot

Twitter just announced a surge of new users and engagement. That could be good news if you’ve got something to say or sell, but there’s a major risk to consider.

Don't Build Your Social Media House on a Rented Lot

Photo courtesy of

Before the news, users and commentators alike were worried about a drop in user engagement. I think that’s still a valid concern, and it points to a larger issue.

Twitter’s sudden growth, much of it at least, came from World Cup fans who sent 672 million tweets of the event. Two thirds or more of the new users will disengage by the end of the year, according to one analyst.

The net effect for platform builders like us may be nil. And the long-term picture doesn’t look too great, so things might actually be moving backward.

What that means is that when it comes to your platform, you can’t afford to build your house on a rented lot. And Facebook continues to teach the same lesson.

Owners Make Rules, Not Tenants

Like Twitter, Facebook is an important part of my platform. But it’s not integral. It’s too fickle for that.

Money Saving Mom Crystal Paine recently shared here about how Facebook’s algorithm change upended her business. After growing her followers by over 200K in 2013, her traffic dried up overnight. “Only about 1-3 percent of my followers were seeing most my posts,” she said.

My friend Patsy Clairmont had the same experience. She went from having millions of people view her posts to thousands after Facebook changed the rules.

The change affected everyone. Following Facebook’s explanation to Madison Avenue, John McDermott of Digiday said it represented “one expensive and frustrating lesson that’s better to own than rent.”

And that’s the right analogy. Owners make rules, not tenants. And Facebook owns the lot.

Better to Own than Rent

A few years ago a friend was in the middle of a promotion for his annual conference. He used Twitter as the primary means for connecting with his tribe, but then Twitter inexplicably suspended his account.

The problem was eventually fixed, but it hurt his attendance in the meantime. That was the first time I saw a real downside to building a house on a rented lot.

I was an early adopter and advocate of social media. I still am. But I encourage everyone interested in growing a platform to begin with a home base that you control. Use other services to expand your reach, but build your house on your own lot.

Few things in life are truly stable, but some things are more stable than others. I bought in 1998. It’s been through a lot of iterations, but it’s always been mine. Ownership provides stability because you set the rules.

This means that you post your primary content on your own blog. It’s also why you want to convert social media followers to email subscribers.

Crystal Paine is working on that right now. “I’m now more convinced than ever of the need to make building a strong email list a high priority,” she says. “It might not be as hip or trendy as social media, but an email list is truly one of the strongest assets you have as a business owner turn one-time visitors into long-term and loyal followers.”

Why? Because it’s yours.

I’m cautiously enthusiastic about the new growth in Twitter. But I’m not banking on it to build my platform.

If you’d like to learn how to build a powerful home base that can help you get your message heard, I want to invite you to learn more about the premium online community I’ve created for people just like you. It’s called Platform University. Registration is closed right now, but will be reopening again in the early this fall. Click to find out more.

Question: How are you incorporating social media into your platform? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Lawrence W. Wilson

    This is so helpful because it’s also important to understand how these platforms work–and why people use them. My Twitterati are, for the most part, an entirely different audience than my Facebook tribe. The trick is to drive both groups to my blog content.

    • Sundi Jo Graham

      I agree, Lawrence.

    • Rob Orr

      I agree – but I’d take it a step further and drive them to your email list.

      • Lawrence W. Wilson

        Rob, that’s a great point. Working on that too.

  • Daniel Wurzberg

    very well said…I guess we all want success overnight so we find “owning” to expensive at the moment and settle with free rental. Which is nice and fast, and free. And you can lose it overnight as well.

  • Shawn Andrews

    I just read an article that essentially said that brands, or businesses, are tolerated not welcomed on social media because they simply keep it free for the rest of us. Twitter and Facebook only answer to one group of people, their share holders, not brands like us. Brands will always be the ugly step sister of social media.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Agreed, Shawn.

  • Gary A. Bacon

    Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom.

  • Thomas Matty

    This is a great follow up to the email list podcast. I can almost feel the momentum building!

    If you have good content, people will subscribe. It just seems like Twitter and Facebook make it much easier for that content to be easily clickable and sharable to reach more people.

  • Rob Orr

    This is such a big deal. Minor fluctuations in policies at various social media outlets are so dangerous that it can destroy your business/following/community.

    Building a list is so crucial and I see it even more now that I’ve gone through Jeff Walker’s book. No matter what happens to the social media world you always own your list!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Absolutely. I have come to the conclusion that building that list is strategy priority #1!

  • Bev Benskin

    Thanks for this very very helpful information Michael… I have been thinking
    about it since I watched your podcast, and it makes so much sense, when you
    explain it the way you have. Thanks again! :)

  • Thad Puckett

    At the end of the day, we have to remember that when we build on that rented lot, we are not just building on someone else’s lot, all our “friends” or all our “followers” are the product for the landlord.

    • Michael Hyatt


  • Rick Theule

    I’m building, building, building through Social Media, but I need to get on the email bandwagon. Time to dig in and learn more about it.

  • John Richardson

    Great advice, Michael. Even when you own the property, Google may decide to not send traffic your way. Having an email list and various social media outposts can round out your portfolio. It’s also a great idea to team up with other bloggers, so if something suddenly happens to your traffic, you can see if others are affected, and have a backup way to get the word out.

  • Nick

    Michael, what are the downsides to just using my regular (personal) account on Facebook for posts, engagement, etc? Seems like a viable option for a smaller platform like mine. Why not engage that way, and dodge the lame Facebook business page fiasco?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Because it won’t scale. If you intend to stay small, that might work. But if you intend to grow, now is the time to consider the implications.

    • lolajl

      You can only have up to 5000 friends. What if your audience is more than that maximum limit?

  • Paul Sohn

    So true, Michael. I really appreciate you practical wisdom here. Thanks to your lthought leadership, my platform has expanded signidicantly.

    Paul// Leadership Blogger,

  • Madclark79

    The challenge of communications with a generation that has come to live by and expect instant gratification–but often at the expense of quality/excellence. Supposedly email was dead. But the foibles of Facebook and the truncated size of Tweeter have shown their limitations.
    Ownership is the key to stability that will weather the storms of fad and trend. It is not either/or, but both/and. And now, what will be the next component to the communications puzzle?

  • Jason Coorts

    But what if my primary audience is 18-25 year olds? I think I read not long ago that email is like their #5 preferred way to communicate. Sounds like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole if you were to make email your ‘go-to’ with that audience.

    • Fabiola Berriozabal Johnson

      You still want to convert them. You want them to subscribe to your channel, to get your notifications, your e-mails, to add you in snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr…

  • Joe Abraham

    It may appear funny! Just 10 minutes back, I tried signing in to my Facebook page and it showed an error message. I tried again a few more times but it didn’t work. Then I came to to read today’s blog and here you are talking about why we should not build our social media house on a rented lot! Lol! (check out the screenshot attached). Got the message fresh and clear. Thanks, Michael!

    • Joel J. Miller


      • Joe Abraham

        I know :)

    • Michael Hyatt

      I saw that and thought the same thing!

  • Kimunya Mugo

    Michael, how timely your post is. Thanks for this heads-up, especially for property rookies like myself. I have to say that I was a little skeptical at first when I read about owning my own online ‘property’ from one of your earlier blog posts. My consideration was that I had a small following that didn’t justify investment in a self-hosted blog. Less than a year later, not only do I own my ‘property’, but I am seeing some small signs of growing my list. Less than a month after I installed the ‘GetNoticed!’ theme and cleaned out my blog, I am seeing some life in the kindling! That combined to Mailchimp updates and this engagement is starting to show some promise in growth.

    Thank you for your continued engagement, encouragement and inspiration…

  • Mark Struczewski

    Thanks, @mhyatt:disqus. I joined Platform University in August 2013 and have never regretted it.

    As far as a homebase goes, I get it. I, like you, post on social but try to get traffic to my site so they can sign up to be on my email list (you can’t miss this…it’s everywhere Michael and Derek Halpern say it should be). Unfortunately, when you click on a link on Facebook or Twitter, it doesn’t open to your site. It opens the page on the social media platform. Booooo on that! But not too much we can do about that.

  • The MomCourager, Pam Taylor

    Excellent points to ponder carefully as I decide where to concentrate my efforts. Thank you for this…

  • Leslie A

    Oh, my goodness! No kidding! I made the mistake of that and really paid for it when Facebook changed everything up. Trying to work my way back to where I was. Just listened to your podcast on building the email list, so I have decided to put some efforts into that. It was a great podcast, by the way. Now I just have to figure out how to put your suggestions into place and in what order :)

  • Chandler Crawford

    Couldn’t be more accurate. I think your analogy of Facebook, Twitter, and the others as embassies. They are great, but you can’t count on them to be the money makers. Well said, Michael.

  • kimanzi constable

    Couldn’t agree more Michael. I have clients that have these huge Facebook groups. I advocate for them to push more of those people to their email list or maybe a forum on their website. I could see the day when Facebook starts charging for groups!

    I just had my first viral article for a large website ( It ran on the Huffington Post first and then was reposted on The Good Men Project. Social media shares have been insane. The cool thing was I was able to add over 5,000 names to my email list. The shares were great but I know the value of my email list!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Wow. That is a HUGE response. Congratulations!

      • kimanzi constable

        Thank you Michael :)

  • Denis Smith

    Everything seems unstable. I Even read Aweber acct closure. of course they will send your list in a zip file. Maybe as said above some are better.

    • Michael Hyatt

      The key is to keep it all backed up: both your blog and your email lists.

  • Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Michael,

    Own your digital real estate. Social media sites can and will pull the rug out from under you in a second. So will email lists. Even though folks like to think that lists are there’s wait until Aweber or Getresponse shuts down your account; it’s been done to folks I know, and they suffered through it.

    Unless you break some type of terms, or start posting some offensive, over the top content, your self hosted WordPress blog is going nowhere. You’ll own it, and your digital real estate. so you may as well make it home base.

    Too many learn this lesson the hard way. Actually, just a few weeks ago I decided to start a new blog, totally trashing 3400 posts from my old blog. This was cathartic, and it was freeing, and since I have a self-hosted WP blog I was able to get it up and running in days, with the help of a skilled web designer.

    If you own your real estate it’s highly unlikely your hosting service will shut you down. Or it’s unlikely that some massive change will happen, that makes your content obsolete, and that makes your traffic and business prospects vanish.

    Not the same can be said for creating on social sites.

    Thanks Michael, awesome message here.

    I’ll tweet in a bit.


  • Chad Haynes

    You hipster! – “I was an early adopter and advocate of social media.”
    Just HAD to point out that you were doing it before it was cool, eh?

    Hahaha, totally kidding. Right on point, as usual. I’m always impressed by your ability to succinctly address common problems that people are having. Your blog feels more cutting-edge than most, an aspect that I’m hoping to emulate with my own blog when I launch it.

    I’m not sure that “saving” and “mom” need capitalization since they aren’t proper nouns, but that absolutely doesn’t take away from the article. I’m just being pedantic – something I tend to do when I’m a huge fan of something :)

    Thanks again Michael! I tweeted your quote about the rented lot because it’s such a beautiful summary of a critical concept for upcoming bloggers and entrepreneurs to understand.

    – Chad

  • nickyjameson

    Couldn’t agree more. I remember the time when everyone abandoned their websites and blogs for Facebook. Now Facebook has changed the goal posts and people are scrambling. Some plan to head to Google plus, but it’s only a matter of time before they and Twitter do what the same thing. I use the social media networks, but they are spokes in my wheel, not the wheel itself. My blog is my central hub and my newsletter is my focus. I always mention to people the importance of building their list, precisely for the reasons listed in this post. I have come to the realization that many people are reluctant to put in the work needed to build a responsive email list. People want quick fixes, and there is no quick fix to building a loyal list. It can take months and years, and requires a lot of thought and work, however it is well worth it.
    Your own email list leaves you immune to the whims of social media platforms. And in the meantime they can be a great way to gain exposure to build your list.

  • GJ Farmer

    Great stuff! Any chance you should share what plugin you used to get the tweetable quote?

  • J.D. Meier

    Well said.

    Ownership has its privileges.

    And there’s a very good reasno for controlling both the end-to-end experience, as well as controlling your content and creative works.

    That said, I am also a fan of strategic outsourcing, crowd-sourcing, and Cloud sourcing capabilities where it counts.

    As part of my day job, I’ve been a platform builder since the late 90’s.

    In my case, you can think of what I do as building durable and evolvable guidance platforms and knowledge bases. The goal in each case was to build an online garden of evergreen principles, patterns, and practices for a specific domain that serves as a platform for sharing and scaling expertise.

    While I learned a lot of tricks for rapid platform building over the years, I ran into my worst issues whenever I “rented.” The user experience would change under my feet, my content would disappear, and basically years of work would be thrown away by the controllers that be.

    Landlords can be tough ;)

    I’ve learned the painful way to be very selective about where I invest my time, what to control vs. outsource, and most importantly, how to play better to my strengths.

    It’s a careful combination of concentrated effort + balancing a portfolio against risk … while building your tribe of raving fans, and strategic partnerships that can rise above the noise.

    Really, what I learned was a mental of model of incremental sharing, where you stand on a platform you own, and then incrementally share out to the world from there.

    And a “firm foundation”, beats a “castle in the sky” any day.

  • Daniel Decker

    So true. Sage advice. Hopefully those reading will pay special attention to your podcast on email list building. Such a great resource for owning your own platform.

  • joel garry

    We had Escape From New York, Escape From Los Angeles, now Escape From Email

  • Ayon Baxter

    Thanks Michael. I now see why my publishing marketer so strongly suggest that I build a website for my books. I have done so and am working on building that foundation using all the support I can get from the social media. I will use social media as a net to catch interests and haul them in to my website.
    Great tip.

  • Carol Akin

    I am a new author and set up an author page off of my personal page. Do you recommend that I set up an entirely separate author page?

  • Otoabasi Umonting

    Thanks for this post Michael. When I got started online, using Facebook as my primary marketing platform, I was more focused on building my entire business on it, but when they kept making changes to their algorithm, I knew I was making a huge mistake.

    There’s nothing like having a platform where you have full control of. I own a website now, and I’m steadily building my email list. It’s the best way to go.

  • Abie Axen

    Curious what everyone thinks about adding live chat to their blog. Not “live support”, but a social group chat venue. Chat rooms can be a great way to position your blog as a social destination. The conversation stays on your site- your readers stick around instead of gravitating towards social media. Thoughts?

    • Michael Hyatt

      The question is whether or not people will stick around to chat. I doubt it. There’s not likely enough critical mass. But you could always try it.

      • Abie Axen

        Hey Michael. Thanks for the quick reply! What if a readership knew to check-in to the chat and over time, a community developed? Scheduled chat events could also drive traffic at specific times. Have you ever considered hosting live chat events on your site?

        • Michael Hyatt

          To me, it just seems like a duplication of effort. One of the hardest thing to do as a marketer is to get people to change their behavior. It’s much easier to find what they are already doing and then adapt your behavior to theirs. That’s why I would rather participate where my readers are already participating: Twitter and Facebook.


  • Jonathan Gaby


    Do you have any thoughts on Squarespace for a website? Considering a switch, but wondered what you had to say about it.

    • Michael Hyatt

      It’s a gorgeous, beautiful rented house. If you are serious about building a platform, resist the temptation.

  • Vicki Twiford

    Kind of like placing your confidence on the temporary world in which we live – it’s all a rented lot. But knowing you have a reliable home base full of exceedingly great promises give you an amazing confidence!!