When Did Everyone Decide To Pay Themselves Last?

A recent post here on the fact that blogs are social media generated a good bit of discussion. I was thinking about that thread today and wanted to build on the discussion with something else I’ve seen equally as frequently.

That almost every company decides to pay themselves on the web last. And other networks/people/media first. Most companies function like this, but it is backwards – you should be paying yourself first.

Paying yourself first is not a new idea and comes from the finance category. But a post by Jeremiah Owyang in 2007 made me start to view it in a marketing light. In brief, the concept (as I like to interpret it) means relentlessly focusing priorities on the items that provide long-term value and completing the rest after, if there is time.

So what does this mean?

If your social media marketing team starts their day with Facebook, Twitter or some type of platform that is not self-hosted you are paying yourself last. If your organization is savvy enough to understand the notion that every company is a media company your own brand of media is the priority.

And you can’t expect to become a media company your entire industry references and looks to for leadership unless you make that the priority ahead of other activities.

There’s been a coup on your marketing

If you’re a long-term user of social channels (as in, as long as Tamar) you have watched the landscape evolve over the years. But what you’ve also seen is a shift in how companies market themselves – focusing less on their own channels and more on other people’s platforms. Perhaps it’s due to sensationalist media stories shouting big numbers, marketers who care more about being trendy than getting results, or even those who would prefer an easy answer than the reality of what is required for digital marketing success.

The problem is – it’s not or it’s and. For example, some of the forums I frequented in the late 90’s and early years of 2000 are still as active as ever. Sure, users there are also probably on Facebook now too. Before that many might have been on MySpace. Some have blogs, some Tweet. Everyone uses search engines and email. This is actually one of the things I like most about the internet: that it’s messy. The only sure way to have predictably increasing returns in such an enviornment is to go platform agnostic and pay yourself first there.

Why pay yourself first?

Content is an asset

Anything you publish to the web: a press release, an article, an infographic, a video or a response to a question on LinkedIn or Quora is an asset. I still don’t think most companies really get this and are paying themselves last (if ever) with content. Content attracts links, provides a reason for people to return to your site and is probably the best path to scale high quality, organic traffic.

How do your pay yourself first? I’m not saying don’t use social networking sites and other social platforms that aren’t yours. What I am advising is to re-prioritize. Your owned channels come first – start your day here, it’s as simple as that. I already fleshed out the reasons for this. While that post was specific to blogging, it doesn’t matter if it is a blog or just a resource section on your company site. You can’t expect to scale organic traffic without a consistent stream of new assets to share with a community.

Do you pay yourself first with content? 37 Signals does. Their content is read 90,000 times per day. Certainly their content played a large role in helping them eclipse 7-figures of users who are using their products.

Links and social signal are equity (and hard to attain!)

Users and media organically thread the web. It’s how we find interesting things and provides signal to the search engines. Facebook’s “like,” while an interesting signal, would not replace the web’s link graph because a link is platform agnostic. And the internet, viewed holistically is greater than Facebook or any one network. Signals can happen in tandem – i.e. a successful piece of content attracts likes, Tweets, Stumbles and links. And that’s a good thing.

Anyway – the point is that if your company pays themselves first with content and commits to that long term, owned assets built will naturally accrue link and social equity of all varieties. If you don’t pay yourself first you’ll never built a community who will function as your word of mouth marketers and consistently attract links. Basically the signal you are building on the web about your brand will be distributed unevenly (not strategic) vs. building momentum at a hub.

A platform agnostic community is far more strategic

Yielding your presence to the stream is silly. I’ll keep saying this: focus opt in at the source and let users choose how they wish to get your updates. Offer all channels that your visitors might be interested in, including email (email is essential to your mix – adoption rate is basically everyone). Then use syndication to create efficiencies and set expectation in channels you don’t plan to manage this is just a feed for content. If your content is that good, people will still opt in. If your content sucks – well, that’s a different issue.

Platform agnostic is powerful. I conducted an experiment for no other reason than to prove this: I changed a few buttons as part a site template to tag to a different Twitter channel and was able to grow it organically without doing a single other thing – 100% passive tactic. Why? Simply put, a platform agnostic community is a marketing funnel for your company. In a totally different way that the big public networks.

Why? User behavior for one (hey, I’m on this company’s blog – wow, these guys really get it, wait – they have solutions for this too?). In the big public networks we have been somewhat conditioned to follow conversations and content vs. purchase-oriented messages (except for the odd discounts/exclusives). Even still, people generally don’t like to be have hard sells in their mix while communicating with friends. And yet I can have a strong call to action as part of my site template and make tons of conversions because it’s expected there. See the difference?

One more reason I’ll mention is simple: signal to noise ratio in platforms you don’t control is usually poor, and content there decays quickly – frequently ending up in archive purgatory, never to be read again. Yet content created on your own site or blog has value forever, given infinite life by search engines and getting shared well into the future by users. Are you the one always pointing at other people’s content but never have any of your own? You’re probably also paying yourself last.

Wrapping up

Paying yourself first shouldn’t be thought of as a selfish act, actually just the opposite. When you do pay yourself first your community, your brand and the web as a whole benefits. The web’s ecosystem naturally rewards companies that have unique, useful and updated content external of networks where there is limited archiving and content is difficult to find later on. The open web is not going away, and to focus here your brand is actually positioned as more savvy than competitors who just use social outposts but not a hub. Users want something to share and in a world increasing saturated with micro content (the appetizer) we’re constantly left craving more depth (the real meal). Providing this is extremely generous but done correctly, the returns come back to you in spades.

Lots of people seem to be chasing “big ideas” or “the next thing” but that’s silly. Anyone who does this doesn’t really understand the web. Everything you need is already here (and has already been for years) you just need to execute on it and make the decision to pay yourself first.