Last week, Twitter announced that it would be closing the doors of Vine, the six-second video sharing app that it acquired in 2012. Twitter has faced its own sluggish financials during its search for a buyer, and the announcement that it would be shutting down Vine came amidst layoffs at home as well.
But the broader business forces at play didn't make the decision any less painful or personal for the app's social influencers, their dedicated followings, or the company's employees. The day of the announcement, one of Vine's founders tweeted:
Don't sell your company!-- Rus (@rus) October 27, 2016
And while this is certainly a valid cautionary tale for other entrepreneurs about the loss of control that can come with the sale of your company, there's another lesson for entrepreneurs in Vine's demise.
Long before Twitter announced it would be shuttering Vine, some of the savvier Vine influencers and stars who shot to mainstream fame after acquiring a huge audience with their 6-second videos began to transition to other networks, expanding their influence beyond the Vine's borders. They amassed followings on YouTube, Snapchat, and elsewhere, and began growing their own web presence and email lists to take their influence and audience into their own hands.
But those that didn't are now left scrambling. They've had the rug of fame pulled out from under them and will have to scramble to wrap their hands around anything they can own if they want to extend their 15 minutes.
This same phenomenon creates a blip of panic each time Facebook changes its algorithm, showing even fewer of your hard-earned followers the posts made to your business page.
Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose, hosts of the Content Marketing Institutes's "This Old Marketing" Podcast, talk about this often. They advise against "building a house on rented land," the 21st century incantation of putting all your eggs into someone else's digital basket, leaving yourself vulnerable to the whims (or financial hardship) of that person or platform.
Some level of reliance is often necessary, of course; no business can exist an island. We count on Wordpress or BlueHost to continue rendering our website for visitors, and we trust that Google will continue to maintain our email, calendar and shared documents. But it's important to recognize the difference between borrowing and owning, and we often massively over-attribute the things--and people--that we own our access to.
Contrary to popular belief, we don't "own" our subscribers to our podcasts on iTunes. They're not "our subscribers." Those names, emails and all other data, belong to Apple, and we'd have no way to connect with them if the platform were to close down tomorrow. Same goes for your Facebook fans or group members, your Instagram followers, or your reviewers on Amazon. And if they can disappear in an instant, their value to you is lessened.
To insure yourself against the possibility of losing your audience to a platform change and scrambling to retain your influence--as many Viners are now--critically examine the ways you access your consumers, and look for opportunities to convert borrowed audiences, fans and customers to owned audiences, transferring them to platforms, like email, where you're in control of the contact mechanisms.
Begin building an email list, and add calls to action to join that list across multiple touch points that may be outside your control--on your website, in social profiles, through verbal call-outs, on in-store signage, and more. Include a reference to your email list in the product description when you sell your wares online, or on your packaging and receipts.
When you own your audience, you can take them with you wherever you go. And if you're the entrepreneurial type, then that sort of control over your own fate and future growth is probably the exact thing you were looking for when you got into this world.