Your life must be a progression towards ownership — first mentally of your independence, and then physically of your work, owning what you produce. — Robert Greene
People obsess over building a following on social media. They see a successful person get thousands of likes or hundreds of shares and assume that’s the key to success. They get seduced and confuse attention with success.
They believe that if someone has a million followers it will lead to a million dollars. But in doing so, they make a fatal mistake that will be detrimental to their future. They overlook the difference between owning their audience and renting it.
If you build an empire on rented land, the landlord is the one in control of your destiny, not you.
Say, you sell candles. Walmart decides they love your candles, so they give you prime shelf space. Your candles start flying off the shelves and business is booming. But then, some morons get in a fight over your candles on Black Friday.
Because of the bad press, Walmart doesn’t want the candles. You were completely dependent on Walmart to sell candles, and business tanks.
Depending primarily on Facebook to sell your product or find new clients is the digital equivalent. Instead of morons on Black Friday, algorithms stop showing your content. You can pay for more rent, or keep feeding the beast to feed yourself.
Renting your audience/distribution channel is what the naval calls permissionless forms of leverage. You don’t need anyone’s permission to use them or pay rent per se. But you pay with your attention or ad dollars.
Even if you have a million followers or fans, you don’t own your audience. You’re renting it from Facebook or Instagram.
A person who doesn’t dig deeper might say, “What about someone like Amanda Cerny? There’s a hell of a lot more to her success than her massive following.”
She OWNS a lot of other things that make her successful. And she uses a rented distribution channel to promote things she owns along with content that the audience loves.
To build something that is sustainable over the long term, you absolutely must own at least one if not multiple distribution channels.
Owned distribution channels include subscribers to an email list/paid content, users of an app, intellectual property, books, courses, etc.
For example, The New York Times is always leveraging the rented distribution channels of podcasts to promote the subscriptions to the newspaper which it owns. This reduces the advertisers’ influence on editorial direction.
The reason content creators are flocking to Mighty Networks in droves is because they own their audience on the platform. Instead of paying Facebook with ad dollars and attention and with no guarantee anyone will see their content, they pay a monthly fee and invite their community to a private social network.
In a world where email is supposedly dead, some of the most successful media companies from the last 5 years have been emailing newsletters. The Skimm, The Hustle, and Morning Brew. Not only do they own the distribution channel. They can also reach their audience directly.
For book publishers, there’s no greater waste of money on author marketing budgets than social media ads. They’re basically just paying insane rents to distribution channels they don’t own. They would be better off growing their email list or investing in the growth of an author’s email list.
The proof? The Skimm’s book skyrocketed to the top of the best sellers list. If you have 2 million people who open your emails every day, you need just a tiny fraction to convert them to book sales.
Every blogger I’ve ever interviewed like Ramit Seth, Yaro Stark, and hundreds of others, have said they wished they had focused on the list sooner. And the email list was essential.
My friend, who runs a business that makes 50,000 dollars a month, summed it up nicely. “Why the hell would you post content on social if it doesn’t move a metric in your business?”
Building a distribution channel you own might take a bit longer than one that you rent. But over the long haul, you’ll be building an asset that provides compound interest over time.
Build distribution channels, assets and things you own, and promote them on channels you rent.
Depending entirely on distribution channels you don’t own is a major vulnerability in your business. Beware of that. You’d be screwed when the landlord turns your lights out.
Want to Build an Audience for Your Work?
This is an excerpt from our free Unmistakable Guide to Building an Audience. You can download it for free here.