The Biggest Social Media Mistake (and How to Avoid It)

biggest social media mistake title

As the recent fate of Vine shows us, you should never put your audience solely in someone else’s hands.

Are you working to grow or build an audience on social media? If so, I want to warn you about a very serious social media mistake that I see a lot of social media stars making.

With recent news of Vine’s imminent death, it makes this post all the more crucial for ambitious social media brands and personalities.

So if that’s you, pay attention–this is !important. (A little web design humor right there.)

How About a Few Stories?

Before I jump into what the biggest social media mistake is and how to fix it, I want to share with you some real life stories that illustrate just how devastating this mistake can be.

Throughout my years owning a social media agency, I’ve seen this unfortunate situation happen time and time again.

You’re smart, so you’ll probably figure out what this mistake is halfway through the first story–but read through anyways.

You’ll be glad you did.

Live Streaming Star Bob

There is a close friend of mine whom, for the purposes of this article, I’ll simply refer to as Bob.

Bob was an early adopter of Blab. He began doing regular broadcasts on the platform, growing his audience and actually building a revenue stream from it.

Bob is a smart businessman who had a solid revenue strategy for his live Blab broadcasts. He was making things happen in a very cool and unique way.

But, in case you haven’t heard, Blab is dead.

I have listed some of my thoughts about why Blab died, but regardless of why it happened, the fact of the matter is that it did.

Without any warning and despite a level of perceived popularity that had people abandoning all other live streaming platforms.

Well, unfortunately, as savvy as Bob was, he put all his eggs in Blab and didn’t have a backup. He believed that his success on Blab was all he needed and was completely unprepared for when it up and disappeared one day.

Now Bob is left scrambling to salvage, in whatever way he can, the audience he took countless hours to build.

From Viral to Vanishing in 5 Days

Back in early 2014 Crystal Paine was building a thriving business thanks to massive amounts of traffic from her Facebook page.

She had heard experts say that you should not rely so heavily on one social channel for your traffic but didn’t quite realize the gravity of that advice until disaster struck.

Her Facebook audience was over 200k and growing by the thousands without spending a single dollar.

One glorious day she had a post go viral, gaining more engagement than any other before. It was incredibly exciting for her and her business.

Just five days later, her Facebook reach vanished. Her posts started reaching as little as only 1% of her audience and the traffic she was getting to her website was nearly gone. And it wasn’t a temporary bug.

“We had depended so heavily on Facebook for traffic, that when the bottom fell out, it hurt every part of our business. I worried about what it would mean long-term if things didn’t pick back up again. And this frustration spilled over into many areas of my life.”

This is not where Crystal’s story ends. She learned a valuable lesson and recovered from it like a champion.

But the hard lesson will always stay with her.

Vine is Dead, Long Live Viners

Today we have a very real scenario where a large number of creators have made a name for themselves on Vine. They’ve amassed millions of followers and tens of millions of views.

Some of these creators have even managed to carve out a significant living creating sponsored content on the platform. One such star that I am aware of was paid more than $15,000 for one 7-second clip.

But now that Twitter has officially decided to shut down the app, many of these creators are scrambling to figure out what their next move is.

They’ve realized that they never had control of their platform.

Even if you’ve managed to master Twitter, if it disappeared tomorrow, would you be prepared?

What’s the Biggest Social Media Mistake?

As you’ve probably guessed, the biggest mistake you can make in social media is assuming that social media is all you need.

No matter how great a social network is and no matter how popular you become, it can all disappear at any time.

Placing all your digital eggs into one social media basket is like handing the car keys over to your cat, Toonces, and going for a family drive. You’re leaving your fate in someone else’s hands. (Oh, now that feature image up top makes sense!)

I have to admit, it’s my wife that came up with the Toonces analogy. She’s pretty awesome like that.

So the most important thing you can do, in growing your social media audience, is: invest in a personal website and grow your email list.

Last year I was watching an alleged “personal branding expert” talk about personal branding and he was asked a question:

“Should I have a website or can I just use my [social media profile] instead?”

His response nearly made me put my head through a wall.

“No, you don’t need a website these days as long as you have a solid [social media profile].”

miss piggy headdesk

Let me make this very clear: anyone who tells you that you don’t need a website to develop a successful online presence is a short-sighted idiot.

You can quote me on that. I’ll even give you a graphic to do so.

biggest social media mistake quote

Pin Quote

It’s either that they are a short-sighted idiot, or they haven’t been around for long (and they won’t be around for much longer either).

I love the way that Michal Hyatt puts it:

“…when it comes to your platform, you can’t afford to build your house on a rented lot.”

His analogy of social media being “rented” property and your website being “owned” property is spot on.

When you’re on someone else’s digital property, they make all the rules and call all the shots. They can giveth and they can taketh away.

Facebook, in particular, has proven this time and time again by making unexpected algorithmic changes. And now we see it in the form of platforms just up and shutting down.

The only way to ensure your online success does not disappear overnight is to 100% own and control your primary place of growth. You can call this a home base or a digital HQ if you like.

Or you can just call it what it is–a personal website. Whatever you call it, the point is, this:

Use social media as a means to drive people to your digital headquarters where you control the experience.

Again, the two best ways to do this are with a personal website and an email list.

What Does it Take to Have a Personal Website?

There is literally no excuse these days for not having a website of your own. You can be up and running with a web property in less than 5 minutes if you needed to be.

Gone are the days of having to know HTML and CSS because the technology for building a website has evolved dramatically over the last 10 years. But still, many people who have yet to create a website of their own have questions.

I’m going to do my best to answer those questions for you and remove all the excuses for not sucking it up and getting yourself a website now.

Bonus: Want a no-nonsense, step-by-step guide to getting a website up and running? Add your email below and I’ll send you my guide as soon as it’s ready.

The Cost of a Website

How much does it cost to have a website? This is the question that many people begin by asking. They tend to assume that the cost is greater than the reward.

I beg to differ.

Your basic, bottom-line cost for creating your own website, that you own 100%, is roughly as follows:

  • Domain name: $10-30 per year (you can get domains for as low as $4)
  • Webhosting: $5-20 per month

Some web hosts will even give you a free domain name with your hosting package.

Here is the only hosting company I use and recommend:

Cloudways Hosting

Lightning-fast, reliable, and hassle-free WordPress hosting for bloggers and business owners.

cloudways web hosting

Disclosure: At no additional cost to you, when you click this link and make a purchase we will earn a commission.

Let’s assume the average cost of a domain and moderately good shared hosting plan. The average yearly cost of owning a bare-bones website is about $120 per year.

Anybody can do that. Especially if you expect to grow an audience and make a living online.

The Technical Setup of a Website

It literally takes me 5 minutes to set up a new website. But that’s because I’ve built a lot of websites in the last 7 years.

But you don’t need to have any experience in order to launch your first website in less than 20 minutes. All you need is a webhost that has 1-click WordPress installs.

All webhosts worth your time have 1-click WordPress installs. Your hosting provider will likely have plenty of documentation or walkthroughs for you. They may even offer a service to set it all up for you.

Then, boom! You have your own website that you own and nobody else can control.

You can then use your social media profiles to send people to it. However, now you then need a way to capture their email address and keep in touch with them.

Why do you need their email addresses? How about a few quick facts:

  • There are an estimated 4.35 Billion email accounts worldwide
  • There are an estimated 2.586 Billion email users worldwide
  • When you send someone an email, 90% of intended recipients recieve it as opposed to the 2% or less reach that you typically get with Facebook.

I could go on and on, but you can read more great stats from Campaign Monitor’s blog post on the subject.

What Does it Take to Build an Email List?

Having an email marketing strategy is not difficult. In fact, if you wanted, you could just read the book on it (it’s free)!

But if you just want to get up and running as quickly as possible, here’s what you need to do:

  • Choose an email marketing software provider
  • Place subscribe forms everywhere you can
  • Give people a reason to subscribe

I’m going to go over all three of those points in detail further into this post.

Before I do, I’m going to answer the question most people will be asking when they hear they need to have an email list: What does it cost to have an email list?

The Cost of an Email List

Well, to do email marketing right, you need to have the proper email marketing software to do all your heavy lifting (like managing subscribers/unsubscribers, sending in bulk, gathering analytics, etc.).

The trouble is, the cost can vary greatly depending on which provider you go with and what size your email list is.

Let’s just assume the baseline of a beginner level, just getting started email list. Here’s roughly what you’ll be paying for the most highly recommended and popular email marketing services:

  • MailChimp: Free for up to 2,000 subscribers, plans start at $30/mo for up to 2,500 subscribers.
  • ConvertKit: Starts at $29/mo for up to 1,000 subscribers.
  • Aweber: Starts at $19/mo for up to 500 subscribers.
  • Mad Mimi: Free for up to 100 subscribers, plans start at $10/mo for up to 500 subscribers.
  • Constant Contact: Starts at $20/mo for up to 500 subscribers.

Those are the best options for beginning your email marketing journey.

If you’re looking for the simplest solution, my highest recommendation is ConvertKit. It’s not the cheapest, but it will give you the simplest tools and they have amazing resources for getting you started.

If you’re looking for the cheapest solution, go with MailChimp. It served me well for years and they have a beautiful user interface that allows you to easily create, send, and track your email campaigns. And despite being the “cheap” solution for beginners, their software is second only to my top pick, ConvertKit.

The Technical Setup of an Email List

This can be as simple as a link to your sign-up page, a form in your blog sidebar or as sophisticated as a content upgrade or exit-intent pop-up. It’s just a matter of how much time, energy and know-how you have.

Most email marketing software will give you a number of ways to get people signing up to your list:

  • Landing page (hosted by your email marketing provider)
  • Embeddable form (copy/paste code)
  • Various integrations to work with your website CMS

You can start out simple by just using the copy/paste embed code they give you. If you’re on WordPress, this is as simple as placing a text widget into your sidebar and pasting the embed code into it.

copy mailchimp embed code

For example:

paste into wordpress text widget

If you want to get a little more strategic with your email opt-in placements (like I did when I boosted email opt-ins by 400% in one day) then you will need further tools to make your life simpler.

As I said previously, OptinMonster is a great solution.

However, if you want to stay a bit more cost-effective, I recommend all my clients and students use Ninja Forms and purchase their MailChimp Add-on ($19/yr) if you’re using MailChimp.

It’s the easiest solution you can get for placing opt-in forms (and all sorts of other forms for that matter) wherever you need them on your WordPress site.

Give People a Reason to Subscribe

With so many people asking to get into your inbox these days, you need to come up with a compelling reason for people give up their email address. You can’t expect to just throw a sign-up box in your sidebar with the words “Subscribe to my email list” and expect it to work.

No, you need to come up with a compelling reason for people to trust that giving up their email address to you is worth it.

In order to do this, you first need to know who your target audience is. If you know exactly who they are, you can ask yourself these questions:

  • What are they struggling with?
  • What do they need help with?
  • What are they searching for online?
  • What questions are they asking?
  • What could I do that would make their life easier?

If you can answer any/all of those questions, you can come up with a compelling reason for them to give you their email address.

Create something that answers their question and offer it for free in exchange for subscribing to your email list.

This is also known as a Lead Magnet.

Optin Monster has a great article on this with 69 Highly Effective Lead Magnet Ideas. Here’s just a few to get you started:

Now, don’t let creating these delay you from taking action. The most important thing is that you get started collecting emails right away.

Every successful digital entrepreneur will tell you that their biggest regret is that they didn’t start building an email list sooner.

Don’t make that same mistake! Get started now!


The only way to ensure that your social media success is protected from unforeseen changes, shutdowns or anything else is to have full control over it. The best way to do that is by owning your own website and email list.

You can then utilize your social media platforms to drive people to your website where you control the environment and can capture their email addresses.

Doing this will save you from ever having to worry about or experience that fateful mistake of taking a social platform for granted and having it swept out from beneath your feet.

What question is keeping you from launching a personal website right now? Let me know in the comments below.

Dustin W. Stout Avatar

16 responses to “The Biggest Social Media Mistake (and How to Avoid It)”

  1. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    This was actually a nod to all the web designers out there. In the CSS coding language, if you want to make sure a style rule is never overruled by another rule, you use the `!important` property/tag. Anyone familiar with CSS would have recognized this–sorry if it confused you.

  2. Sam Avatar

    Lol you put the exclamation point in front of the important as if to indicate that it was not important! haaaa.

  3. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Thanks for the compliments, Kevin!

  4. kevin Avatar

    That’s a great list of tips on email marketing, especially beginners. And you are bang-on about MailChimp, Convertkit and OptinMonster!

  5. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Glad to hear it!

  6. Glenn Avatar

    This is helpful stuff, thanks!

  7. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    My pleasure Tauseef! Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Tauseef Alam Avatar

    Hi Dustin,

    Reading about the Vine was a big shock for me. I can totally understand that many people must have hit badly after this.

    The Facebook’s reach story you’ve shared also makes a lot of sense.

    I am happy that I am building a list for my blog. I prefer to contact my blog readers via email and I personally think it is the best way.

    Building your audience on a platform you don’t have a complete access is not a wise plan.

    Thanks for the wonderful article.


  9. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Hey thanks for taking the time to comment Dan! I’d love to hear more about your story and how the company uses social media to drive traffic, leads and (the magic word) ROI! Is it okay if I email you?

  10. Dan Stewart Avatar


    Great article, I agree whole heartedly with your advice. For the past 15 years, the custom home builder I work for has been using the same model, using social media to drive traffic to our website to generate the vast majority of our sales.

    Many social media platforms come and gone in 15 years but the company has seen steady growth.

    Dan Stewart

  11. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    I’ve come back around to using Feedly. I’m checking out Inoreader in another tap right now!

  12. Jean-Christophe Lavocat Avatar

    Inoreader. They have a website + a mobile app.
    What about you ?

  13. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Yay! Sounds good. What’s your RSS reader of choice?

  14. Jean-Christophe Lavocat Avatar

    You’re welcome. Now that I switched back to RSS-powered curation, I’m not missing any articles.

    I’ve decided to stop curating content on Twitter.. too noisy for me.

    Expect to see me back more often 🙂

  15. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Thanks, Jean-Christophe! Since this post comes from the angle of the social media power user in mind, I assumed that the traffic generation channel would be their primary social network(s). Great point though and I think I need to write another blog post altogether for Traffic Generation Techniques. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. Jean-Christophe Lavocat Avatar

    Hi Dustin,

    I cannot agree more with you on that topic. You cannot risk your life by using only one traffic/generation channel. You should however embrace the one you are famous with, or where you get the more traction. You can’t be a champion everywhere, you have to make a choice and try to make the best of it.

    One thing you don’t say about having a website, is that you’ll also need a traffic-generation channel. Being it social media and/or SEO and/or ads, you will also need to avoid putting all your eggs in the same basket here. Example : if you base your strategy solely on Google, and due to a new algorithm your website is de-indexed, you will lose all your traffic. So, you should try to get traffic from different places.

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