There has been a lot of hype around social networks in the past few years. LinkedIn hit the NYSE in May at an IPO of $45 per share, and its price more than doubled in a single day. It's hard to listen to the radio or watch TV without hearing the words "follow us on Twitter." Despite the mainstream proliferation of social media, though, few have been able to successfully monetize the medium. The promise of entrepreneurship brought on by the social media revolution is starting to dwindle because of the noise and new leverage created by the internet. I hate to say it, but you probably won’t build the next Facebook!
Those who have developed a strong web presence over the past years are thriving and new entrants are quickly finding that making millions blogging and social networking is a pipe dream. It’s hard to outrank competitors in search engines that already have a brand name, thousands of websites linking back to theirs, and a loyal following. With over 89 percent of bloggers posting multiple times per day, over 140 million tweets per day on Twitter, and over 30 billion pieces of content shared on Facebook each month, it’s difficult to build a successful brand using social media.
I began working as EMC’s first social media specialist in 2007. I noticed that there was less noise and more opportunity to position EMC as a leader in the space. If I were to put in the same energy and creativity now, it would take much longer to have the same impact that I had back then. Everyone and their mother is trying to be a social media rockstar, guru, and expert, and we are swimming in a sea of content that has been replicated and reused. The main benefit I had at EMC was that it was a brand name that I could leverage to get more followers and attention, faster. Small businesses, and new entrepreneurs, don’t have this luxury today.
Many small businesses, created by young aspiring entrepreneurs, aren’t taking off because of the lack of resources, mentorship, and funds available. Most young professionals are not born entrepreneurs, and are trying to start businesses because they think it's "cool." If they can’t get a full-time job, they see it as an alternative. I know because I’m friends with many of them. With an unemployment rate of over nine percent, the economy has forced us to wake up and alter our career paths to seek refuge within companies instead of taking a leap of faith. That’s not to say that you can’t build a business on nights and weekends while you have a full-time job, but the problem and reality is that small businesses typically don’t survive after the first year or two and most people aren’t cut out for the entrepreneurial lifestyle.
Who’s monetizing social media?
I blame part of the social media money craze on AOL. In 2005, AOL purchased Weblogs Inc., a blogging company composed of 85 different blogging sites, for $25 million. In 2010, AOL bought the tech blog giant TechCrunch for $30 million, and then a few months later purchased The Huffington Post for a whopping $315 million. What a lot of people need to consider is that these blogs have considerable traffic. Compete.com reports that The Huffington Post receives 21 million unique visitors per month, for instance. Most blogs are fortunate enough to get a few hundred views after several months in existence, and advertisers aren’t going to compensate bloggers that don’t have a large audience.
Making money online is nothing new. Business owners have been accumulating wealth through their websites for years. They use a variety of methods including pay-per-click banner ads, affiliate sales, premium membership areas, sponsored blog posts, and more. They have even made indirect income by promoting their books, speaking, and consulting services through their websites. Although these might appear as lucrative monetization channels to you, very few people have made a livable income based off of their blogs and social network profiles. In fact, only 21 percent of bloggers are self-employed, says Technorati. We only hear about the million dollar success stories because of the media, but the truth is that it’s a very rare situation.
Be true to yourself
It’s time to get serious, unplug yourself from the computer and be realistic with your career. You don’t need to be an Internet entrepreneur to be happy, especially since many of them aren’t. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t leverage blogging and social networking for your personal brand. It’s critical that you have an online presence if you want to be successful in today’s global marketplace, find out about new opportunities, and network with people in your industry. I was able to turn my passion into a full-scale business but it took more than three years, working over a hundred hours per week, and a lot of luck. You might not be willing to make those sacrifices or be so patient. Entrepreneurship isn’t for most people so I recommend focusing your efforts on getting a job instead of listening to people who tell you that you’re going to become the next internet celebrity.
Be true to yourself and realistic with your goals so that you can have enough income to support yourself now and in the future. Concentrate your efforts on a single career path that plays to your strengths and gets you excited. That way, when you go to interviews, you will come off as a strong candidate, and when you’re up for a promotion at work, you get it over the next person.
Dan Schawbel, recognized as a "personal branding guru" by The New York Times, is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, LLC, a full-service personal branding agency. Dan is the author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future, the founder of the Personal Branding Blog, and publisher of Personal Branding Magazine. He has worked with companies such as Google, Time Warner, Symantec, IBM, EMC, and CitiGroup.
[Image: Flickr user Matthias Topfer]