Is it possible to promote an online business without social media? Yes, here’s why.
TLDR: Here are the ways you can promote your online business without social media;
- Face-to-Face networking
- SEO (search engine optimization)
- Email Marketing
- Content Marketing
- PR Public Relations
- Referral Programs for your current customers/clients
Now if you want to stick around, we’ll be looking at each of those steps in depth and also why using social media for your business might not be the best solution for you.
Before you start, you might want to bookmark this article for later – cause I am going to get deep on this topic.
- 5 Reasons why you might want to promote your business without social media
- Now that we’ve had the moral debate: what are your options for promoting your business without social media?
- Social Media Alternative #1: Face-to-face networking
- Social Media Alternative #2: SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- Social Media Alternative #4: Email Marketing
- Social Media Alternative #5: Content Marketing
- Social Media Alternative #6: PR (Public Relations)
- Social Media Alternative #7: Podcasting
- Social Media Alternative #8: YouTube
- Social Media Alternative #9: Referral Programs for your current clients/customers
- Now…Should you delete your social media? My take.
- Still got social? Let’s Break the Fourth Wall by Sharing this Article
You might have all sorts of reasons for wanting to promote your business without social media.
It could be the massive time-suck, the effects social media has on your mental health or that you just don’t like using it.
In this article, I’m going to break down why marketing on social media might not be the best option for your business and what alternatives are available to you for your marketing efforts (don’t worry, there are a lot).
But this topic isn’t just about the right marketing strategy.
When people like you are exploring options about how to promote and build your business outside of social media there is a much more important debate going on about our relationship with social media itself.
I’ve written this article very much with the solopreneur/freelancer in mind because they’re the ones who might not have the budget to just outsource their social media marketing.
If you’re a bigger company or can easily outsource, I think you should be leveraging social media, because most of the negative consequences associated with it affect you much less.
5 Reasons why you might want to promote your business without social media
Many people just don’t like social media that much, while others are more cornered about the demands it’ll make on their (already very limited) time. Let’s look at the main reasons why you might want to avoid social media for your business.
It is unbelievably saturated with ads and hard to stand out
I came very close to quitting social media, but first, let me back up.
I’m an SEO copywriter and when I started my business I set up an Instagram account because you know…how do you market your business without social media?! I needed it, right?
All the cool kids had Instagram!
But before I launched my business I didn’t use social media. No Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram.
Nada de nada.
So, making these accounts hit me in the gut a little. I didn’t like them, but I felt forced into it because I didn’t know any other options were available to me at the time.
Long story short, I actually was successful on Instagram and I actually DO enjoy social media marketing now (not here to convince you that YOU have to like it, though). I did get clients (great clients actually) through the app and my marketing efforts there.
But quite quickly in my digital marketing career, I moved into SEO copywriting and became distressed that my only source of income was finding clients on Instagram.
Not only that, but as I’d niched down in these two areas, the leads all kinda dried up. This was because most business owners on Instagram cared much more about social media marketing than SEO.
Then one day, I posted this:
I had been feeling some low-grade anxiety for a while, thinking and feeling like I wasn’t doing enough, getting obsessed with all the things I should have been doing in my business.
Then I realized…
Maybe it had something to do with the endless stream of ads that I was being exposed to via Instagram? All telling me to buy this course, sign-up for this training etc.
So I did a little experiment..
I timed myself on the app for five minutes and took a screenshot every time an ad came up [or something overtly promotional that wasn’t a paid ad].
On post-it notes, I wrote out each direct marketing message that I’d read within those five minutes and took the photo that you can see above.
In five minutes I had been shown (directly or indirectly) 19 ads. 17 of them were paid ads.
And the average person spends around 53 minutes on Instagram daily.
So that’s around 200 ads per day.
I’ll admit, my experiment wasn’t the most scientific in the world, but it’s honest. I really did time five minutes and count the ads and promotional content I saw.
From then on I decided to seriously alter how I saw marketing on social media. I just thought, “can we seriously not do better than this as marketers?”
Had we really evolved so little from the TV industrial complex?
I no longer spend any mental energy coming up with a ‘strategy’ for my Instagram because I got kinda sick of it. It diverted attention and energy away from my blog and email marketing and those are much more valuable to me.
That’s because when people find me on Google or open my emails they are much more receptive to my message than on Instagram.
This is related to user intent.
If someone is actively searching for something like “hire an SEO content writer” those people are in the mindset of literally hiring me: they have gone to Google with the purpose of finding someone like me.
However, when people are on Instagram they don’t have that type of search intent. They’re probably just bored and doing some scrolling.
So, if you want to get someone’s attention and make them take an action you need to work a lot harder because they aren’t specifically looking to hear from you or searching for your solution.
And I’m not saying this as someone bitter who didn’t find success on the app, like I said, I did really well on it. I found amazing clients there, but the constant noise on the platform just disillusioned me.
I still use Instagram for my business and there are many aspects to it that I enjoy, but every so often I do get sick of it mostly because of the time-suck and knee-jerk reaction to check the app.
And spending lots of time on social media apps can become a trap for us solo business owners that distracts us from more valuable work.
The good thing about it though, is that you can see results quickly compared to other avenues like SEO.
I would advise people who want to use social media to use it more in the beginning to see some quick results, but to always give more energy to longer-term strategies like SEO and email marketing.
It can be a major time-suck to promote on social media
I conducted a survey of business owners a while ago and they had to answer “true/false/not sure” for this statement: “I want to depend less on social media for lead generation,” most said this was true for them.
It wasn’t a big survey so I won’t throw out numbers, but what interested me more was the qualitative data from this survey.
I asked those who said “yes” why that was the case. Here are some of their answers:
“the time suck social media can cause.”
“Social media platforms can change their rules at any time. Algorithms and features change, and it’s all designed to keep you on their platform as long as possible. It’s a time suck.”
“SM eats up too much time and effort to build momentum, and for content that is lost in a lot of noise.”
“I find social media exhausting and I’d rather have more me time than spend hours on a platform stealing every last bit of data about me.“
“I want to spend less time on social media.”
See a pattern?
Social media does eat up a huge amount of your time.
Going back to the figure above, the average person spends around 53 minutes on Instagram alone every single day.
Facebook is around 58 minutes a day.
[Twitter is apparently only 1 minute! Although I’m skeptical…]
But that whole hour spent on Facebook or Instagram (or both!) isn’t in one sitting. It’s spread out in little increments throughout the day, eroding our attention span and feeding our desire for instant gratification.
A lot of solopreneurs and freelancers are having to contend with that for so-called “lead generation” which, half the time, never actually comes.
Your local social media guru will tell you that the holy grail to avoid this is batching and scheduling your content.
This isn’t the case.
I batched and scheduled all my content in advance (which took me around 3-4 hours a month posting only 2-3 posts per week), but it didn’t affect how long I actually spent on the app.
The problem isn’t necessarily the content creation (although yes, that does take up time) but it’s the time spent on the platform itself.
And guess what? If your entire lead generation process is dependent on social media then you’re going to spend more time actively on the app.
So yes, it will be a huge time suck.
Batching and scheduling doesn’t stop you spending that time on the app “engaging” with people.
Or showing up on stories three times a day which is what a lot of social media experts tell you to do.
All of that eats into time that most solopreneurs don’t really have to begin with.
You might not find your ideal customers on social media
I know what you’re going to say.
But… a BAJILLION people are on Instagram and Facebook?! How can I NOT find my ideal customers?
Well, for a start I just told you above that when I niched down into SEO I found it harder to connect with potential clients because the people who cared a lot about SEO & email weren’t spending as much time on social media.
Furthermore, if you work in B2B or have very high ticket offers, the likelihood of landing your dream clients over on social media is limited.
The average engagement rate on Instagram for a regular feed post is around 2% and that’s just engagement.
That’s just someone double tapping your post on IG or leaving a comment.
Whereas if you get your website on #1 on Google the click-through rate is 31.7% from people who are actively trying to find your solution, but more or that later.
You don’t own social media and that matters enormously for your marketing
Another reason why you may want to promote your business without social media is the simple fact that you don’t own it.
Trying to monetize assets you don’t own or build an audience in the “easy in, easy out” manner of social media can be pretty risky.
I’d like to give you a brief case study.
There’s an influencer-type person that I follow on IG.
Let’s call her Amy.
Amy has over 200k followers and is always using Facebook ads to promote her cheap digital product (not saying cheap is bad btw, just that it’s a low ticket offer so it’s the perfect impulse buy).
One day Facebook shuts down her account, for apparent violation of its ads policy.
Then it stayed shut for two weeks.
Those must have been some pretty terrifying two weeks for Amy whose business relies entirely on social media (she teaches business owners how to use it so yeah…if her account is banned, well…Amy’s pretty screwed).
Don’t build your business on a house of cards – if you do decide to use social media, make sure you’re funnelling that traffic to your email list so you’re building your OWN audience.
The fact that we don’t own social media was also a reason why the business owners I surveyed were worried about relying on it for their business.
Social media probably isn’t going anywhere for a while, so I’m not sure I buy the whole “it can disappear – look at MySpace!” argument.
[BTW remember MySpace?! Those were the more innocent years…]
But having said that, look at what happened to TikTok – it very nearly got banned in the US.
(In case you’re wondering, it didn’t get banned in the end but it’s very much a “for now…” situation.)
Another example is the Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which brings me to my next point about why you might decide to build your business without social media.
You might disagree with Facebook’s values & ethics
You’ve probably watched The Social Dilemma, right?
If not – go watch it. It’s an awesome documentary about the unethical ways in which social media manipulates us and controls the world around us.
That documentary has had such success because more and more people are rightly concerned about these issues, especially over how much data social media is collecting about our lives.
Facebook is particularly under fire from all around – even Apple CEO, Tim Cook has taken a stand against the company stating:
“If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise,” he said. “It deserves reform.”Tim Cook, apple ceo talking about facebook
Although, I think that’s pretty rich coming from Apple if I’m honest, given that they give users 0 choice over terms of agreement for their products…
“Agree to let us off the hook if all your data, personal photos etc is hacked or else you can’t use a computer.”
Anyway, back to Facebook.
Mozilla have even created a plugin to stop Facebook tracking your data in an attempt to protect our online privacy.
One respondent from my survey voiced their concern over using social media for their business for these exact reasons:
I dislike the idea of having my business relying on a platform owned by people whose values I hate, also a platform that changes the way it works for their profit.A respondent from my survey on why she wants to promote her business without social media
Whilst I have many issues with social media, I think it’s naïve to think it’s going anywhere or that we can plug our ears and ignore it.
We need reform, but we certainly can’t rely on the CEOs of these companies to enact that reform – we need the law to change.
Unfortunately, as their lobbying efforts are astronomical, I don’t believe that reform will happen anytime soon…
Now that we’ve had the moral debate: what are your options for promoting your business without social media?
Wow, this article is taking on a life of its own.
Thanks for sticking with me. I think it’s important to remind you that you really are not alone in wanting to grow your business without social media and the reasons are valid.
For me, my main concern is to not have my business become dependent on social media (like it used to be) but I also respect people who just don’t want to use it altogether.
If you’re one of the latter (and even if you’re not) I’m going to go into detail about the alternatives for promoting your online business. I think every business should be leveraging these, but especially those who don’t use any social media.
Social Media Alternative #1: Face-to-face networking
Double right, “online business.”
But when I say face-to-face what I mean is just making genuine connections with others in your industry or shoulder industries.
But is it possible to network without social media? Hell yes! Let’s take a walk.
One way that I love to reach out to people is to join their email list. If I like their newsletters and content I just reply and that helps establish the first point of contact.
If I listen to their podcast, maybe I’ll send them an email with a question or to show some appreciation.
A great way to really turn that point of connection into something meaningful is to tell them how you’ve implemented some of their teachings and you’d love to share with them how they helped you.
That’s the type of connection that can turn into a podcast interview or a guest blog post.
Make sure your email signature has your job title and a link to your website to help them know who you are and what you do.
These types of relationships can really blossom into great partnerships, speaking opportunities and collaborations so don’t knock ‘em.
Courses & Membership Programs
I’m a course junkie, but I love memberships even more. Memberships are amazing opportunities for networking (I sometimes get referrals from other copywriters who can’t take on more work and guess where they come from? My copywriting membership group).
A lot of these are hosted on Facebook which is the only reason why I have a Facebook account. The opportunity here is too good to pass up just for the sake of avoiding social media.
Choose a fake-ish name and make your profile all sorts of private to avoid people in your real life finding you.
But a lot of these communities are also moving to Slack so you can try and find ones that are hosted over there.
Social Media Alternative #2: SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
One of the glories about spending less time on social is that you can spend more time on your own website and more time blogging.
Learning SEO or having someone implement your SEO strategy for you means that you no longer have to chase your prospects.
They literally come find you.
SEO is so effective because if you can match your content with what someone is searching for, they are already in the right state of mind to either buy from you or convert in some other way, like signing up to your email list.
People go to Google to find solutions – if you can present yourself to them, allowing Google to introduce you if you will, that can have a major impact on your business.
Make sure your copy is solid and the overall user experience of your website is a good one. You don’t want people bouncing the second they actually land on your site.
SEO without spending $100 a month
Download my guide “SEO Without Spending a Cent” to get a list of all my favourite FREE SEO tools.
Never pay for SEO again.
Traffic on its own is a vanity metric, it has to convert and how do we convert without social media….
Social Media Alternative #4: Email Marketing
How can an 80 year old technology still be doing so well when it comes to conversions?
Email marketing is one of the purest forms of permission marketing aka people giving consent for you to contact them with information about your offer.
But this doesn’t usually happen if you give away a freebie and never actually engage with your subscribers afterwards.
Or worse, you don’t actually get proper consent in the first place!
The GDPR Gods do not like that.
NEVER EVER EVER BUY A LIST OF EMAIL ADDRESS.
The main benefits of email marketing are:
- You own that audience – you can download your list onto a spreadsheet and take it to any email service provider that you want
- You can talk directly with your leads
- People have actually given you consent to contact them making them much more viable leads than followers on social media
- Your sales can be automated through the use of email drip campaigns
- You don’t have to worry about algorithms (although you do need to think about email deliverability)
Social Media Alternative #5: Content Marketing
Incredible things can happen when you give away content online for freeJames Watt, co-founder of Brewdog
Watt from Brewdog said it best: content marketing really can produce incredible results for a business.
Content marketing is creating some type of written or audiovisual content to educate people on topics related to your business.
This can be:
- A podcast
- A blog (especially if you’re taking SEO seriously)
- A YouTube channel
- An email newsletter
But…why would you give away all that knowledge for free? Especially if you sell online courses or digital knowledge based products?
Because people go to Google, listen to podcasts or watch YouTube videos to find solutions to their problems, and you want to present yourself as an expert at solving those problems.
How many times have you bought something from someone that first started as a Google search?
Probably a lot, I know I have.
That’s because people want to buy from people that they trust. Providing amazing content helps your ideal customers trust you and is a fantastic way to also get them on your email list.
Now hang on…
We’re talking about promoting your business without social media but…. Isn’t content marketing the same as social media marketing?
Think of social media marketing more as a content distribution channel that helps promote your content, but I don’t consider it content marketing itself.
I find Instagram to be pretty useless when promoting blogs (Twitter is better for that because more writers and readers hang out there). Whereas I think IG is much better for promoting video content, especially if you make cool teaser videos.
But, as is the theme with this blog post – you don’t need to be using these if you don’t want to.
The best way to promote your content is getting your face in front of people with good PR & networking and leveraging SEO so people searching on Google or YouTube can find you.
Which brings me swiftly to my next social media alternative…
Social Media Alternative #6: PR (Public Relations)
You don’t need to be a big shot or know a string of journalists to leverage PR in your business.
You can leverage PR to promote you and your business by:
- Presenting yourself as a speaker at an event or summit
- Signing up to HARO and providing quotes and insights to journalists who need someone with your expertise for an article. (BONUS: you usually get a backlink to your site which is awesome for your SEO).
- Give out gifts: weird one I know, but imagine if you got in touch with someone in a similar industry and offered a giveaway of one of their courses/products? They’d share that with their audience and direct that traffic to your site or email list.
- Get involved in charity: helping out a worthy cause has the added benefit of your chosen NGO promoting you to their audience, as well as the potential for some media coverage
- Write for other blogs: despite all the “guest blogging is dead” chatter, providing amazing insights for an industry relevant blog can help you gain exposure to a similar audience and drive people to your site
- Nominate yourself for prizes: there are a lot of online prizes for business owners in all sorts of niches – winning would be great exposure and it boosts your authority
Social Media Alternative #7: Podcasting
When I was a kid I used to pretend to host my own radio show with my TalkGirl (those were the DAYS!!), so it’s not much of a surprise that podcasting has a special place in my heart.
Podcasting has exploded in popularity from the niche little audience it used to have, now everyone and their granny are listening to podcasts.
What I love about podcasting is that it’s much more low-maintenance than YouTube because you don’t have to worry about lighting and camera quality – all you need is a good mic, a good place to record and software to edit your podcast.
Podcast audiences, in my experience, tend to be very loyal. I mean, they spend around 30 minutes with you at least, and around 80% of listeners will listen to the entire episode.
To increase your podcast’s exposure you should create accompanying blog posts for each episode (not just transcription show notes).
Make these blog posts amazing, stand-alone pieces of content, embed your episode at the top and include subscribe buttons for Spotify, Stitcher and Apple Podcasts.
Social Media Alternative #8: YouTube
YouTube is a fantastic source of traffic to your website and is the perfect content marketing medium for people who like being on camera.
It can be very competitive and the viewership, in general, isn’t as dedicated as a podcast audience (when was the last time you sat through a 40 minute YouTube video?)
What makes YouTube great though, is that it’s essentially Google in video form making the content more searchable in comparison to podcasts.
But, is YouTube social media?
I don’t think so, and here’s why.
While it shares features in common with social media such as commenting, liking and sharing, blogs also have these features and we wouldn’t consider them social media.
YouTube can be a place of discussion among people viewing a certain video, but the lack of an interactive profile, with the ability to direct message people or upload a status, pushes it away from being a traditional social media channel in my opinion.
For content marketing the big downside to YouTube is that it’s pretty high maintenance.
Creating videos takes a lot of time for most people and involves more investment in terms of equipment and lighting.
If you have the budget I’d highly recommend hiring a video editor who can take care of the post-production side of things because it can quickly become a major time-suck.
Social Media Alternative #9: Referral Programs for your current clients/customers
What better way to promote your business without social media than to have your customers do it for you?!
Incentivizing your customers to refer their friends and family is an excellent way to get more customers to come your way.
Some ideas on how you can leverage referral programs for your business:
- Offer current customers a discount on your services/products if they refer a friend
- Get involved in affiliate marketing
- Gamify your service
- Have special categories based on how many friends someone refers with different rewards for doing so. For instance, “gold client” = someone who refers 3+ clients, “diamond client” = someone who refers 5+ etc and each category has better rewards.
- Don’t create too many categories though, as people can get confused over which one is more valuable.
- Have special categories based on how many friends someone refers with different rewards for doing so. For instance, “gold client” = someone who refers 3+ clients, “diamond client” = someone who refers 5+ etc and each category has better rewards.
Now…Should you delete your social media? My take.
You might look around you and see that, as every business has some type of social media presence, that means it’s the only way to be successful.
Buuuuuuuut, I disagree.
I find a lot of companies are doing their social media marketing so half-assedly (yep that’s an adverb…) that it barely contributes to their business anyway.
Secondly, a lot of big companies use it (and use it well) because they have an entire marketing department and teams of people to look after it.
The CEO of Hubspot is hardly sitting there on Instagram all day long, but that can become a nasty habit of the solopreneur who already has to take on so many responsibilities.
So, when it comes to deciding whether or not to use social media you really need to understand whether or not it will make a significant contribution to your business.
In ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport, he introduces the concept of doing a cost/benefit analysis when working out our relationship with social media.
He reminds us that just because social media does bring some benefits that doesn’t mean it’s worth using.
He suggests that we take a much more robust method for choosing the tools we need to do our best work: the Craftsman’s Approach to Tool Selection.
He draws our attention to the fact that nearly anything and everything can provide us with some type of benefit, but that doesn’t make it worth our investment.
Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.Cal Newport – Deep Work
In other words, we need to do a costs/benefit analysis and understand our wider business and personal goals.
Try doing your own costs/benefits analysis of promoting your business without social media and see what you come up with.
So, will you promote your online business without social media?
If you’ve made it this far well done – this was an absolute marathon of an article, but I think this conversation is incredibly important. I see more and more fellow solopreneurs exhausted and increasingly addicted to social media because they think it’s growing their business, when usually, they’re just growing their social profiles (which isn’t the same thing).
If you have any more questions about promoting your business using any of the suggestions I’ve made, or you just want to continue the debate about this topic, drop a comment below.
But, above all, I do believe you can promote and build your business without social media.
Don’t let all the hype overwhelm you.