Entrepreneur Office Hours - Issue #26
Is it time to reinvent the wheel? Do you know how to learn from investor rejections? And do you know where the first social network was launched?
In my academic life at Duke, I spend lots of time promoting the importance and study of social media. In an effort to not just “talk the talk” but also “walk the walk,” you’ve probably noticed I publish lots of content online.
Those two aspects of my work — my academic research and my social media content production — ran into each other in a pleasant and unexpected way when I discovered that the world’s first global, digital social network was launched all the way back in 1979 by a couple of Duke students. In other words, digital social media can trace it roots pretty much all the way back to where I’m sitting to write this sentence. How cool is that?
I feature the story in this week’s episode of Web Masters. If you haven’t listened to any episodes yet, check out this one. It’s a fascinating piece of Internet history that’s not widely known.
Also in this issue, you’ll find my featured Medium article where I take on an idiom that always annoys me: “Don’t reinvent the wheel.” Are you kidding me? How many times has the wheel been reinvented throughout history? Puh-lease.
And, in celebration of social media, a tackle a Q&A from someone building an Instagram audience who needs help monetizing her audience.
Would you put a 5,000-year-old wheel on your Tesla? Of course not! So why do so many people say “don’t reinvent the wheel”? Entrepreneurship is about constantly reinventing wheels… and other things.
The Grad Student Who Accidentally Invented Social Media
The first digital social network wasn’t Facebook. It wasn’t MySpace. And it wasn’t Friendster. The first digital social network was actually launched before the World Wide Web even existed all the way back in 1979. It was called Usenet, it had users from around the world, and it set a lot of precedents for much of what social media is today.
Listen to the full story on the newest episode of Web Masters:
…or search “Web Masters” wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
People like to say persistence is critical to fundraising success. I suppose that's true on some level. But persistence, alone, won't help you raise venture capital. After all, if you keep doing the same things wrong, you're not going to be successful no matter how persistent you are. Instead, entrepreneurs need to learn to understand what their rejections mean and fix the problems.
Office Hours Q&A
For the past year I’ve been building a following on Instagram. My content focuses on meditation and spiritual wellness.
I’ve got around 15,000 followers, and I’ve started getting emails from companies offering to pay me for promoted content. At what point is it OK to start monetizing on my audience?
I’d like to start turning my social media account into more of a business, but I also don’t want to alienate my audience since it’s not very large yet and I’ve worked so hard to grow it.
First, I want to note that 15,000 followers on an Instagram account is great. Sure, it’s easy to look at accounts with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers and think you haven’t achieved very much, but there are wayyyyyyy more accounts with less followers and lots of people who’d love to build what you’ve built.
Always remember that social media audiences grow on an exponential curve, so smaller numbers in the beginning are normal. You’re not going to get to a million followers overnight.
As for when to start monetizing on your social media audience, I can only give you my opinion, but my opinion is that it’s never too early to start. If you’re already receiving opportunities, don’t be afraid to explore them now.
The caveat to this is that you want to focus on monetizing your social media audience in ways that won’t alienate them. So don’t start promoting a product from the first company that wants to throw a few thousand dollars at you. Remember that even when monetizing a social media audience, you still have to provide value.
Most successful online influencers I’ve met over the years are very careful about their endorsement partners. They constantly state that they’ll only work with brands and products they’ve personally used prior to being approached or that they genuinely plan to continue using in the future after promoting the product.
They do this for good reason. They know if they wouldn’t use a product, their audience isn’t going to want to use it, either, so promoting the product will damage the trust they’ve worked so hard to build. And, fundamentally, that’s the key issue at stake… trust.
The reason 15,000 people are following you on social media is because they trust you. By itself, advertising to those people isn’t going to stop them from trusting you. But you can damage that trust by advertising things you don’t believe in.
Because of this, don’t worry as much about whether or not monetizing on your audience is good or bad. Focus, instead, on how you’re going to do it. Your audience doesn’t care if you make money from the hard work you’re putting in to provide content. Heck, they probably want you being able to make a living because it’ll mean you’ll have more time to create more content, which is good for them.
But don’t abuse the trust you’ve built. Keep supporting your audience -- both with sponsored and unsponsored content that provides genuine value -- and your audience will continue growing.
That’s how I approach my content. For example, my podcast was sponsored from the first episode, before it even had its own audience. But rather than being a hindrance, the sponsor has been a great partner because the sponsor is also focused on helping entrepreneurs. That means my sponsor offers a useful service to the people I’m creating content for, and my audience gets genuine value from knowing about them. Plus, selfishly, my sponsor’s existing customer base is filled with the people I want to reach. That means when my sponsor promotes the content I create to their audience, it actually grows my listener base. It’s a win-win for everyone.
You should be trying to create something similar. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s appropriate to monetize your online presence. Focus, instead, on how monetization can actually enhance the overall value you deliver and, as a result, the trust you build with your audience.
Got startup questions of your own? Reply to this email with whatever you want to know, and I’ll do my best to answer!