As part of a project I am working on, lately I have been reading (and reading up) on a lot of the books that many ‘social media experts’ have written. And I honestly find myself cringing at a lot of the advice that they are giving companies. Basically, they are explaining how they got X0,000 followers on Twitter or X0,000 blog readers, then telling a company how they can do the same thing.
Which is the big elephant in the room: Just because you have 50,000 followers on Twitter does NOT mean you are qualified to advise a company on how it should properly implement social media strategies to connect with customers. And to be fair, there are successful social media consultants that have more than 50,000 Twitter followers or 100,000 blog readers. But getting to such benchmarks is not a ‘proof of concept’ that you know how to successful implement social media programs for companies. Still, many people are trying to leverage the volume of usage on social media sites as a validation for their career choice as a social media consultant.
When I started blogging in 2005, it was a bit different. Bloggers that were making a name for themselves by creating valuable content and creating a community on their blog, were being hired by companies and promoted at existing ones. They were often hired to fill ‘Community Evangelist’ or similar roles, or if they already worked at a company or agency, they were promoted to handle some or all of that company’s social media and ‘community outreach’ efforts. Neither of these solutions were perfect either, but at least then, these people were part of a TEAM and working within organizations where they were getting real-world business experience every day. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the people that went that route in 2005-2007 are now some of the biggest names in the social media space.
But at this point we need to return to the issue at hand and make a clarification: If you can build a community of 50,000 people following you on Twitter or 50,000 people reading your blog that IS significant. No, it doesn’t mean you are automagically qualified to sell social media consulting services to companies, but it DOES mean that you have an ability to create content that connects with people. That is a SKILL, and one that you SHOULD be able to monetize.
I think the problem is (and I’ve been blogging this for 5 years now) that there aren’t a lot of viable options for how content creators can monetize their content-creation skills unless they have massive reach, and even then, it’s usually via ads on their blog. If you think about it, it’s pretty ironic: Many of us in the social media bubble complained for years that bloggers shouldn’t be trying to make money off their blogs. So a lot of people didn’t try (to avoid the potential backlash from readers and critics), and decided to become ‘social media experts’ instead and sell their services to companies. Which meant an influx of unqualified people working with companies, and then many of the same people that complained about bloggers attempting to monetize their content, were then complaining about all the hacks calling themselves ‘social media experts’.
If you are ready to ‘cash in’ on your content-creation and community-building talents, here are some other options besides simply marketing yourself as a ‘social media expert’.
1 – Write an ebook. Already rolling your eyes? Stop it. @SarahMaeWrites wrote an ebook based on a popular blog post series she wrote, and sold it for $4.99. Big deal, you say? She launched the ebook on April 11th and as of May the 9th, she had sold over 5,600 copies, meaning she made over $20,000 in her first month. Can we get a show of hands of all the A-List Social Media Consultants that made even half that last month? Sarah was smart because she leveraged her community-building skills to keep her readers involved and updated throughout the creation process (leveraging multiple social media channels) so that when the ebook launched, demand for it was at a fever-pitch.
Oh and ironically, which do you think would impress a company more if you were a social media consultant: Saying you had 50,000 Twitter followers, or that you created an ebook that made you $20K in its first month of sales?
2 – Get sponsors for the content you create. Do you know how I ended up in Austin for SXSW this year doing the first-ever Live #Blogchat with two amazing sponsors? I asked. The event was an amazing success, and as a result I’ve had multiple events approach me since then about adding a Live #Blogchat to its program (one has already been announced), and I’m talking to multiple events about a Live #Blogchat to their program.
But you could get sponsors for your blog content. Approach a company in your space and ask them if they’d like to purchase a 200X200 banner on your blog’s sidebar for a week. What do you charge? That’s up to you, personally, I would start very low, like $25 or so a week. If your blog content is worth monetizing, then you’ll likely get a glowing recommendation from your sponsor, which will mean you can raise your prices PLUS, that recommendation will make it easier for you to sell additional sponsorships. After a few weeks you could be making a few hundred dollars a month from blog sponsorships. That’s a car payment, and if you create other forms of content (say, a podcast), then you could have sponsors there as well.
And after a few months of successfully gaining content sponsorships, then you can write an ebook on how to secure sponsorships, and sell it 😉
3 – Offer consulting to individuals versus companies. If you know how to build up a network of 50,000 people on Twitter that follow and adore you, then think about the type of individuals that might be interested in those skills? Maybe….politicians? Athletes? Maybe you could partner with PR firms that sign on politicians and athletes and work with them? I think this area has HUGE untapped potential for a lot of the people that are trying to market themselves as social media consultants.
But at the end of the day, you have to realize two things:
1 – Simply growing a large following via social media channels does NOT mean you are qualified to offer social media consulting services to companies. Doesn’t mean you can’t, but also doesn’t mean you’ll have much success.
2 – Being able to grow a large community around the content you create is a skill that you should be able to monetize, if you want. And being a social media consultant is NOT your only option, and in many cases, it’s not your best one. Start with the list above, but there are many more options available to you, if you are smart.
What do you think? What are some other smart monetization options for content creators?
PS: I didn’t write this post to bash any ‘social media expert’ that I think is unqualified. Honestly, the constant sniping back and forth about how so-and-so is a hack is killing the credibility of the ENTIRE space. The focus of this post is to show that there are other options for making money off social media than diving into consulting. And often, there are much better options, based on your skillsets. I’m not trying to name-call, I’m trying to get a discussion started about what the monetization options are for content-creators.