Social media provides a cornucopia of free tools for creative entrepreneurs. On a single social platform, creators can share content, market themselves, reach and grow an audience, and even earn income. It’s clear why millions of creators choose social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube as the primary medium to connect with the digital world.
But, what happens when a creator or business owner loses access to their social account overnight? Although this sounds like a rare occurrence, it’s more common than you think. And it’s not just creators defying platforms’ policies and guidelines that are being penalized—sensitive AI algorithms and faulty reporting processes often shut down creators sharing helpful and educational content with their followers.
Avery Smith, owner of Data Career Jumpstart and Kajabi Hero, is all too familiar with social media suspensions. After growing an audience of 65,000 followers on LinkedIn, out of the blue Avery’s account was suspended for 48 hours. Instantly, a trifecta of issues ensued; Avery lost his ability to share content, communicate with his audience, and funnel traffic to his website where he makes the majority of his income. Like many creators who rely on social media to connect with their audience, Avery was downright scared. “All of a sudden where I was getting 85% to 90% of my traffic from was not available to me, and I didn't know why. It was really scary because I am the sole provider for my family.”
With his livelihood on the line, Avery knew something had to change. He needed to protect his business, along with what was most important: his family. Let’s look at how Avery pivoted his online business from a social-reliant strategy to a social-supported strategy to take back control of his destiny!
For a quick version of the interview, check out Avery’s answers to our Rapid-Fire Q & A series, or read on to get the full rundown!
Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Tell us your story. How did you get started with your online business?
When I was out of college, I went and worked for the Man, aka Exxon Mobil, which was one of the biggest companies on earth. I got a good taste of the corporate lifestyle and realized, "Wow, this isn't for me. I really don't like this. I don't like having this huge empire bureaucracy around me." I knew I had to leave, but I wondered "What am I going to do? Should I go try to get this job or that job?" Another thought popped into my head, "Oh, I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur." I tried being an entrepreneur in college but it didn't go well. I probably made a hundred dollars total in college, but it was enough to get me on the road to leaving the nine-to-five and doing something for myself. I got into consulting and contract work, but I quickly learned that it’s very stressful and takes a lot of my time. It didn't scale well, and I kind of stumbled into online courses and really fell in love with teaching.
When you first started, how did you use social media for your business, and how has that changed over time?
For me, social media when I started meant traffic. I thought, if you're going to get traffic to a website, it has to be through social media. And that’s just not the case anymore. I will say that social media's been amazing for my career, and I would not be sitting here if it wasn't for social media. But obviously, I have realized there are dark sides to social media like shadow bans, regular bans, and algorithm changes. You do not own what's going on social media. Your own profile is not owned by you. And I mean, there's that saying that if something is free, you're the product. And that's really the case with social media, which is amazing and it can drive traffic to your website, but just remember you're still the product for their business. And so now I'm just a little bit more cognitive of how can I use social media for my good, but also just make sure that I own my assets, I actually own them. Someone else does not own them.
Can you tell us about what happened to you on LinkedIn?
When I was still employed at Exxon, I kind of stumbled into social media. I posted once or twice on LinkedIn and people were liking it, and my post got 3,000 views. So I started posting more and more on LinkedIn, and all of these opportunities started popping up. That's actually how I was able to leave Exxon—I was getting opportunities from LinkedIn. Then eventually I launched my own business and I was getting a lot of my traffic from LinkedIn.
Every day for the last three years, I have posted free daily content on LinkedIn that helps a lot of people. I've grown my audience on LinkedIn to over 65,000 followers. But about a month ago, out of the blue with no warning, I tried to log into LinkedIn, and I get this little notification saying I've been suspended from LinkedIn. I couldn't make any content, I couldn't message anyone, and I couldn't connect with anyone on LinkedIn. Suddenly, where I was getting 85 to 90% of my traffic was not available to me, and I didn't know why. It was really scary because I am the sole provider for my family. My family depends on me. My business relies on people coming from LinkedIn to my website and learning more about me.
How are you getting past it? How are you moving forward?
Since then I've been able to get it [my account] back. I've asked LinkedIn what I did wrong, but they don't really tell me. You have to try to figure it out on your own. Keep in mind, I'm not talking about anything controversial on LinkedIn. I'm telling people this is how you get a data career. It's all positive. What’s ironic is that one of my messages to my audience is you need to spend as much time as possible on LinkedIn.
But honestly, it's at the point where I'm terrified of losing it [my LinkedIn account]. It's to the point where I'm so terrified that I pay them $99 a month for their sales navigator product, which is basically premium LinkedIn. In hopes that if I give you $99 a month, you will not ban me for no reason. Though, I have no confidence that that is going to be the case. But obviously, it means so much to me that I'm willing to pay over a thousand dollars a year to have them not ban me. That's the relationship I have [with LinkedIn] right now.
You've probably been building your email list a lot earlier than this incident happened, but after it, how much more important was owning your leads' and customers' email addresses?
That is the most important thing; if you can get people's contact and be able to talk to them without the algorithms, without the platforms, that is where the magic happens. So I'm definitely more focused on that now. To be honest, email list building can be really hard. And one thing that's really interesting is it's something that people do not realize they need to do until they're later in the game. Everyone's like, “I need social media followers.” You don't; you need emails. And for every three followers you have on social media or more, those followers are probably worth only one email. So 2,000 people on your email list is probably better than 10,000 followers on Instagram; you'll probably have a bigger impact and earn more.
Knowing what you know now, after the LinkedIn extravaganza, what would you tell creators who use only social platforms to connect with their audience?
Start building your email list today because the quicker you build it, the quicker you'll have success; you'll make more money, you'll have a bigger impact, and you'll grow your audience on other social platforms. You won't have to worry about the algorithm as much, just start growing your email list some way today.
Check out these 21 tips for building your email list from scratch!
Have you earned money on social platforms?
Here's the fun part. When LinkedIn suspended me, I knew that I had to diversify my content. At the time, I still had 1,500 subscribers on YouTube. I had 7,000 on TikTok. I had 2,000 on Instagram. So I had diversified a little bit, but nowhere close to the 65k on LinkedIn. I decided to spend a whole month on YouTube. I made 30 videos in 30 days, and let me tell you, it was exhausting. But I was able to grow my YouTube from 1,500 subscribers to 6,000. But even with that many subscribers, I only got to 3,000 hours of watch time, which means I'm still a thousand short of getting pennies from YouTube; you need a thousand subscribers and 4,000 watch hours. The moral of the story, I have not made any money with YouTube.
I don't know how to make money with Instagram at all. And on TikTok, it seems like you have to have so many views to earn anything from them. I think it's pretty set that YouTube's probably the best monetization platform for social media, but it takes a long time to get there. I have done brand deals, but other than that, I have never made money off of social media. I’ve probably made 75% of my money as an entrepreneur with online courses.
Can you talk a little bit about the dark side of brand deals?
I think brand deals can be good, but at the same time, there is a lot of sketchy stuff that can happen with them. For one, they [brands] always try to lowball you. You can state, "This is my value," but they're always trying to pay less than you’re worth. And one thing about my course is that I'm in charge of what I get paid for. With brand deals, you're not in charge as much.
Another issue is you're always putting your brand and reputation on someone else's product. Always make sure to do your research and understand what the product is and if it's the right fit for your business. I'm one of those types of people who if I'm going to do something, I want to go all out and do it. And if I'm putting my name on the line, I'm betting on myself that I'm going to deliver. When you're taking brand deals, you're putting your name on the line. So you need to be careful about the pricing, and you have to be careful about your reputation. And then honestly, the impact [on your audience’s lives] is lower too. You're not necessarily changing people's lives with a men’s razor, for example. I think running a community or coaching program or creating a course allows you to have a bigger impact on the world.
What would you tell creators who aren't earning what they want through YouTube, social platforms, brand or affiliate deals?
If you're not making money on social media, try doing your own thing—and it doesn't have to be big. Keep in mind, I did not start running my business full-time when I first got up and running. I started with a workshop that was a 10-hour long workshop and I made $1,000, but that $1,000 was so good. Maybe start smaller; maybe you make $100 with your first product, but the point is all of a sudden you've done something that can scale to hopefully millions in the end. And doing it on your own terms is a great feeling.
What would you tell a creator who is just starting out, has never built a digital product before, but has this desire to build a business, and they want to do it off of social media? What advice would you give them?
First, I would say fail fast. I think that's one of the best things you can do is launch [your digital product] quickly, and have it suck. With it, you're going to learn so much. One of my mistakes was I took too long when I was first launching. But that's okay because I learned my lesson, but if I would've gone faster, I maybe would've learned more quickly. Second, what's the worst thing that can happen? I'm a very risk-averse person, and I like to go to the worst-case scenario. What is the worst-case scenario and can I tolerate that? For most people who are just getting started, the worst case scenario is you're exactly where you're at today and that's very relieving and assuring that like, "Oh wait, the actual worst thing is nothing changes? What's the best thing that can happen?” It can change your life as it changed mine.
Here are 17 digital products that you can sell online to help diversify your creator business!
The bottom line: Don’t rely solely on social media
Social media is the Swiss Army knife of creator tools; with it, you have the power to grow an audience and business—but with the risk of your account being suspended or banned always looming, it’s wise to not put all of your eggs in one basket, no matter how great the basket.
As Avery pointed out, “When LinkedIn suspended me, I knew that I had to diversify my content.” To avoid the potential catastrophe of a social media suspension or ban, start diversifying your content and your income streams now.
Social media bans and suspensions represent just one crack in the $100 billion industry we’ve come to know as the creator economy. The reality is the creator economy is broken; it doesn’t work for the majority of creators supporting it.
Hear from these other Kajabi Heroes on how they are being affected by the dark sides of the creator economy: