How Facebook makes money for me — and why that worries me

I thought Facebook would help me sell books. Instead, what it has done is to boost my brand among a big group of influential people and give me opportunities to get paid. As a result, I can see how it’s assimilating many Web functions, a trend that worries me.

I’m a mid-level business author. While my book and reputation get me a fair amount of attention, I’m not giving speeches every week. But I have my fans, and most recently, a steady stream of people willing to pay for my expertise. Two years into this experiment, I’m making a good living. Which channels are generating that interest?

Here’s how I make money:

  • Write books, get advances, and promote those books so people become interested in them.
  • Give speeches.
  • Help authors with ideas, proposals, and planning.
  • Edit books and other writing.
  • Run corporate writing workshops.
  • Help companies with positioning.

Here’s how I get visibility for what I do:

  • This blog (2800 subscribers). Daily posts, 1.7 million views in two years.
  • Facebook (1,400 friends and 700 followers for my profile, 400 followers for my page). I promote most of the blog posts here.
  • Twitter (23,000 followers). I promote posts here.
  • LinkedIn (2,500 connections). Occasional posts.
  • Medium (5,500 followers). Occasional posts.

Where does the money come from?

I toted up the sources of my leads for work done since I became independent, excluding my book advance. Here’s how my revenue breaks down:

  • Inquiries on/from my blog: 37%
  • Word of mouth from previous contacts: 27%
  • Facebook: 26%
  • LinkedIn: 10%

My blog and book establish my brand. I now hear from people all the time calling out bullshit, or talking about how my book helped them. Many of them are people I’d never have met without the blog.

Word of mouth is the stock in trade of all consultants. My extensive network of former clients and colleagues from 20 years at Forrester (and some from jobs even before that) have heard what I’m doing and seek me out from time to time.

Facebook is a vibrant community full of people who interact with me regularly and groups I frequent. And it’s an increasing source of business leads.

LinkedIn seems to be a place where old colleagues seek me out . . . but only the ones who are not frequent users of Facebook.

Facebook is where the growth is coming from

Here are a few of the ways I’ve made money or gotten other benefits from Facebook in the last 12 months:

  • A former colleague, now head of research for a large company, reached out to me on Facebook Messenger. He was having an all-staff meeting and needed a speaker in a hurry.
  • A Facebook friend saw what I was doing and contacted me to help his company with positioning.
  • A writer working on a new book posted in an authors’ group I frequent, seeking a content editor. I quickly responded, we talked, and now she is a client as I work with her on her book proposal.
  • Shel Israel reached out on Facebook Messenger to ask me to edit his book with Robert Scoble, The Fourth Transformation.
  • An prominent reporter who has quoted me in the past posted on Facebook looking for a book agent. I connected, talked with him on the phone, and shared a lot of publishing advice — and he is likely to become a client for a future proposal or consulting regarding publishing strategies.
  • Another reporter posted sought people fitting a specific description. I responded and he quoted me in a story in USA Today.

My following on Facebook consists of people who know me, or think they know me because they know my work. Because of my visibility there, if they have the kind of problems I can help with, they think of me. The Facebook groups I’m in are filled with people who may want to work with me, and when they post asking for help, I’m quick to respond. Being generous with my experience and knowledge in the blog, on Facebook, and in phone calls is crucial, because this makes it easy for people to trust that I have the knowledge and skills they are seeking.

You would think that LinkedIn is where these conversations should happen, but people don’t hang out on LinkedIn. An old colleague wondering about me might look me up on LinkedIn; a person checking me out after hearing about me from the book might review my resume there. But because I’m continually on Facebook — and so are a lot of other peole — the connections there are faster. The speech for the head of the research and the woman seeking the content editor are leads directly traceable to the speed of interactions on Facebook.

Facebook is becoming a place where businesspeople connect, at least for me. Admittedly, my cohort of friends consists mostly of people 35 and older, so I don’t have to worry about Millennials who supposedly have given up on Facebook. And many of my Facebook friends have been socially active online for many years, because that’s the kind of people who read Groundswell. But the idea that Facebook is a place for frivolous personal sharing and viral videos is wrong. If you have the right cohort of friends, it’s an effective lead generator.

I worry about Facebook’s takeover of the Web

When the Web started, anyone could put up a page, but you couldn’t easily find anything.

After Google, it became a lot easier to find things. As a result, everyone with something to say or share put it on the Web. Google transformed our experience, because it determined so much of what we see and read. Google attempted to be evenhanded about what it was doing, using what were supposed to be unbiased algorithms, and it did not change the underlying content it linked to.

Now Facebook increasingly determines what we see. It has added key improvements to the experience: connections with people we know about, a great mobile app, and crucially, an algorithm that shapes our perceptions. But unlike Google, Facebook is not attempting to be evenhanded. It shows you what it thinks you want to see, whether or not that’s what you ought to see — and regardless of whether what you read is true.

Now it is sucking up our live broadcasts with Facebook Live, our news with instant articles, and our blog posts with notes. Its messenger app wants all of our real-time connections. If you’re not on Facebook, in some important sense, you are not real to the world. And we are rapidly turning our identities and communications over to a company that can do anything it wants with them.

Facebook can twist your perceptions with its algorithms.

It can determine how news organizations live or die.

It can determine whether fake news grows or fades away.

It can share your information with the government — any government. If it changes its terms of service, it can share that info with anyone it wants to.

Facebook is beholden to no one, and the people who are on it can’t imagine living without it. It is swallowing up the Web.

I don’t like power concentrated in the hands of one company. But I don’t really know what to do about it. This shift is a trend too powerful to stop.

In the meantime, of course, I’ll be there, doing my work and making myself visible. (Yes, that even includes the Bullshitty Awards on Facebook Live at 2PM tomorrow.)

But somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m a little worried about being assimilated.

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