Who’s Making Your Rules?

(Listen to this post, here.)

You know me, I don’t tell people how to live.

You want a pet boa constrictor? Be my guest.

You want to live on a strict diet of baby food and beer? I’m not going to stop you.

You want to give all five of your sons the same first name? Who am I to suggest otherwise?

But there is one thing that bothers me – people who talk loudly and at length on their cell phones in the Hopkinton, Massachusetts Starbucks, a place where I make no apologies for spending a fair amount of time.

My go-to solution when this occurs is to put in my earbuds and tune into Coffitivity, a free site that, believe it or not, offers audio that mimics the background noise of a bustling coffee shop.

That’s correct. I listen to simulated coffee shop sounds while sitting in an actual coffee shop, when its sounds are not up to par. (Is this a great country or what?)

It pretty much works, but I confess that I’m still kind of annoyed by the obliviousness of the cell phone talkers.

Which is why I was so pleased by what happened yesterday as I sat in a different, non-Starbucks coffee shop in nearby Cambridge.

Some guy’s phone rang (we all heard it) and he picked it up and started talking. Immediately, a young woman behind the counter literally yelled, “No cell phones! Take it outside!”

He practically ran for the door. The rest of us smiled at each other.

Businesses have rules. You may not like them, but generally speaking, if you want to participate, you have to adhere to them:

No outside food in the movie theater.

No white-water rafting unless you sign the waiver.

No running at poolside.

You know who else has rules? Every social media platform on earth.

They like to call them “community guidelines,” but make no mistake, they are rules all the same. And if you violate them, these services reserve the right to ban you. At their sole discretion and forever.

Of course, you’re a good citizen and you’re not going to do any of the terrible things that can lead to disqualification, lifetime or otherwise.

But that’s not your only risk with social media marketing…

Suppose you’ve built up an impressive following on Instagram – one which clearly demonstrates your influence – and the service follows through with its current experiment to eliminate “likes.” Now nobody can see how popular you or your posts are.

Suppose LinkedIn modifies its “feed distribution algorithm,” switching up which posts and users are displayed more broadly and which, for reasons known only to LinkedIn, are suddenly not?

Suppose Facebook decides to only promote content among users who also agree to utilize its new currency, Libra (Latin for, “Yeah, we know we kind of dropped the ball on protecting your privacy, but don’t worry, you can totally trust us with your money.”), and that vibrant community you’ve spent years building is suddenly a ghost town?

The point is, if you eat, play, live or do business on someone else’s property, you’re a tenant, not an owner. You can leave, but the farm stays here.

All that said, I know what you’re thinking: If only somebody would invent a marketing platform with none of these limitations.

One that scales infinitely, costs nothing to use, and has no central provider.

One that is democratized and completely distributed.

One where the only people who get to decide if a message is worth seeing are the ones who are on the receiving end of it.

And hey, as long as we’re dreaming, maybe the inventors could call it, I don’t know, how about “email?”

Here’s the bottom line.

I have nothing against social media – I use it all the time, just like you do.

But I don’t rely on it as a means of marketing my business. There are too many unknowns and too many ever-changing rules for me to take that chance.

Instead, my marketing machine is built on email and the permission-based asset that my newsletter list represents.

I can take it with me wherever I go, I can use any vendor I want (and switch vendors whenever I feel like it), and I don’t have to worry about a third party getting in between me and you, my reader.

If you don’t have an email list of your own, now is the time to start one.

With the possible exception of a pet boa constrictor and five children with the same first name, I can’t think of anything more important for the success of your business.


Summarize today’s issue in exactly 9 words. Extra credit if you include the words “boa constrictor” in your answer.  Post in Comments below!

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22 thoughts on “Who’s Making Your Rules?

  1. Maggie Schuette

    Summary: To get attention, use email. Boa constrictor is optional.

    P.S. When people are loud on their cellphones, I call it “yellular.”

  2. Jeffrey

    Well, I got Ethel, she’s a 17-foot beauty-Boa… I wasn’t able to get her to send my emails though. Am I missing something here?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Victoria – you won the admiration of your peers and a free coffee if you are ever available in the near future!

  3. Maggie Schuette

    So, last night I’m watching YouTube crafting videos, (I love crafts!) and a bunch pop up about COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). It seems that YouTube and the FTC came to a settlement regarding YouTube not complying with COPPA. Now people who create videos for YouTube will have to categorize them as “for children” and “not for children.” There is much more to it than I can type here, but people who were creating content for kids apparently will lose revenue because of the way the settlement is structured and what YouTube will do to comply. (I’m not an attorney – just a paralegal in the trenches).

    Michael, I think this fits your blog post. People spent thousands of hours on videos or made Youtube their full-time income, all on someone else’s platform. I don’t know if things will come crashing down for these people, but there seems to be a lot of uncertainty.

  4. Lisa Cervantez

    Email doesn’t have social media rules… or boa constrictors!

    Great article, but I especially love the challenge at the end. It was a great learning moment for me. People love challenges!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      i agree, Lisa. I’m always (pleasantly) surprised by how much more people participate when given a little word game to play!


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