Never Become Someone's Product

I went on a Twitter rant last week. Something I don’t do all that often.

It started with Instagram announcing they were changing their algorithm away from a linear view of your stream. This lead to days of brands and people with independent businesses begging you to turn on notifications. It was not pretty. 

Then came the news that Medium was wooing publishers to make it their online home. What the these moves actually mean remains to be seen. You can read the article about Medium but I’ll warn you. This email is not about what either platform is doing. So don’t be writing me to say that my analysis of Medium or Instagram is wrong.  

It’s not about them.

It’s about you.

It’s about owning your work. Most people who go out on their own want independence. But, it isn’t just about not having to be at your desk at 9 am on-the-dot, having to ask for vacation days or getting to wear your pajamas to work.

Think about those scared business owners on Instagram. Their blatant messages made their over reliance on Instagram clear. Relying on one platform for distribution or revenue isn’t going to give you the independence you desired when you left a comfortable nest to take a risk.

You should never build your entire business model on someone else’s platform. It doesn’t matter:

how pretty they make your work look...

the incentives they offer...

the astronomical page views they promise.

You’re still building on their home.

Medium, Instagram and the rest are using your product to make a name for themselves, to build their identity —not yours. Remember, if you aren't paying for the service, you are not using them, they are using you. You're an ingredient. In other words, you are their product.

Why make your own creations just to become someone else's product?

When you put your writing in Medium—you become theirs, not yours. Using them to help your work get discovered is smart. It can dramatically amplify your reach. But, making your work discoverable and placing your business in the hands of someone else are entirely different things. 

Consider these networks simply vehicles for your people to find you. For example, sometimes I repost my articles on Medium but is my home. This is where me — and my work live on the internet. Twitter, Instagram and all the rest are simply methods to get the word out. I’d be freaked out too if I had put all my digital eggs in someone else’s basket. 

Here’s the thing.

With those other platforms, it’s an unequal relationship. They make the rules. You have to agree to the rules or you can’t use them. There’s little negotiation. The bigger problem? They can change the rules at any time — leaving you without a revenue stream or having to start all over again somewhere else. Remember a few years ago when Facebook was becoming the place to be? Many businesses invested heavily in their marketing for this channel, relegating their own websites as an afterthought. And what did Facebook do? Change their algorithm. I know several businesses that were severely impacted — a couple even went out of business. 

Here’s another reason.

When you rely on these platforms, you’re one of many. If you're lucky, you can standout but it will never replace having a place where you set the rules. You need a place where your online identity lives. So too, a place like or the newer are nice additions, but shouldn’t be the main home of your online identity — or "your address on the web."

Why we lean on these platforms

We over rely on other platforms so that we don’t have to do the hard work of articulating our identity.

I know.

It’s not easy to build a place that represents our values, shows us as the unique people we are and depicts our work well. It takes deep introspection, an understanding of ourselves, and clarity on the purpose for our work. Let’s not kid ourselves. Introspection is not always the easiest work. Looking at yourself with a fine tooth comb in a bright glaring mirror is challenging.

Anyone can set up shop these days. Getting the right tax structure, figuring out accounting and all the rest of the practical stuff just aren’t that difficult. Plunking your work on another platform with a pithy description of yourself feels easier. But be careful not to get lured in by the practical.

It's a trap.

If you really want the independence you seek, you must put effort into the hard(est) work. Don't become the product of someone else. Don't take shortcuts. Dive into the deep. It's scary. It's also the most essential work you do.