Today’s digital landscape is rapidly evolving, and with recent technology advancements and shifts in culture, a new wave of entrepreneurs and small businesses has emerged— digital natives.
This new breed of entrepreneurs gets their start on social media by building and strategically cultivating an online audience, using social platforms as a testing ground to see what resonates with their community before carving out a unique niche. However, the most successful among them quickly realize that relying solely on platform revenue is not a sustainable path for building a thriving and resilient business.
Why start on social?
Social media is a low-risk entry point into starting a new business, enabling even the most novice business owners and creators to explore their passions and test ideas without committing significant financial resources upfront.
Social media platforms provide a unique opportunity to build a robust base of followers from around the world, making authentic connections with like-minded people who share common interests and values. The power of community building cannot be understated; it contributes to a sense of belonging and turns followers not only into customers, but also into brand advocates. Studies indicate that brands on social media channels experience greater customer loyalty, at about 88%.
Brand representation has rapidly evolved, with social media emerging as the contemporary equivalent of a brand's front page. This transformation is largely attributed to the power of engaging and authentic content - posts, stories, videos, and interactions provide consistent visibility that when used in conjunction with a trending storyline can greatly increase brand awareness. This allows individuals and businesses to establish a recognizable brand identity, create a compelling narrative, and connect directly with followers.
Where social stalls out
Social platforms are an essential tool at the top of the business funnel, helping generate awareness, attract a broad audience, and initiate the customer journey. But it can’t stop there. While this initial boost is certainly beneficial, it's extremely hard to reach the scale where you can run a viable business just based on platform revenue, especially when you have to keep up with constantly changing algorithms that tend to disrupt positive momentum.
Platforms mostly offer an opportunity to monetize via ads through a revenue share model, and while creators can often generate brand partnerships and sponsorship opportunities from their social media presence, this needs to be managed off-platform.
Most digital natives reach a point where they can no longer rely only on platform revenue and need to diversify their sources of income to ensure sustained and scalable growth. One of our customers, solopreneur Rio Viera Newton, came up against this challenge after launching a skincare consultancy on social media:
“I was able to get a great start with referrals through my column and from Instagram, but managing bookings on the platform and navigating its constant changes became a challenge. I realized I needed a dedicated space, a website, where I could seamlessly direct my clients — a hub that reflects the personal touch my consultancy is built upon, offering a reliable and consistent experience that complements and extends what I’ve built on social media."
Websites capitalize on what you’ve built
To build viable businesses, social-first endeavors need to move their center of gravity from social media platforms to owned and operated properties, such as a website or link in bio.
On platforms like Instagram or X, businesses are only renting the audience, but websites and link-in-bio sites, allow ownership of the audience. Access to analytics allows businesses to gather insights into consumer behavior, preferences, and interactions to stay competitive in a data-driven business landscape, as well as tailor products, services, and marketing strategies for a more customized customer experience.
Entrepreneurs can monetize beyond platform revenue through a combination of products and services. This may include physical or digital products, affiliate revenue, subscriptions or memberships, donations or tips, merch, licensing, consulting, courses, and paid communities. Finding the right tools can be complex, so using an all-in-one platform often streamlines the logistics for entrepreneurs who are juggling multiple aspects of the business.
Rio’s example further explains how she used website builder tools to scale:
"Prioritizing time management and supreme organization is paramount for me, but running that aspect of the business was taking up a lot of my energy. By shifting scheduling to a website, I streamlined the process for managing bookings, logging contacts, and sending timely reminders, so I can dedicate the majority of my time to clients.”
Ownership of a website also gives entrepreneurs full control over their brand and the customer experience, providing them with the flexibility to customize the design and layout, so they can showcase their brand personality in a way that isn’t achievable on social media.
Anyone can be an entrepreneur
Commanding an engaged audience is somewhat equivalent to controlling a prime piece of commercial real estate, except online, the real estate is limitless, and the best spot belongs democratically to whoever earns it - not limited to those with access to capital, but open to anyone who can use software tools to gain the attention and capture the value of an audience.
As we navigate the dynamic digital landscape, the path for digital native businesses is clear: while social media serves as a valuable launchpad, it's the strategic transition to owned and operated properties that unlocks the full potential of a business, offering resilience, control, diversification, and sustainable growth.
This article was produced as part of TechRadarPro's Expert Insights channel where we feature the best and brightest minds in the technology industry today. The views expressed here are those of the author and are not necessarily those of TechRadarPro or Future plc. If you are interested in contributing find out more here: https://www.techradar.com/news/submit-your-story-to-techradar-pro
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Paul Gubbay is the Chief Product Officer at Squarespace, the design-driven platform helping entrepreneurs build brands and businesses online, where he leads the company’s rapidly expanding product management and product design operations.
With more than two decades of experience in design-forward, product-led initiatives, Gubbay oversees the continuing integration and growth of Squarespace’s suite of products, which brings award-winning design and world-class engineering to millions of creators and small businesses. Under Paul’s leadership, Squarespace has further diversified its ecommerce offering, enabling customers to explore multimodal selling through products, services, content and community.
Paul has spent over 25 years providing solutions for creative professionals and business communicators with extensive leadership experience, industry knowledge, and scale. Most recently, Paul spent 15 years at Adobe as VP of Design and Web Engineering, focused on a wide span of Adobe's Creative Cloud products including Illustrator, Indesign, XD and Spark. In that time, he also acquired 4 companies for Adobe. He joined Adobe through its acquisition of Macromedia in 2005, where he ran product development for multiple products including Flash Professional, FlexBuilder 1.0, Dreamweaver and Flash Remoting. Before that, he was Co-Founder and CEO of CyberSage, a flash application software company that was acquired by Macromedia in 2003.