Going Private: Social Media Marketing Without the Madness

10 min read
  • Despite the disadvantages of limited exposure, private social media accounts can be a worthwhile marketing tool.
  • Social media platforms tend to promote notable accounts; most users won’t notice a big difference using a private profile.
  • To market a private social media account, connect with people individually, and grow your audience one-by-one.

When debating whether social media accounts are safe for us and our children, we often jump to the conclusion that they clearly aren’t. However, when it comes to using social media as a brand, we rarely ask this question. It seems outrageous for a brand or professional not to be on social media. But brands face similar problems adolescents do, and they might be better off taking a chapter out of teenagers’ books: going private.

Using a private social media account may seem counterintuitive. As a professional, you want to increase your outreach—that’s why you went to Instagram or Twitter in the first place. With a private account, you’re depriving yourself of all those opportunities. It might feel like owning a store in the middle of a desert, wondering why nobody’s coming by. However, private social media accounts could solve more problems than they create. And they might be worth a try for you, too.

Be aware of the disadvantages

Before you go private, you need to be aware of the consequences. The moment you set your social media account to private, the platforms will handle your account differently in various ways you might not expect:

  • Your content won’t be featured under the Explore tab (Instagram) or Top Tweets (Twitter), in searches, or under hashtags anymore
  • Only followers can like or comment on your content
  • Nobody can retweet your content (Twitter)
  • You lose access to statistics
  • You can’t advertise your content
  • People can’t view your content before following you

The pros of using private social media accounts

While stripping all these features away from your account may seem devastating from the perspective of your marketing goals, they could just as well benefit you.

Your content won’t be featured anyway

May I say something everybody knows but nobody says out loud? Your chances of having a successful social media account are almost zero. Not only are you competing for attention with hundreds of millions of other users, enough of them will also be able to spend more time and money on social media marketing than you.

Social media platforms have their own ways of deciding whose content they should promote. For example, the photo sharing app Instagram wants to focus on video in the future. Which means if you’re still adamant about taking pictures, Instagram will soon start limiting your exposure. Changes like this happen all the time. And platform owners invariably make up their minds, usually not to your advantage.1

You won’t be able to keep up. Whether it’s time, money, or content, others will spend more or adapt more quickly if they’re focused on social media. Today, a new social media account is doomed to fail—a minor detail neither platforms nor marketing agencies want you to know. There’s too much money in letting you believe you could make it.

It doesn’t make as much of a difference as one might think to go private. Even if your account is public, it’s more likely that your content won’t get any traction through the Explore tab or Top Tweets, through searches or hashtags. So, why even bother to go public and tolerate all the negative consequences?

Stop comparing yourself to others

While we cannot be sure that social media is detrimental to mental health, it’s considered not a good idea to compare yourself to others. However, as brands, we always face scrutiny. How popular a writer is will be determined by how many followers they have and how many likes their content receives.

With a private account, such metrics become irrelevant. Even though the number of your followers is publicly visible, people know a private account cannot be compared to a public one. That’s when you can stop comparing yourself to others and focus on becoming better.

Privacy can mean exclusiveness

People are curious. Often, when they’re prevented from getting something, they want it even more. That’s an important driver for luxury brands, with products inaccessible to most people primarily because of their price.

A private social media account won’t transform your brand into Louis Vuitton over night. But it can make people wonder what’s behind the wall. The cost is not money, it’s following you—something people often take their time with because they can browse public profiles without deciding. With you, they need to commit if they want to see what’s hidden from them.

This can work to your advantage if your account seems compelling. Or if you are a person people are already curious about.

Gain more control over who follows you

Many of your followers and those of other accounts aren’t real. Bots are a widespread problem on social media platforms, and often they’re the ones following you first. The more popular your account becomes, the more of them you attract.

While bots can increase the number of your followers, keep in mind that this is only a very superficial metric to measure your success against. There are tools that reveal how many fake followers your account approximately has. And decision makers will compare your number of followers to your engagement rate anyway (i.e., how many people like and comment on your content). Fake followers don’t drive engagement.

With a private account, you can be much more deliberate about who follows you. Bots rarely follow protected accounts, but if they do, they still need your blessing. Yes, you can remove followers even from a public profile, but a private account forces you to act. Eventually, the number of your followers will much more closely resemble the number of people interested in what you have to share.

Protect yourself from harassment

You can’t say “social media” without the word “harassment.” People face hate and anger on social media platforms every day. Their tweets will be retweeted and taken out of context. Their photos will be spammed with nasty comments.

Platforms have tried to counteract this behavior by giving you more control over who can share your content and who can comment on it. But a private account offers much more control. It gives you the ability to vet users before they can even see your content. And if you find out that one of your followers is harassing you, you can still remove or block them. You can do that with a public account, too, but the intruder could just create a new account and circumvent your efforts. Or they don’t even create an account at all and view your profile through a web browser.

A private account can’t protect you from harassment entirely, but it can be an important step towards a more secure and calm life. Public accounts make you vulnerable.

How to market private social media accounts

One question remains, though: How do you make others aware of your profile if your exposure is so limited? It’s harder to be successful on social media if your account is private. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use it for marketing.

Redefine what success means

Private account or not, it’s a good idea to define or redefine what success means to you. As for social media, is it really about having more followers than others, more likes than others? Or is it about something different?

We often forget that there are multiple angles to success. To me, being the CEO of a brand like Hermès seems much more appealing than being the CEO of a brand like Zara. However, Zara generates considerably more revenue than Hermès (€19.6 billion vs. €6.9 billion in 2019). Zara also gained over four times the Instagram followers Hermès generated (47.2 million vs. 11.2 million in 2021). If money or followers were the deciding factors, Zara would seem far more attractive. But they aren’t, at least to me. Producing long-lasting products of extraordinary quality instead of throwaway fashion, favoring elegant over gauche, gaining prestige rather than profit, can be much more meaningful to some.

Why do you want to be on social media? Do the numbers stroke your ego? Or do you want to connect with people who care about what you do? Answering this question will influence your marketing goals.

Genuinely connect with other people

Marketing a private social media account means you need to slow down. You can’t reach thousands of people through ad campaigns or by accidentally being featured. You’ll have to convince others of your value one by one.

This may seem cumbersome at first glance, but it can lead to more genuine and durable connections. You don’t need millions of followers to be profitable because only a small fraction of them will ever buy your products. Instead of trying to appeal to truckloads of people, you can just as well focus on those who love what you do. Who buy what you produce. Who care.

How do you get there? By genuinely connecting with others. Your profile might be private, but that doesn’t mean you can’t engage with other people. You can follow them, like their content, and comment on it. Efforts you’d have to make with a public profile anyway, unless you’re already so popular that new people follow you on their own.

One by one, you’ll make people interested in you and convince them that what you’re sharing is valuable to them. And since your account is protected, your engagement won’t have that typical air of marketing. If somebody with a private account follows me and engages with me, I assume they’re not just doing that to gain new followers. More likely, they’re interested in connecting. Use that impression to your advantage.

Marketing a private account is difficult, but marketing a public one isn’t effortless, either. In today’s social media landscape, it’s unlikely to be successful if you define success by the numbers. However, if what you’re looking for is genuine connections with people who care about what you do, it doesn’t matter whether your account is private or public. All that matters is showing up.

  1. Remember when Facebook decided not to feature posts of brands anymore because, according to them, that wasn’t what users wanted—even though they followed that brand for a reason—, but the real reason being they wanted brands to pay for their exposure? The times of organic growth on Facebook are long gone. Jump back.︎