When all the hard work on social media … just doesn’t work

when social media doesn't work

I’ve known Ray Hiltz for nearly five years. We became close social media chums, and the friendship solidified when I spoke at his content marketing event in Montreal in 2013. That’s an event I’ll remember for all the wonderful friends who came out to see me and the fact that it was the first time I mentioned the concept of “content shock,” and the need to focus on content “ignition.”

Ray Hiltz dinner

First time I met Ray, with Nancy Locke

Nobody has worked harder to build a digital consulting business than Ray. The man has created volumes of content and helped people with patience, kindness, and professionalism. He established himself as a skilled strategist, a pioneer in the Google+ niche, and was one of the first to establish a long-running “show” through Google Hangouts On Air.

And, it didn’t work.

He’s folding up his entrepreneurial business and going back to the corporate world.

I’m sad Ray couldn’t realize his dream but the fact is, this is a BRUTAL business and MOST people don’t make it. It is always amazing to see how many think this is an easy business. The failure rate for social media entrepreneurs has to be right up there with restaurants and life coaches.

Ray recently wrote about his decision, what happened, and why. I thought it was poignant and important, and I asked him if I could re-print it here for you. Here is Ray and his story.

You make your own choices 

By Ray Hiltz, {grow} Community Member

“They” say write what you know.

The following post is about the choice I made to leave my company, NewRayCom to work in a Call Center.

Some of what I say will resonate with you. At the least, I hope is gives you pause to reflect on your own choices.

The first quarter of 2016 has been particularly rough.

I had hit bumpy roads before. But like the potholes in my Montreal neighborhood, the bumps were mountains and the holes, crevices. This time, my wheels fell off, my tank was empty and I was stuck standing still in the middle of the road watching life drive by.

What went wrong?

I enjoyed what I was doing too much.


Well, when you really like what you’re doing, you tend to want to do it all the time.

And when people tell you they like what you’re doing, that’s all the validation you need.

I loved doing my weekly Ray2Go/LunchBunch Show.

I got to hang out with a panel of good friends and special guests who engaged with me and expanded my knowledge of marketing and business.

I invested many hours researching, producing and promoting the shows on various platforms.

Not being able to sign up a sponsor,  I was out-of-pocket for all this time invested.

I also published a weekly marketing newsletter that took much time to research, curate and format. This left little time to market myself.

Yes, all the content I was creating was a form of marketing. (I believe it’s called content marketing.)

But it wasn’t was selling.

It wasn’t a total waste. I built a large online community. What I didn’t build, was a large online community that converted into clients.

Betting big on Google Plus

A big part of my business had been predicated on staking my claim on Google Plus.

I had started my “social media consulting” business a year before Google rolled out Google Plus. I was a latecomer to most social media platforms, so venturing into Google Plus meant I could stake my claim on what I regarded as the new frontier, my own niche.

Google Plus was a perfect platform on which to build my network and reputation.

Industry leaders jumped on board at the beginning as well. I soon rubbed digital elbows with SEO experts and marketing and business leaders I’d never been able to engage with on any other platform. We were a community of pioneers.

I became known as the Google+ “go-to” guy which is something I resisted, as I wanted to be well-versed in all social media. That’s impossible, so I chose to focus on one platform … in spite of knowing that it’s not smart to put all my eggs in one basket.

But egos are hungry monsters and the daily validation I received from Google Plus fed it well.

I rode the wave as long as I could. I defended G+ each time rumors of its demise bubbled up in the tech press. I was an early adopter of new features and exploited Hangouts and Google Authorship to build my community.

But it became clear Google simply could not be “social.” It wasn’t in their DNA. Engineers don’t make good marketers. I often compared my experience with Google+ as being in an abusive, co-dependent relationship.

Lesson: Don’t go into a relationship thinking you’re going to change someone.

The dismantling of Google+ essentially dismantled my business plan, but without those years,

  • I wouldn’t be as well-versed in best SEO and marketing practices.

  • I wouldn’t have a clue about semantic search or Google My Business listings.

  • I wouldn’t have polished my moderating and video live streaming skills.

  • I wouldn’t have met the many people I now consider friends.

Unfortunately, my wallet wasn’t fed from the enormous amount of time I put into the platform, as the only people I was connecting with were other marketers.

So asking myself what I would have done different, is like asking George Bailey what Bedford Falls would be like had he not been born. Our past decisions, good or bad, shape who we are today.

When social media doesn’t work.

Social media has changed since I first drank the Kool-Aid back in 2009.

Social Media, especially Facebook, has become another broadcast media. Social media is our new television … the news streams, our personal soap operas.

The platform’s survival depends on gaining enough viewers (subscribers) to generate advertising revenue.

As much as I remain enthusiastic about the business potential of social media, I knew I had hit a wall.

I couldn’t bear to see another “list” article, “How to” post, or What (…insert latest popular culture event here…) can tell us about social marketing.

There are many experts who do an exceptional job of that.

I’ve written 187 marketing newsletters starting in 2011 with a weekly Google+ tips to a curated list of articles about online marketing. I created 146 blog posts, produced and hosted over a hundred Ray2Go and RayBunch YouTube Shows.

On top of these, I wrote guests posts for Steamfeed.com, and other sites.

While I tried to infuse my personality into all my content, I felt constrained by remaining true to “my brand.”

There is a freedom that comes from not being self-conscious. There’s a lot of chatter online about lot about being authentic, of telling our own stories.

It takes courage to be yourself.

I tried to be real with the content I created which is why I found social media posts constraining. I’m a strategist. My thing is “the big picture.”

While I enjoy coaching and walking people through processes, I enjoy providing the “why” of the process.

With freedom comes responsibility.

Freedom is a major advantage of being self-employed, but it also means freedom from benefits, weekends, and holidays.

In short, freedom from having a life … until you make the big bucks.

Freedom can also be paralyzing.

Ever watch someone at a  donut or ice cream counter?

They had tons of time to decide while in line, yet when faced with the choices, they hem and haw until you want to place the order for them.

You can’t compete with the big guys.

Being self-employed in the social media marketing space often isn’t scalable.

I couldn’t compete with agencies that provided an entire shopping list of services and the latest technology.

Even if I had access to a talent bank of expert freelancers, companies didn’t feel secure trusting this “new fangled” social media thing with a solopreneur.

Ray working at a Call Center? 

I’m not sure how much control I had in making the choice to move on.

I was stuck at the stop light in my business, I could choose to stay in limbo and yield to whatever comes my way or drive ahead.

Or I could plan a new route, press the accelerator and go.

The new route to me to Image-24, and inbound Call Centre.

I consulted for the business last year. Their progressive attitude and strong company culture was impressive and refreshing.

When owner Gary Blair invited me to join the management team as Director of Digital Marketing, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. The timing couldn’t have been better.

I was at a point where I felt like a failure. I was feeling too old to compete. I thought I had thrown away the last six years working as a digital marketer.

But I was wrong.

These last six years equipped me with the knowledge and confidence to help Image24 reach their business goals. It was precisely my lifetime of business experience along with my social media expertise that earned me the offer.

What have I learned from this experience?


Be resilient, and above all, be yourself.

Thank you for sharing your time with me.

You can view past Ray2Go shows on my YouTube Channel or the audio podcast on Soundcloud.

Ray HiltzRay Hiltz is now Director of Digital Marketing for Image 24 in Montreal.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Nicholas Canup

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