I sometimes wonder if I come off as a paranoid conspiracy theorist when I talk to my clients about social media.

Hear me out.

Smarter people than me have hashed that idea out in articles and think pieces all over the internet: social media isn’t a strategy for business growth; it’s a tactic. It’s a tool in the tool box.  But for small business owners, many of whom do their own social media, it’s easy for that point to get lost.

Take Facebook. When you have a business Facebook page, the platform immediately starts spamming you with “necessary” updates and information you need to put on your page, or it will automatically try to fill it in for you. You will get notifications about “engagements” with your page, views on your posts. The company also starts adding in phantom “this is what your promoted post would look like” ads on your feed, showing how many people you can “reach” using non-paid posts you have already created.

Many of my smaller clients, at some point, will approach me about adding in a paid service on one of the platforms or sites they use. When I ask where they got the idea to do the paid advertising or extra service, they usually think for a second, and then realize that the platform itself had suggested it.

I like these services. They are helpful. I use many of them in my daily work. Sometimes paying for features is absolutely worth the investment.

But there is no doubting that Instagram wants you to use more Instagram. Mailchimp wants you to use Mailchimp. Airtable want you to organize your life using Airtable, and oh my goodness, does Facebook want you to use more Facebook.

I tell my clients that we should only pay for features with one eye on the fundamental reality: the more this platform can convince you that their service is good for your business, the more money (and time) you will spend with them. And they will take your money, and use it to further convince you to use more of their services to grow your business.

I know, I know, this is what the market looks like, how it functions. Like I said, sometimes I wonder if I sound like a business strategist or a conspiracy theorist. The business model behind these behemoths is obvious, even if somewhat out-of-sight.

But for individual business owners, the larger message can get lost. When you’re running a business, wearing seven different hats, and trying to keep up with a platform, you may not realize that these companies have a vested interest in creating a sense of urgency around using their services. When you use a platform a lot, you may not realize that the platform is a marketing machine for itself.

I want to steer my clients toward marketing and communications tactics that are the best use of their resources. That requires thinking about why we put certain resources toward what- and how those ideas got into our brains in the first place.