Sharecroppers farm land that doesn’t belong to them. They give most of what they produce to the landlord. Sharecroppers never get ahead. Their livelihoods are built on other people’s real estate and their futures are determined by other people’s whims.
A similarly tenuous situation is common in the retail world. Many small shop owners rent store space. With little or no warning the building is sold out from under them or the landlord quadruples the rent. The owner is forced to close her shop even though it is doing great. She may try to start over in a new location. Sometimes that works. Mostly it doesn’t.
There is an online version of this risky business strategy. It’s called digital sharecropping and it happens when an organization builds its audience on someone else’s platform, on a site it doesn’t own. Ever heard of Facebook?
If Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram is the only place you connect with your customers or members online, the only vehicle through which you can reach them, what happens if Pinterest closes or Facebook changes the rules about what you can say, starts charging you or deletes your page?
What if a new platform pops up out of nowhere? Plenty of remorseful people built huge followings on My Space. One day everything was fine and then faster than anyone could have imagined, the formerly lively site had become a ghost town.
Over the last year or so many Facebook users, including some very large companies, have seen the number of people reading their posts diminish. They’re afraid Facebook is becoming a “pay to play” service. They are convinced that soon only posts from those who purchase ads will be seen. That’s probably a little melodramatic and something of an overreaction. However, one thing is certain. The owners of Facebook will do whatever they feel is best for Facebook. How their decisions affect you is irrelevant.
The same applies to Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn and all the rest.
So what does this mean? Should you abandon social platforms? No, no and no.
As long as your audience and potential customers are on social media – and they are in the millions – you need to be there too. Social should be part of your marketing strategy, but just a part.
You must have a website that you own, where you control your destiny, a site where you post whatever you like. You need a site where you are the landlord, where you own the digital real estate and the content.
You also need an email list so that you can communicate directly with your customers, members, subscribers and fans without middlemen or filters.
If the unthinkable happens and Facebook goes away, Pinterest becomes a significantly different type of online environment, or your audience drifts to another platform, it won’t matter. You will still be able to contact them. You’ll still be able to connect.
In our next post we’ll talk about how to build and manage your online assets. It’s easier and much, much cheaper than you think. Really.