Sharecropping is an old reference that dates back to farming practices most popularly used after the Civil War. With sharecropping, a landowner would allow a tenant to live and work on their land in return for a share of the crop produced. This had the advantage of being an efficient way for people to farm and earn a living without being wealthy enough to own land. But for the tenant, it also had the disadvantage of being exploited by the landowner and the potential to have terms outside the control of the sharecropper changed – sometimes leading to an instantaneous loss of livelihood.
Digital sharecropping is similar in its benefits and pitfalls. Digital sharecropping is considered to be the act of building your online business presence purely on social media or blogging websites like Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, or WordPress. When you create content hosted on websites you do not own, you take advantage of the free opportunities available to you, while simultaneously increasing the value of the platform you are using. Unfortunately, you also take the risk of losing control of your content.
On Facebook you have the illusion of control when you post content, but if what you write is deemed to be against Facebook’s ever-evolving rules, your content can be deleted and you can even be banned from using their social media platform. In their latest algorithm change, Facebook effectively decreased the number of people who will see your posts – unless you pay them for additional views. These issues are outside of your control and can have a deep negative impact on your business if you are primarily posting content through their service exclusively. If you have built up quite a following on Facebook and you rely on that interaction with customers and potential customers there, it can be devastating to lose visibility there.
You also have no control over when users move on from a website you are hosting content on. Many business owners were caught off guard and immediately were behind the curve when their customer base abandoned MySpace for Facebook. Additionally, even companies that correctly anticipated the shift lost years worth of content that they had posted to MySpace and was now condemned to the proverbial Internet waste bin. Another historical example of this is when Yahoo! discontinued GeoCities service in the United States. Companies that had all of their content on GeoCities lost big and were forced to move on.
Digital sharecropping is dangerous: years of marketing by posting your content on a popular website can be wiped out overnight. It is important to keep control of your content on your own website. Even the most trusted third-party can end popular third-party services and obliterate your business presence.
The most effective way to build your online content is through your own website. Your own website should be your primary social media hub and serve the vast majority of your content – utilizing other websites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ as attractors to your website, not your content hub. Think of social media sites as “road signs” that point people to the true destination they desire on their journey to seek a particular product, service, or tidbit of information.
When you use your own website as the focal point for your online presence, you can work to enhance its reputation through Facebook, Google+, and other outlets without the risk of losing your following when one of those websites disappears or changes its terms. You can always build reputation for your website on the next big thing, without losing content or being condemned to having your content on an unpopular or defunct website.