What is digital sharecropping and why is it so dangerous? We explore those questions this week on Sites, with the help of one of the most widely shared strategy articles in the history of Copyblogger.
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Important links from this episode:
- Try StudioPress Sites
- Sites Weekly Newsletter
- Sonia Simone’s article: Digital Sharecropping: The Most Dangerous Threat to Your Content Marketing Strategy
Jerod Morris: Welcome to Sites, a podcast by the teams at StudioPress and Copyblogger. In this show, we deliver time-tested insight on the four pillars of a successful WordPress website: content, design, technology, and strategy. We want to help you get a little bit closer to reaching your online goals, one episode at a time.
I’m your host Jerod Morris.
Sites is brought to you by StudioPress Sites — the complete hosted solution that makes WordPress fast, secure, and easy … without sacrificing power or flexibility. For example, you can upload your own WordPress theme, or, you can use one of the 20 beautiful StudioPress themes that are included and just one click away. Explore all the amazing things you can do with a StudioPress Site, and you’ll understand why this is way more than traditional WordPress hosting. No matter how you’ll be using your site, we have a plan to fit your needs — and your budget. To learn more, visit studiopress.com/sites. That’s studiopress.com/sites
Hi there, and welcome to episode 4 of Sites. It’s great to be back with you, and have another opportunity to help you take the next small step toward the continuous improvement of your website and overall online presence.
It’s time to complete the cycle. In the first three episodes we covered content, design, and technology … which means there is one pillar of a successful WordPress website left for us to cover this week before we start the cycle over again next week.
That pillar is strategy.
So in this episode of Sites, we review one of the most widely shared strategy articles ever written at Copyblogger.
As of the day I’m recording this, it has 7,447 shares — over 3800 on Twitter and over 2000 on Facebook. Clearly, this is a topic, and a lesson, that has connected in a major way.
The reason is because it taps into one of the greatest fears we all have about investing legitimate time and money into building something online: that someday, due to forces totally outside of our control, we could lose what we’ve built.
It’s a frightening proposition, especially if you’ve built your business and livelihood around your online presence.
But it needn’t be so frightening … if you own the land on which you build. That keeps you in control.
And that is the big lesson of this week’s episode of Sites, which is based on a blog post written by Sonia Simone titled Digital Sharecropping: The Most Dangerous Threat to Your Content Marketing Strategy.
What is digital sharecropping and why is it so dangerous?
Let’s explore that now, via words written by Sonia and spoken by me … and don’t forget to stick around after the reading for this week’s hyper-specific call to action.
Digital Sharecropping: The Most Dangerous Threat to Your Content Marketing Strategy
We have a great bookstore in my town — the kind of place you picture in your mind when you think of a great independent bookshop.
It’s perfect for browsing, with lots of comfy chairs to relax in. The books are displayed enticingly. There’s a little coffee shop, so you can relax with an espresso. They get your favorite writers to come in for readings, so there’s always an event and a sense of excitement.
They do everything right, and they’ve always had plenty of customers.
But they still closed their doors last year.
No, not for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t Amazon that killed them, or the proliferation of free content on the web, or the crappy economy.
They closed the store because they were leasing their big, comfortable building … and when that lease ran out, their landlord tripled the rent.
Literally overnight, their business model quit working. Revenues simply wouldn’t exceed costs. A decision made by another party, one they had no control over, took a wonderful business and destroyed it.
And that’s precisely what you risk every day you make your business completely dependent on another company.
It might be Facebook. It might be eBay. It might be Google.
It’s called digital sharecropping, and it means you’re building your business on someone else’s land.
And it’s a recipe for heartbreak and failure.
What’s digital sharecropping, anyway?
Digital sharecropping is a term coined by Nicholas Carr to describe a peculiar phenomenon of Web 2.0.
One of the fundamental economic characteristics of Web 2.0 is the distribution of production into the hands of the many and the concentration of the economic rewards into the hands of the few.
In other words, anyone can create content on sites like Facebook, but that content effectively belongs to Facebook. The more content we create for free, the more valuable Facebook becomes. We do the work, they reap the profit.
The term sharecropping refers to the farming practices common after the U.S. Civil War, but it’s essentially the same thing as feudalism. A big landholder allows individual farmers to work their land and takes most of the profits generated from the crops.
The landlord has all the control. If he decides to get rid of you, you lose your livelihood. If he decides to raise his fees, you go a little hungrier. You do all the work and the landlord gets most of the profit, leaving you a pittance to eke out a living on.
Well, we’re professional content marketers — not subsistence farmers — and our work doesn’t involve 12-hour days in grueling conditions. So is sharecropping still dangerous?
It is, for a couple of reasons …
Reason #1: Landlords are fickle
Let’s look at Facebook. What if you moved all of your marketing to a site like Facebook? It’s local, it’s free to sign up, and it makes businesses feel like they’re doing something cutting-edge.
But what happens when Facebook thinks you’ve done something that violates their terms of service and deletes your account? Or changes the way you’re allowed to talk with your customers?
Facebook is a particularly fast-changing platform, but it’s not the only one. An entire industry has sprung up based on trying to figure out what Google’s going to do tomorrow, both as a search engine and as an advertising platform.
If you’re relying on Facebook or Google to bring in all of your new customers, you’re sharecropping. You’re hoping the landlord will continue to like you and support your business, but the fact is, the landlord has no idea who you are and doesn’t actually care.
Reason #2: Landlords go away
The other problem with sharecropping is that the landlord may or may not be here next year.
Sharecroppers have put millions of hours into sites like Digg or MySpace. And those sites still exist — but they’re no longer bringing the traffic they once did.
Sharecropped land, in other words, has a tendency to become less and less fertile over time.
Maybe Facebook, LinkedIn, or Pinterest will buck the trend. Maybe they’ll continue to stay healthy and vibrant for decades.
The best we can do is guess. And if we guess wrong, our business goes into a slow and steady decline.
So are Facebook and Google bad for business?
Of course not. Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and many more search and social sites are all superb tools to add to our marketing mix.
The secret is to spend most of your time and creative energy building assets that you control.
There are three assets you should be building today and should continue to focus on for the lifetime of your digital business:
- A well-designed website with your own hosting — go back and listen to episodes 2 and 3 of Sites for more on each of these topics.
- An opt-in email list, ideally with a high-quality autoresponder
- A reputation for providing impeccable value
Developing these assets are the equivalent of buying your building instead of renting it.
Any of these can still fall prey to outside influences. The bookstore’s building can burn down. And your site can be hacked, your email account closed down, your reputation smeared.
But repairing your assets is in your control. You can fix the hacked code, export your email list to another provider, and respond effectively to manage your reputation.
More importantly, you can proactively protect those assets by taking website security seriously, avoiding any spammy or dodgy practices with your email, and cultivating a loyal audience who will vouch for you as being one of the good guys.
You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your business — don’t put it all at risk by building on rented land.
Again, that blog post by Sonia Simone is titled Digital Sharecropping: The Most Dangerous Threat to Your Content Marketing Strategy and it was originally published at Copyblogger.com. I’ll have a link to the original post in the show notes, which you can find at studiopress.blog/sites04 because this is episode number four.
Now here is this week’s hyper-specific call to action:
Call to action
Take five minutes this week — preferably right now, since this content is fresh in your mind — and review your content and community mix.
How dependent are you on Facebook, Google, Twitter, or any other sites that are great for distributing content and making connections … but that you don’t own?
And here’s a way to think about it: when you consider your audience, is your first thought to think about how many Twitter followers or Facebook likes you have, or is your first thought to think about how many people are on your email list or how many site members you have? Because remember: the way you interact with your audience on Twitter and Facebook could be forced to change or even taken away at any time. But you’ll always own and determine the rules of engagement with YOUR list on YOUR site. It’s an empowering feeling.
So think about how much you may be digital sharecropping, even unintentionally, and then the next step is figuring out how to regain any control you may have ceded.
Coming next week, we start the cycle over. We’ve now done an episode each on content, design, technology, and strategy … so it’s back to content.
In our first content episode, we discussed the three-part strategy for crafting a winning content marketing strategy: the who, the what, and the how. Now we get to explore each of those areas further, starting with the who. We’ll discuss how to attract your ideal customer with perfectly positioned content.
That’s next week, on Sites.
Finally, before I go, here are a couple more quick calls to action for you to consider:
Subscribe to Sites Weekly
Take this opportunity to activate your free subscription to our curated weekly email newsletter, Sites Weekly. Each week, I find four links about content, design, technology, and strategy that you don’t want to miss, and then I send them out on Wednesday afternoon.
Reading this newsletter will help you make your website more powerful and successful. Go to studiopress.com/news and sign up in one step right there at the top of the page. That’s studiopress.com/news.
Rate and Review Sites on Apple Podcasts
Also, if you enjoy the Sites podcast, please subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts (formerly known as iTunes), and consider giving us a rating or a review over there as well.
One quick tip on that: to make the best use of your review, let me know something in particular you like about the show. That feedback is really important.
For example, one of our early reviews says: “I never knew that there was so much to consider when it came to my website, but thanks to this podcast, I now look at my site through a new constructive lens. Thanks to this show, I’ve been taking action to improve my online appearance. I am eagerly awaiting more.”
That’s helpful — both to me, as I look to continue to improve the show, and to people who are browsing shows in Apple Podcasts wondering what will give them the most value for the time they invest in listening.
To find us in Apple Podcasts, search for StudioPress Sites and look for the mesmerizing purple logo designed by Rafal Tomal. You can also go to the URL sites.fm/apple and it will redirect you to our Apple Podcasts page.
And with that, we come to the close of another episode. Thank you for listening to this episode of Sites. I appreciate you being here.
Join me next week, and let’s keep building powerful, successful websites together.
This episode of sites was brought to you by StudioPress Sites, which was awarded “Fastest WordPress Hosting” of 2017 in an independent speed test. If you want to make WordPress fast, secure, and easy — and, I mean, why wouldn’t you — visit studiopress.com/sites today and see which plan fits your needs. That’s studiopress.com/sites.