Is digital sharecropping damaging to marketing?

24th Nov 2017

Are you a digital tenant? The likeliness is that you are and might not even realise. 

If you're a devotee of social media, or a devout blogger, then you're potentially publishing your life in places that don't belong to you. Where anything from your latest post on 'How to Make the World's Best Flapjack,' to pictures of your family can be uploaded into the hands of your platform's owner. 

Even the video you uploaded to YouTube of your cat's reaction to seeing a cucumber has been placed in a jurisdiction other than your own. 

This practice is known as Digital Sharecropping. A term derived from agricultural times where landowners would lease their farmland for tenants to work on at disproportionately high prices. This lined the pockets of landlords as the cost of the farmers - who were left with a fraction of the proceeds. 

With this definition in mind, now think of your WordPress blog as an example. That great article you published last week that brought in 10% of your monthly traffic overnight actually forged a spike in traffic for WordPress - as hosts, they profit from your exposure, even though it may not be a direct benefit. 

But your intellectual property belongs to you, right? Well, WordPress, like many blogging platforms, reserves the right to terminate your blog at any time, with no reason or notice. And it's the same with the terms of service of most social media sites, and video hosting platforms. 

Being so intrinsically intertwined with your digital landowners also means that your performance is dependant on your host's performance. MySpace was a great online stage for emerging musicians and artists before the platform fell out of popularity and begun haemorrhaging traffic. This was through no fault of its user base; the social network was simply overtaken by the likes of Facebook and Twitter - and the carefully crafted online presences based on the platform went down with the ship. 

While the success of market leading hosts such as YouTube, Facebook and WordPress have now been well sustained for well over a decade in some cases, it's imperative that you future-proof your intellectual property. And the best way to ensure that you're safe from whatever uncertainty may be thrown in your content's direction is to rise up from the mire of the Digital Sharecroppers. 

How can we escape the all-encompassing internet land barons of today? Well, here's a little three-step guide on how to put the life of your blog back into your own hands.  

1. Become your own host

SEO giants MOZ not only have their own domain but also took a step of releasing their most popular video content, Whiteboard Friday, which focuses on providing valuable SEO tips via their website while uploading it to YouTube at a later date.

Here is an example (notice the date):

Published on MOZ on June 9th, 2017.

Moz Whiteboard Friday

Published on YouTube on  October 19th, 2017.

YouTube Video

Why did they decide to do this? Why at a later date on YouTube? Because despite their YouTube content being credited to them, the traffic, and more importantly ranking positions and links would primarily go to YouTube’s version, and not, simply because Google prioritises its own video content in search - this meant that the thousands of views their content got were taking place away from their own website. This shift caused the content makers to reap the rewards of large audiences visiting their site to watch their work. 

Another great example is guest blogging. This is when you publish a valuable piece of content on someone's website, giving massive value to the owner of the website you're posting on for a chance of getting some extra exposure for your own website and brand. Hence, placing your own interests in the second place. 

This is just an example of how hosting your content can significantly increase your traffic, but the bigger appeal is that you'll be able to own your intellectual property. 

Becoming your host means that you'll be in control of your website's destiny, and that you'll be free of dependence on a third party's rules and regulations or any reliance on a platform's popularity to survive. Luckily, there are plenty of options to choose from.

2. Hedge your bets

To hedge your blogging bets is to utilise many platforms as a method of avoiding dependence on one particular web host or social media as a traffic driving avenue.

The fleeting MySpace era of social media monopoly is long gone, and it's been replaced by myriad platforms with their own niche focus. From the friendly familiarity of Facebook, to Twitter's micro-blogging, to Instagram's image blogging, all the way to YouTube's vlogging - all have different concentrations, and all are capable of bringing in different audiences. And the best part of spreading your presence across multiple hosts is that if one disappears overnight, it won't cripple your business model. 

3. Foster your audience first-hand 

If Twitter goes down, or a Facebook interface update leaves your page looking less prominent on your audience's news feeds, you run the risk of losing your audience share. 

You can counter this with good old fashioned marketing and outreach that isn't dependent on other platforms and domains. 

Create a call-to-action and invite visitors to your mailing list in return for free content. This will make for a valuable user base that you can reach without any sharecroppers in sight - you'll be able to promote your work straight to their inbox, and they can interact directly with your site in return.

And thus concludes our three main points to ensure that your domain is future proofed and prepared just in case Mark Zuckerberg forgets to pay his electricity bill, or WordPress decides to leave the world of hosting and move into the business of creating memes. Okay, those particular scenarios are unlikely, but you won't be bothered - you're now the master of your blog's destiny!

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