Digital Sharecropping: The Most Dangerous Threat to Your Online Marketing

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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 a sense of event and 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 not subsistence farmers any more, and our work doesn’t involve 12-hour days in grueling conditions. So is sharecropping still dangerous?

It is, for a couple of reasons …

Landlords are fickle

More and more small businesses are moving all of their marketing to sites like Facebook. It’s local, it’s free (or at least cheap), 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.

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 or LinkedIn or Google+ will buck the trend. Maybe they’ll continue to stay healthy and vibrant for decades, rather than a year or two.

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, and many more 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 business:

  1. A well-designed website with your own hosting account
  2. An opt-in email list, ideally with a high-quality autoresponder
  3. A reputation for providing impeccable value

These things are the equivalent of buying your building instead of renting it.

Now any of these can 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 important, 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.

How about you — do you feel confident that you’re developing your own online assets? How’s the balance between assets you control and third-party sites like Facebook or Twitter?

Let us know about it in the comments.

About the author

Sonia Simone


Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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  1. I spend the majority of my time on my own properties. I control them and I don’t need to worry about a social network becoming irrelevant the way MySpace did when it comes to my marketing efforts.

    I still use the variety of platforms out there to help spread my word, but since it’s so saturated with people, brands, and spam, it can be tough for your message or content to be heard amongst the noise. It’s much better to use platforms like Twitter or Facebook to focus on the audience that listens because the majority of people are talking about their own thing.

    I believe social media is a great marketing tool if used correctly, but nothing beats your own property where you have total control. Since the internet is full of the same rehashed information, we need to think outside the box when it comes to our marketing efforts.

    • Exactly. I see so many people advising that you start building your web business on either social profiles or free website platforms like Blogger, Blogspot or WordPress.com, but anything you put up on those sites can be taken away in an instant if the company fails or decides it doesn’t like your content.

      It’s so much smarter to invest the time, money in energy in setting things up right – on your own hosted account – from the beginning.

      • It’s WordPress.org or nothing.

      • I am not sure that the extra costs and effort associated is ALWAYS justified. Yes if you live in constant fear but no if you are rational. Not many companies statistically get taken down from social networks as most are not using them properly to even get banned, yes there are sabotages to facebook accounts etc, but you are getting something totally free up to that point. If the worse comes to the worse then reassess after this but initially for many businesses a totally free solution is perhaps best. This is not what I would do but for many businesses it will suffice just fine especially when they are taking initial steps….of course things may change, and I fully understand the crux of the article, just feel a bit far fetched in reality….a web hosting company can also take down any website they want for many reasons, nothing is safe fully.

        However the truth is that spending money on services such as microsite building facebook account design and quality blog design as well as serous social media marketing is always better than dabbling. Why? You look better in all that noise and your results are more measurable, you should also see better returns on your investment, but let’s not stop people and businesses tying things out for fears sake and relax a bit.

        • Nelson Martinez :

          Great point! One thing is to be aware of the changes, challenges and dangers of the wild-internet-jungle out there, and another is learn and take advantage of what we can use while is available and measurable effective.

      • Yes you are right, but many people use turnkey service provided by other in order to achieve success faster. Using Blogger, Facebook, Google can make you business grow faster. It’s nice to also think, “what would I do if these services would NOT exist … ?”, but they exist do and many are here to stay … ;)

  2. Site owners cannot rely on one source of traffic if they want to survive! I’ve read more than one blog post where the author recommended abandoning your website in favor of your social profiles. I couldn’t believe it! First off, your website is the only thing online that you have absolute control over. Secondly, if Facebook shut its doors tomorrow, where would that leave you?

  3. Yeah relying on one traffic source is a sandy foundation indeed. Marketing is becoming more challenging with the increasing popularity of the internet but that’s what makes it so fun! There are so many outlets for gaining traffic and momentum and one of my favorites is article marketing. Social media has always been a challenge for me outside of Facebook. I can’t bring myself to stay on Twitter 4 hours a day haha. Great post and so important.

  4. Great article, Sonia! You explain the concept of digital sharecropping nicely.

    I’ve always wondered what the heck businesses were thinking when they steered people away from their own websites and toward their Facebook pages. Mark Zuckerberg changes the rules all the time on Facebook, and like you say, you don’t actually own any of the content you put on Facebook – they do!

    I don’t have an online business (yet!), but when I do, I’ll still plan on using social media to get my message out there – but I’ll mostly focus on developing my own online assets: email lists, a great website, and an awesome reputation.

  5. Multiple eggs, multiple baskets. That’s the way to go if you want to safeguard your marketing efforts!

    • I agree with this, well put. I would add that that the 3 assets noted in the post are not necessarily in priority order, right?

      • Not in order of importance, but probably in order of when you build them, at least for most businesses. Reputation is king, and even if all of your other assets get nuked, that’s the one that can keep you going. But it also takes the longest to build. :)

  6. Digital sharecropping is a scary and loaded term…keep in mind, that you still are renting your land even if you “own your site”.

    Take a quick look at your ISPs/WebHosts/Domain Registrar’s TOS sometime…see just how much you actually own.

    We make trade offs with everything we do online: we give away privacy, or ownership, or both depending on what we are doing.

    So let’s not scare people into running out and getting a WordPress site and a Premium theme if they don’t need it.

    The fact is: we work in ephemeral media. How many sites from 1996 are still around, vital, active, growing? Right.

    Online businesses are not as concrete (pardon the pun) as as offline businesses.

    Let’s keep it all in perspective, and pull back from the slavery imagery, okay? Bloggers need social media to promote their content, so “a fair exchange ain’t no robbery”.

    Own your content, yes. Make sure it’s copyrighted and backed up.

    Own your URL. Absolutely.

    Own your reputation? Absolutely. Note that having a good reputation has nothing to do with site ownership, or “sharecropping”.

    Own your email list? Absolutely.

    “Own” your own site? If you own the other four, then do you need to own the backend? Be honest. Probably not.

    • Justin, last year about this time, a publicly-traded company offered me 7 figures for the Copyblogger website. Not the lines of business that generate the revenue — StudioPress, Scribe, Premise, and Teaching Sells — just the website.

      I turned that offer down and formed Copyblogger Media instead, because Copyblogger.com is worth way more than that offer to us as a launch and content marketing platform. The search traffic alone is worth serious money.

      So, rather than scaring people (although not being in control of your platform is rightfully scary), we’re telling people to build media assets that are worth real money. Creating the content and the email list takes as much work whether you build on Facebook or on your own domain, so why would you ever choose anything other than your own asset?

      “Own” you own site? Only if you like control over your own efforts and having a valuable asset on your books that someone may want to buy from you.

      • Brian,

        I am not in fundamental disagreement here. If you take a look at the comment, you will see that I agree that you need to own your URL, your content, your list, your reputation.

        I’m questioning whether, if you own those things, do you need to “own” the site as well. I don’t think you do.

        Your reputation (Sonia’s as well) is built by the content shared under your name, no matter which platform it is.

        If you moved everything to Tumblr tomorrow, would anyone really care? Would it be any less valuable?

        See what I’m getting at? The pipes are incidental to the content and the reputation behind it. The asset is not the platform, but the people.

        Peace,
        JW

        • I would care, because my business would be worth 7 figures less. No one is going to buy my Tumblr account for cash.

          And then what happens when Tumblr goes under for lack of a business model (which is actually quite likely)?

          I end up (hopefully) exporting all my content to my own host, and end up right where I should have started.

          • Okay, I get that, and that makes a good point. If you want to grow a blog business and sell it, a free platform is out.

            However…was TechCrunch any less valuable to AOL because it was hosted on WordPress.com?

            Another question, and this is probably going to far afield…but Steve Rubel, Gary Vanyerchuck, Stowe Boyd, and others have all moved off their own platforms to Tumblr or elsewhere…do you think they are putting their “business” at risk by doing so?

          • Tech Crunch had a sweetheart deal with WordPress.com, because WP.com doesn’t allow commercial activity for “regular” people. So, while WP.com will let you easily export your site to another host with the .org WP software, you can’t really run a business there (unless you’re TC) because they make the rules, not you. Why not just start on your own land?

            Steve Rubel is a corporate employee with a track record of bad decisions. I like Steve, but I don’t take his advice seriously.

            Gary moved his personal blog to Tumblr, but all his true business sites are hosted by Media Temple.

            Stowe isn’t really a business guy. He can do what whatever he wants, but that doesn’t make it a smart business move.

            In short, we give advice based on what we do as business people and content creators. We also only sell things that we personally use in our business. That’s how we roll, so we can’t (and won’t) speak for others.

          • For the record, Brian wins this argument with his comment with his point about Tumblr. If they go under, you lose the platform your business was buil on. When is that ever a sound business decision?

        • Tumblr has a history of deleting sites if they think you’re doing something they don’t like, like affiliate marketing. So it’s quite a good example — using a site like Tumblr seems like a simple way to get started, but the risks aren’t always apparent.

          • Love this discussion, and it’s exactly why I switched to self-hosted six months ago.

            One question: Do you not “own” your content, if you’re on WordPress.com with domain mapping (meaning you own the domain but don’t pay for hosting)?

            I’ve gotten that a couple of times and honestly don’t know the answer. I have my assumptions but would give a lot of credence to your expertise.

          • How hosed would you be if WordPress.com magically disappeared tomorrow, or if they deleted your site? If you can easily port to another host, then I say you’re in good shape.

          • Sonia,

            That’s why I brought it up!

            I actually discussed the affiliate marketing thing with Tumblr a while back: their official stance is that you can put up ads, and include affiliate links, but that can’t be the be/end all of your site there. They want content, not ClickBank domination. :)

            And many of the sites that they cull are sharing a bunch of content they don’t own, and copyright holder complained. That could happen on any platform.

            That said…Tumblr can be a really powerful tool with the right content.

            Take PutThisOn for example.

            They went where their potential clients were, and are reaping the benefits of it. Would they have the same traffic on their own, self hosted, platform? Maybe, maybe not. Fashion blogs are so difficult to judge, because the content is often commentary on other’s content. It works well on Tumblr.

            Okay, they may be an exception to the rule.

            For the right business, I would not be so quick to rule the platform out, particularly if you follow your other advice.

            Thanks!
            JW

    • Looks like Sonia pushed a button here, but I’m confused. How is this article a scare tactic for selling a premium wordpress theme?

      The point of the article was simple: don’t build someone elses’ house at the expense of building your own house. That’s great business advice.

      There’s only so much time in the day, and if you’re spending your time working for someone else, you’re not realizing maximum benefit.

      I can only speak from my experience of building several popular blogs, though. Even recently, with Social Triggers, I completely ignored social media for building my audience. What people deem necessary, isn’t as vital as they think.

      Yes, I still get a lot of traffic from social media, but you don’t see me over promoting someone elses’ website. I only promote what benefits me… the email list… and I was able to build a large audience in a few months.

      And for the record, with hosting and ISPs, you do own your content and your url and your backend. Yes, you can lose your hosting account, but you can move it to another host without a problem (unless of course you’re breaking the law).

      • Derek,

        That’s what I was getting at: if you have your content, and the URL, then the content is really independent of the platform you are on. You can move it anywhere you want.

        But let’s not kid ourselves that the sharecropping starts when you get to social media. Do you really think your Web host, or ISP for that matter, really cares about you, your business, or your content? No. They just care about one more account for their marketing stats, and one more monthly payment on their books.

        If we want to really talk about growing other people’s assets before we even grow our own, then the sharecropping starts way earlier than most bloggers care to admit.

        Peace,
        JW

        • Your comparison of web hosting and social media is flawed. You can change web hosts, and people following your site would be none the wiser.

          • Probably is. I’m known for flawed reasoning at times. :)

            What I am getting at is this conceptualization of content that you “own” or sites you “control” when every step of setting up and growing the blog/business brings you into these TOSes that modify or transfer those rights.

            The social sites are just another layer of TOSes on top of those.

            If you have the URL, and the content, then you are right, you can move your blog from host to host without any issue. As long as you aren’t doing anything criminal.

            The same way you can move from Blogger, to Tumblr, to Posterous, to whatever the next flavor of the month is, and back.

        • There’s definitely some risk there, too — but it’s much lower. And as Derek says, if you do get hosed by your host, it’s pretty seamless to find someone else and port over.You may lose a day or two.

          Compare that to Mari Smith having her Facebook account suspended, Darren Rowse’s YouTube channel being suspended, thousands of companies having AdSense accounts deleted without any reason being given, etc. (In Mari and Darren’s case, they were well-protected because they have highly diverse ways for people to find them & connect with their content.)

          If you have your own content and your own URL, then I agree, the plumbing isn’t necessarily make-or-break. For example, I’d rather see a business owner use Typepad on her own domain than build a site on the Typepad domain, as I did when I was starting out. The question for me is how easy is it to move your content over if the pipes you’re using now aren’t doing the job.

          It’s definitely true that we do depend on third parties. If Aweber just decided to close their doors tomorrow, it would suck for our business. If Google decided to blacklist Copyblogger, our traffic would go down. But it wouldn’t kill us, not by a long shot.

          • I’m sure you’re making backups of your Aweber lists too… I do. I back them up at least once a week, just in case Aweber explodes (which probably won’t happen, but it’s good to be prepared).

          • Really good point.

          • The bottom line for me, is owning my own real estate, to do what I can to protect my assets. This article is important especially for newbie. The key is to plan your activity to allow for flexibility. To have an alternate course of action if needed. Everything we use and do is subject to change.

            Preparation and flexibility to adjust to a changing environment are vital. Do not put all your eggs in one basket.

            Appreciate the article…by the way a Key element in Physical Real estate, your home, business etc, is LOCATION….LOCATION..

        • Justin, let me set the record straight.

          I’m up at 11:30 PM because I’m switching hosts for a client. I live this stuff. Let’s get down to brass tacks.

          WordPress is self-hosted. WordPress could quit supporting their product and your site wouldn’t crash.

          You can back up your site with .MySQL files on a daily basis, so if your host dies tonight, you’ll be able to mimic the entire database in a new host.

          As Derek wisely points out, you can back up your AWeber with a .CSV.

          That leaves us with domains, which is the stickiest part. Every domain provider (GoDaddy, DomainSite, BlueHost, etc.) answers to a global company. This company is ultimately in control of every conceivable domain on the planet. Imagine the Federal Reserve, except international. Most reps I talk to don’t understand how it works.

          We won’t get into security issues, since that’s an ongoing game in any sphere.

          But the point is, if you own a Web site, you’re the king. Period.

    • Agreed.

      Tis the danger of writing for a marketing site with a savvy readership — your audience knows when they are being played.

      Still, it’s a good example of fear-relief copy.

      • If you truly believe I’m trying to play you, I guess there’s not much I can do to change your mind.

      • Leigh,

        Please don’t charge Sonia with playing this audience, it’s a serious accusation and I don’t like it at all.

        This is a real issue for real publishers.

        Is she (or, primarily, Nicholas Carr) wrong? Back up your words, throw all your work — your entire business — on third-party sites from here on out and we’ll see who’s playing who before the end of this decade.

      • @Leigh: This site has 147,000 subscribers. Why? Because we’ve come to know and trust the voices of Brian Clark and Sonia Simone. You can’t imagine how off base your comment is … but 147,000 subscribers can.

      • My first thought was “good headline”.

        My 2nd was, “good advice”. I just gave the same advice today to a friend who’s Facebook heavy in her marketing.

        But my overarching thought after reading this comment was, “Copyblogger has given me TONS of fantastic advice for free and for pay. Yes, they sell products built on a “non-digital-sharecropping” model (wordpress.org) but they believe in their products. I believe in their products, too.

        Copyblogger finds needs, fills them with great products and offers them at fair prices.

        I don’t feel played, I feel like I’m getting good advice from a trusted source.

        • I don’t see any kind of ‘playing’ or ‘gaming’ going on.

          If you read Copyblogger regularly you’ll see Brian and Sonia repeatedly warning against digital sharecropping in comments on different posts.

          It’s not like they’re trying to sell Copyblogger Domain Hostings with this post is it?

          Strange comment. (And good article Sonia!).

          Paul

      • @Leigh Yes, the marketing savvy audience knows the technique that’s being used, but it’s not a play if it’s true. If you still think it is, I’m sure there are other sites that will welcome your comments.

    • Why not “own” your own site? I do a lot of work with non-profits, many of them in the “religious” category. They would be fools to invest everything in Facebook or Google or anyone else who can change the rules mid-game and shut down their accounts.

      I think this article does a great job of illustrating the problem with building your business or organization on Facebook or any other third-party platform you have no control over. Years ago I watched a radio station ditch their website and sink everything into MySpace. Less than a year later their listeners were leaving MySpace for Facebook.

      So some may think the article is pushing FUD, but that’s what it takes to make people open their eyes instead of blindly jumping head-first into “social media.”

      • Yes, I’ve seen many businesses rely 100% on some other company for their marketing — at the moment, lots of small bricks-and-mortar businesses are building essentially nothing on their own domain, while they port lots of rich material to Facebook.

        We love social media and it’s a great tool, but the smart way is to use it to build an audience for what you create on your home base.

        • A client of mine ran into a “social media specialist” a couple months ago that told him to focus everything on Facebook–his website wasn’t necessary. (Of course, this “specialist” would set everything up at a “great price” for my client.) Having your article will certainly help to illuminate the dangers of such a practice. Thank you!

        • Yes, Social Media is a tool, not the base of your business. Some people can’t see the difference between those two concepts.

          I can’t believe that at this point and for the current price of a hosting service + domain + theme (free or premium) we are having this discussion.

          This article is just common sense. Very well written but nothing else than plain good advice.

          About Sonia playing the audience… no comments. Clearly that person doesn’t know you.

      • Agreed. My business is still in the start-up stage, but I refuse to let it be subject to random alleged breaches of TOS. I’m one of those people mentioned above that had an AdSense account suspended for no reason. I never HAD an AdSense account. By the time I actually signed up for one, I’d ALREADY been deactivated. How much sense does that make?

        So after banging my head against the wall (or rather, firing off angry emails into the black void of Google Customer Service), I decided I wasn’t going to ever rely solely on one platform to drive traffic, increase visibility, or earn new referrals and business. I do most of my business by building face to face relationships, and all the social networking efforts are icing on the cake in my opinion.

    • @Justin Whitaker said “keep in mind, that you still are renting your land even if you own your site”.

      Justin,

      Putting your business assets on your own website (real estate) is a much better idea versus putting them on Facebook, YouTube, etc. You can always switch hosting companies, but if your assets are on 3rd party sites you cannot do that.

      A powerful example that demonstrates this point is earlier this year when Darren Rowse’s (ProBlogger) YouTube account was suspended.
      http://www.problogger.net/archives/2011/06/12/dear-youtube-you-broke-my-heart-an-open-letter-to-youtube/

      It happened to others as well since YouTube took action against what it thought were “make money online” scam accounts.

      Luckily Darren’s business does not depend on YouTube to survive, but imagine what would happen to video bloggers that do depend solely on sites like YouTube? Their entire business could get taken down in an instant.

      So even if you “own your content”, if it is housed on somebody else’s real estate, your business is playing with fire!

      • Another example would be Google’s suspension of Google+ accounts near the end of July.

        http://www.zdnet.com/blog/violetblue/google-plus-deleting-accounts-en-masse-no-clear-answers/567

      • Ted,

        All businesses are risky, internet businesses doubly so. :)

        There are a lot of video bloggers that do not host their videos locally-they publish on Vimeo, or YouTube, and embed back to their site.

        So whether or not they have the self hosted blog or not really doesn’t mitigate the risk of YouTube closing their channel.

        The same thing if your blog traffic is dependent on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or some other site, and not the quality of the content.

        What I am trying to point out, in my own bludgeoning of the language, is that there are really two issues here, and they really aren’t correlated.

        The business is the content, and the reputation. Those things are portable, particularly if you own your URL, and you have all your content backed up.

        What I am taking issue with is confusing that with the platform it is delivered across. Do we really want to, or do we, believe that the blog or blog business is dependent on which blog system is used?

        Rock on!
        JW

        • I don’t think it makes one tiny bit of difference (assuming your code is clean enough for search engines to parse) what platform your site is built on. You wanna use Joomla or Drupal or Typepad or static HTML, be my guest. :)

          WordPress is great software and comes with lots of advantages, but it’s not the only right way. I agree with you — it’s about owning your content (and having it backed up) & owning your URL.

        • I think you’re a tad bit confused on what the analogy is trying to portray.

          If your customers go to your facebook page to find your content (i.e. type in facebook.com then type in your name in the search tool) instead of heading over to your URL, you’re share cropping. If your customers go to your URL, but are directed to facebook, youtube, &c. you are share cropping.

          Your content on facebook, YouTube, &c. should be directing customers to your URL. Not your content to facebook, YouTube, &c.

          So, yes you are “renting” by buying hosting, but that is more like getting different doorkeepers and house hands than it is getting new land. No one cares if you get a new doorkeeper or a new house hand, but they get pissed off when they try to drive to your plantation and it’s burnt down and you don’t live there no more with no sign saying you moved to another plantation.

    • Heh, you’ve made some interesting points Justin.

      To be consistent, we don’t own anything.

      You don’t own your house. Just quit paying your taxes and see what happens.

      These are deep waters. ;)

  7. Love the post.

    Many of my clients live (and die) by the latest and greatest … Unfortunately a solid, foundation in a search engine optimized website *with conversion form to start building a list) isn’t as sexy as the latest shiny new time consumer (In many instances). It’s really too bad becayhse there are a lot of really great businesses out there that won’t be around next year.

    Keep up the awesome content.

  8. Love the analogies in your post! I find I spend a lot of time researching other “real estate” on the web that can compliment my clients or the issues/books they represent. While I feel a presence in the big box sites is important, especially if you are cultivating conversations, but there are literally tons of others who bring valuable traffic which may be more obscure. You never know where the next big one may come from! You’ve also given me good reason to start spending even more time at my own site and using it more efficiently for the betterment of all.

  9. Great metaphor!
    I put all my content on my blog and drive traffic back to it from all those other sites.

  10. That’s why we should have our own domain name, hosting and content carefully crafted to help people solve their problems.

    That said, writing great content on our own property and waiting for traffic won’t work either, especially for start-ups. And one of the effective ways to drive traffic to our content and our property is to share our valuable content with those “landlords.”

    • I totally agree — do use those sites to drive traffic. That’s smart and a great use of your time.

      The question I’d ask is, If this third-party site or platform somehow disappeared tomorrow, would my business still be ok? Have I diversified the ways that new people can find me, so I’m not dependent on a single platform?

  11. Great article!

    Certainly supports my multi-pronged approach to marketing. I’ve always said, “It’s not one thing you do in marketing, its everything you do.”

    Today there are many channels to get your message out. I use as many as practical.

  12. Thank you. It is great advice for every small business that it attempting to market FB and other such venues. The “Sharecropping” term was a great attention getter. I am passing this along to all of my small business friends.

  13. A very good topic. I just read some really interesting articles written totally in facebook notes. I like to think of my blog as my online office. Everything should spin out of my blog and places like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter are merely places to showcase them and share them. I also have my own hosted blog (with a genesis theme of course) after having my wordpress.com blog shut down a few years ago. (They simply did not like a link I put up)
    We can be at the mercy of these online landlords if we are not careful.

  14. There was a fantastic independent bar near us that did a wonderful job with atmosphere, food , music, drinks and cameraderie. Even an outdoor deck overlooking a peaceful river. Knowledgeable staff. Superb options in craft beers, wines, scotch, bourbon, and more. The place stood out for what it wasn’t: No neon beer signs, no vendor-supplied mirrors with liquor logos on them, no sports memorabilia, no silly college-esque drink specials. It was an unqualified success and very busy most nights of the week. It was a wonderful little place for an escape.

    Then the landlord thought, “Hey, maybe I’d like to have a bar like that.”

    So he kicked out the tennants (presumably by raising the rent) and promptly ran the place into the ground within six months.

    With one bad decision, TWO businesses were ruined.

    Your post is very insightful, Sonia — we all need to step back and identify the true weaknesses in our plans and consider a reasonable number of “what-if” scenarios.

  15. This is a VERY IMPORTANT article that internet entrepreneurs – ESPECIALLY newbies – need to pay very close attention to.

    Anyone who has been in this business for more than a couple years has undoubtedly experienced something like this. It can be devastating and take months to get back on track if you haven’t protected yourself (i.e., building an IN-HOUSE audience for your blog, site, or list). In fact, some businesses NEVER get back on track.

    I really hope that folks don’t blow off this article. This is a very serious threat to every business and you don’t want to naively believe it won’t happen to you. Trust me on this one, I speak from experience.

  16. I can really relate to this post about Digital sharecropping. What is funny though is that if you leave a group that is dependent on a site or forum, the group will also question you. Some will chose sides and call you a blasphemer almost for wanting to be as Seth Godin calls a “Purple Cow”.
    It’s crazy but it happened to me. Good article. You just gave me some ammo to share when I have to explain myself in detail at future conferences.

  17. I have first-hand knowledge of this. My business of 15 years was wiped out with a single decision by a much larger company. That was 2008 and I decide to never put myself in that position again. Today I make sure I control 100% of my business, never depend on a vendor, have 2 backups waiting in the wings and look for new opportunities.

  18. Well-written and right on point. Great article! Thanks for it!

  19. Great post! I come across small business owners all the time that give me the “I don’t need a website because I have a Facebook page” attitude.

    Relating their online assets to their physical assets will definitely help them understand the importance of owning their infrastructure.

  20. I think I’d feel this article more if there was good examples of the landlord kicking out the tenant.

    And

    Isn’t one of the things that drives people to Facebook that the content is standardized? I had a run in with a firm last week who took their content control on their site to such an extreme that they had a 5 step pre-contact process for customer service problems. I decided to move my business elsewhere on the spot.

    So I think these concerns are more of a problem for black hat marketers and overused by SEO focused sinking ships

    • Thank you for stopping by, Mr. Zuckerberg. ;)

      • +1, Brian. :-)

        Here’s a great example of the landlord (Google) kicking out the tenant. And it happened just a few weeks ago, impacting several businesses and news media outlets:

        http://www.zdnet.com/blog/violetblue/google-plus-deleting-accounts-en-masse-no-clear-answers/567

        http://www.valleycentral.com/news/story.aspx?id=643395

        I’ve also had clients who created additional Facebook accounts for their business not understanding that having multiple accounts violates the terms of service. They promoted the accounts heavily, only to get an email from Facebook telling them the accounts would be suspended. (Apparently the “social media expert” that sold them on the idea never read the agreement when setting up Facebook accounts.)

        • And since Facebook is a particularly volatile platform, you can be in compliance today & out of compliance tomorrow.

          • The Page Rank formula doesn’t change consistently? This volatility of change keeps me on my game and helps evolve social media labor. You can’t play ball the right way then they kick you off the field.

            Now I appreciate the links you provided Ty, but I’m still not worried because neither acknowledged a scale. One is an individual account and one just says “many” in terms of how many reported false deletions. Furthermore Google+ is in a post-launch phase and I think most first adopters there expect rapid changes and fine tuning.

            I just feel like you’re trying to push action out of fear not trend or a realistic possibility in the free market. Zuckerberg is going on a mass deletion storm? Yes, the whole world and even I will join in the laughter when that happens.

    • For more examples, read through the comments to this post.

  21. Yes, cheese can get moved.

  22. Well said, Sonia. It’s all too easy to get lost trying to win the social network game in the name of increasing to your blog. There is only so much time and energy one can put into different many things. As such, trying to gain followers to your blog via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, SkyNet … oops, I mean Google+, … also demands putting time and energy into those social network platforms in order to get to followers to them. Most certainly, only a percentage of those followers will actually follow you to your blog. Of course, this is where observing analytics come in so you can actually see, to some extent, where your energy is paying off and where it’s not.

  23. As the power on the web consolidates amongst a few big players the more and more the exercise their power in abitrarily deleting accounts. This is one reason I stopped using Facebook comments on my blog. Have back ups to your backups.

    • Deleting accounts is always an issue. Tumblr summarily deleted a bunch of accounts after Ed Dale taught his students about using them, Facebook has deleted lots of accounts (they even temporarily suspended Mari Smith’s who’s known primarily for her marketing expertise with Facebook), Google is notorious for deleting AdSense accounts without much explanation, the list goes on and on.

      • Let’s face it Google and Facebook practically own the internet. If Google bans your site from the search engine(singular on purpose. There really only is one) and Facebook bans you from Facebook then you are practically banned from the internet. The only thing that can save you is having a real network of linking partners. Years ago I put out a video answering the question “Do Link Exchanges Really Work?” SEO elitists made fun of me. But I was amazed how much traffic I was getting from funky little websites who just slapped a banner on their site linking to me. Just because I asked them to. Forget about the SEO I was getting real traffic from these links without the search engines. Isn’t that the ultimate goal of SEO anyway?

        My next project is a local directory targeted to a high end local profession. All my SEO will be local and profession based. I am also going to actually meet and speak with these professionals in my area as well which I enjoy doing.

        That is one area where a small guy can beat the Google’s and Facebooks. Personal, local and hand to hand combat marketing. It is hard for Facebook or Google to delete or ban a personal relationship.

        Now that we have Skype I think that good old fashioned telemarketing could be added to a smart marketer’s aresenal as well.

        • The whole idea that Google and Facebook own the Internet is a common misconception. Yes, they get a huge percentage of the total page views, but they do NOT send a huge percentage of the total traffic. Most big blogs get around 10-30% of their traffic from the two combined, and so while losing them would definitely cause you to take a traffic hit, it would be far from the end of the world. You could focus on other traffic sources and build it right back up.

  24. I grew up on a farm, so I appreciate the analogy here. It’s always better to farm your own land than to rent from someone who can easily change the terms!

    All that said, this is sage advice. Not only do you want to own your own content, you certainly don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket. I love how you highlighted the word marketing MIX. To be successful, you have to use a mixture of strategies. And yes, while that might indeed include Facebook or Google, you shouldn’t ONLY use those tools. And, after all, in addition to the online marketing tips you mentioned, one shouldn’t ignore all of the offline ways to promote your business – especially for local businesses like the bookstore you mentioned.

  25. A lot of folks should be thanking you, Sonia, even if they do not show their gratitude openly. This was so true ‘way back’ in the 1960s and 70s in the catalog marketing/mail order days when gurus warned “don’t get married to one supplier!” Digital sharecropping is just another way of stating it. (And as an old sales and marketing guy, I love that term!)

    Love the comments of the other folks. Very thoughtful. Looks like your good message is being heeded. And while it is true that ‘No Man Is An Island’ (as per the poem) especially in a business sense, our attitude should be one of vigilence and one of diligence in treading lightly as to whom we have to rely on.

    As a newbie to Copyblogger, I love the individualism in the thinking in the many kinds of readers you attract!
    Think on!

    • I get so much gratitude it’s embarrassing, so don’t worry about me. :) And of course some folks will question it, because many, many people are building their entire marketing program (and thus the health of their business) on rented land.

      You’re right, it’s the same issue as relying on a single supplier. Dan Kennedy has a saying that “the worst number in business is One.” One big client, one vendor, one marketing channel … one of anything you need to survive. Mail order, for example, is still highly effective way to find new customers, but after the 2001 anthrax attacks, it became ineffective overnight. In the time it took to recover, many businesses took a terrible hit.

  26. I enjoyed your analogies in this article. There are so many “fly by night” things we are constantly bombarded with… from ways to get more traffic to the newest way to make money on the web. There’s nothing better than developing a content rich website and using the social networking sites and Google, as well as other traffic sources, to act as billboards directing them back to our site.

    You made a valid point about all things changing…rapidly. It’s up to us to stay flexible with our tennis shoes tied around our necks, ready to put them on because the race track is always changing. Counting on a social networking site or Google to replace great content and steadfast readers is short sighted and foolish. The only thing that stays constant is change.

    Thanks again for your insightful article. I’m enjoying Copyblogger. I’ve learned a lot already!

  27. Brilliant post! We develop web sites and other online and mobile properties for our clients. When MySpace and then Facebook were just blowing up, our clients were starting to entertain the idea of moving all of their content to these sites. They wanted to be where the people were. The problem with this as you put is that it is shared land. I think once businesses understand this they remember the importance of taking care of their own property. It’s like a nice beach house, sure its comfy and close to the beach, but unless you own it, at some point you gotta go home! If no one was mowing your lawn, watering your plants or grabbing your mail you might be returning to a disaster area!

  28. This is — hands down — one of the best posts I’ve ever read on the web about business. As a former RE agent, love the rent/own analogy Sonia.

    Brilliant!

    I too have had offers from a couple of companies wanting to buy my site (nowhere near 7 figures, but hey, someone did offer real money for it). I’d always known the site was valuable, but when others offered cold, hard cash for it, it made it more “real.”

    Owning your own virtual real estate and the content on it is not only smart business; as fast as the web and technology is changing, it’s becoming almost necessary to ensure income stability.

    Thanks for reminding all of us web entrepreneurs exactly what we stand to lose by NOT investing in our own sites.

    • Aw thank you Yuwanda! This is really a distillation of conversations we’ve been having on & off the blog for quite awhile. I realized we didn’t have a single text post on it (Brian covers digital sharecropping in one of the radio shows), so I thought it would be useful.

  29. Sonia Simone said “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. ”

    This is so true! Think about what happened to tons of businesses earlier this year that relied only on Google search traffic – they got torched by Panda!!!

    That’s right. It can happen – it does happen!

  30. yeah, this thing happened with that “how to” website, right? they just changed their rules one day :)

  31. I have my own website and I also list my art on other sites, and use social marketing avenues. I think this is great advice. Just this month, one of the sites, artfire, did away with free memberships and started charging $10 a month. I took my items down from there, since they weren’t bringing in to justify the cost. I was irritated enough at all the time I’d wasted promoting it. It would have been far worse if I’d had collateral material or too many links pointing to it. I recommend that people at least get their own URL, even if they point it at a third party site for now. A URL is very inexpensive and takes no time to maintain. If you want to do your own site later, just change where it points.

    • Great point. You want to start building authority on your own domain ASAP. I made that mistake starting out — I built my site on a third-party domain because it was turnkey and I didn’t want to figure out the details.

  32. Great advice! Working for someone else is a losing game, and it comes in many forms. Thanks for the insights.

  33. Keeping all ones eggs in one basket was a strategy best avoided in business long before we had access to computers. Today it probably translates to prioritizing your website properties and spreading the net wide enough to capture additional audience via social media and other traffic sources.

  34. Great article Sonia. Always remember who you market to? where? why? Especially online, multiple channels remain, change, and evolve. Forget, and your followers, champions, customers and prospects forget you!

  35. Well written Sonia.

    In essence, I hear you saying you can’t setup residence where you are simply a guest. Am I hearing you right?

    In some cases the business owner has to test things out a bit in the beginning. That is easy to do with a turnkey service, if it is working, it is important to have a conversion strategy to a platform and domain one owns.

    Why do many hang around on a turnkey platform for so long? Speaking from my own experience, it’s easy to get get comfortable, maybe even lazy, and just stay where they you are at.

    Is that what you see? (based on your comment above, I’d assume so, but you know how dangerous assuming is, right? :-)

    -Travis

    • Well, that’s why I stayed on a turnkey platform for too long when I was starting out. ;) And once you get those links and start to build SEO, it’s painful to make that switch. That’s why I’d rather see people go ahead, bite the bullet, and start with self-hosted (wordpress is easy although of course it’s not the only option). There are people like Johnny B. Truant who make it very inexpensive and easy.

      I’m all for testing the waters, though, and that can definitely be done on a third-party site. You could try out an idea on Tumblr or AdSense or some other platform and see if it feels like it has legs. I used to do that with Squidoo lenses. You’re right, though, it can be hard to overcome inertia & go self-hosted once you have something that kinda works already.

  36. Sonia: I couldn’t agree more with you!

    I’ve seen Real Estate Agents use Facebook Pages (and pages only) to grow their audience. One Agent got as far as 6,500+ Fans. Then one day, BAM! Her page got shut down. No notice. And she didn’t get it back. She had to start from scratch. Only the second time around, she built her website first, then used Facebook to drive traffic back to her site. Which is what she should have been doing from the beginning. And she’s one of many I know who’ve experienced the same issue.

    Why rent when you can own? At least that’s what I always say. Own your greatest assets (your website, your email list) and then, use other networks accordingly but always to drive attention back to your primary assets. Remember to keep the branding and messaging consistent, and you’re good to go.

  37. I learned the hard way.

    Just a few months ago my permalinks had to change, and for complicated purposes no re-direction plugins or anything would work to redirect my articles with SEO to their new permalinks. I had been growing my site for over 2 years and had never started any type of e-mail list.

    Unfortunately I did lose a lot of search traffic, but I can say that I have since started an e-mail list. Even though I made a mistake, it’s still not too late for me to start building on my own foundation instead of relying on something else.

    • Having been through that myself, that’s exactly why I wrote this post — to help people not have to go through it.

      And of course, you still have Asset #3, your reputation, which helps a lot. Good luck on the rebuilding. :)

  38. As someone who makes a living with agriculture, with blogging and lives in a predominantly fuedal society, I find your angle most profound! Possibly one of the most important posts on strategy there ever was, and it only proves the point when Brian tells us that he turned down a 7 figure offer for a site he “owned”. Come to think about it, I think you can’t even try to buy a tumblr/wordpress.com/blogspot site.

    I think this post puts the term “doing your own thing” in a much more strategic, applicable perspective. Awesome, Sonia, just awesome! :)

  39. “The secret is to spend most of your time and creative energy building assets that you control.”

    Love that philosophy Sonia. Applies to everything offline as well.

  40. I’d venture to guess it’s not just the Internet Marketers whom this advice applies to but even the guerilla marketers who can learn a thing or two here. Thanks for the great article!

  41. Sonia-

    Nice post. The thing to do – and I know this well – is to use the FB/Twitter/LI channels as listening posts. I barely “engage” and what I say is mostly pabulum these days. No matter, it’s still solid.

    But, my business is solid because I pursue the people that are indicating that they have problems with stuff I know how to fix or make.

    On all the services, you can use “recommend _______” and do a search, and somehow show up just as someone is asking about it. Done right, it’s lethally efficient, and highly invisible.

    It’s irrelevant where people are, as St. Kennedy says, if they require that we all go and use carrrier pigeons, we use carrier pigeons.

  42. Awesome article!

    Though, why is email one of the tools that’s not subject to sharecropping?

    I do most of my follow-up marketing through email, but I’m vulnerable to the whims of both my provider (Mailchimp) and my audience’s spam filters.

    • That is a tricky point. You can keep backups of your list, but you’re right, in practice it’s difficult to port them somewhere else. Not impossible, but difficult.

      I know of one marketer who just plain old didn’t see his email provider bill. Didn’t pay it, and got his list wiped out. Major ouch.

      That’s where diversification comes in handy — if Aweber disappeared tomorrow, we would be bummed out, but we could issue calls to action on the blog and our most engaged readers (who are the ones we need anyway) would re-sign up on a new platform. And our online reputation, distributed across the most relevant social media platforms, would help a lot.

  43. Thank you; I’ve only been saying this to clients, on WMW, on Twitter, from rooftops, for about 15 years or so.

    My best performing clients have great Google SERPs, a Facebook page, weekly email campaigns, a monthly 84 print catalog that goes out to a couple hundred thousand subscribers, telephone campaigns, attends trade shows, and even more stealth marketing that I’m not gonna mention here. They mix the new school with the old school. If any one (or two or three) of those goes away, it would put a hurt on us all, but it wouldn’t kill us.

    Tedster over on WMW tells a story about a client of his with a B&M store that did great business – till they moved the bus routes, and they were out of business in a year.

    I have a banner up on my wall in front of me right now that says NO SINGLE POINT OF FAILURE. That goes for traffic, that goes for internet connections (cable & DSL installed) that goes for electricity as soon as I finally get the generator put in, that goes for niche. You have to prioritize, of course, but if your life and the lives of your family and employees depend on your business, you have to reduce points of failure wherever they exist. Hope for the best, but expect the worst.

    • “NO SINGLE POINT OF FAILURE” is a great motto. :) This one is the key for me: “If any one (or two or three) of those goes away, it would put a hurt on us all, but it wouldn’t kill us.”

      I love mixing old-school and new-school as well. We’ve run a few intriguing posts here about tactics like direct mail, PR, or writing for trade journals. We’re looking at ways we can blend a bit of old-school into our own mix at Copyblogger Media.

  44. What a great post, and a great discussion! I was doing affiliate marketing (as a very small player– best month ever was about $4,000). I stumbled onto a product that generated commissions of nearly $1,000 a day. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It lasted less than a month. The company got overwhelmed with orders, terminated their affiliate program, and that was that.

    Nothing is forever. Diversify. Jump while the iron is hot, and use the tools and media that are working, but stay flexible and don’t be dependent on a small number of traffic sources.

  45. There are tons of people who got burned by the Panda Update and who spent countless hours working on their Digg network only to now find that they are up a creek.

    Just like stocks, you have to diversify your portfolio.

    Most traffic sources can’t put out forever. Eventually something new will come along and you have to adapt to the new reality.

  46. Well put. Excellent information for new businesses when sorting through all the options today!

  47. Did I miss something? I don’t see Sonia saying anywhere that someone can only get peace of mind when they use a recommended template. The message is about the process in general. If you want to follow the links and buy a recommended template or the recommended autoresponder. Stop being so cynical people!

    I’ve always thought of third party/social media sites as side dishes, not the main meal – I don’t get how some can think they can do business without a website. That has never made sense to me.

  48. What a great term! I will make sure that I emphasize the concept of digital sharecropping to the people and teams that I train. I do worry that they will put all their eggs in one basket (someone else’s) and ignore their own properties to their detriment. Thanks for putting it just that way.

  49. Sonia, this is the smartest thing I’ve read on here in a while. I’ve had the “web-hosting and ISPs are also out of your control” discussion before. The risks with that are indeed very low comparatively. ISPs almost never cut off their customers (even if they are 50 different other kinds of evil) and by having your domains, nameservers, and hosting all separated from each other, it’s relatively painless to be back up and running with minimal downtime.

    With digital landlords, you lose either way: if they don’t like you they shut you down and if they like you too much they can profit off your back.

  50. Hey Sonia, Your first few paragraphs really scared me… But a great messge… I will focus on my blog more than ever now!

  51. Since social sites are using us keep their presence and power alive and relevant, I’d like to think we’re playing them back in kind by using those platforms to drive viewers and readers toward our own sites. While dozens of social savvy peeps like to tell us that the widgets of new media networking need to focus on engaging as opposed to promoting, it’s hard to deny the self-promotional benefits that come hand-in-hand with the social networking revolution.

  52. Bravissimo, Sonia!

    Applause! Applause! Applause!

    Very timely post from my side of the fence. I have a fairly new online acquaintance who is hell bent to use Facebook, exclusively, to build his video marketing business.

    Check this: He has NO blog and NO website. Says he absolutely doesn’t need either one. His Facebook fan page is IT … period … his one and only marketing platform. Between me, you, and the lamp post, I think he’s making a gargantuan mistake.

    At first, I thought his approach was brilliant. Then I started considering all the “sharecropping” facts you’ve laid out in this post. My friend is running the risk of losing it all. But he’s pretty stubborn so I don’t imagine anything I say is going to make a hill of beans difference.

    One thing I try hard to point out is that not everyone hangs out on Facebook. I can hear some of your readers GASPING. But it’s true. In order to build a successful business via social media marketing, you’ve got to hang out where your target audience is hanging out, right? Believe it or not, a chunk of your target market may not be Facebook users.

    My personal takeaway today was best stated by one of your commenters here who said, “Why rent when you can own?”

    Outstanding post, Sonia, and I’m giving your message two thumbs up!
    Melanie

  53. I couldn’t agree more. As a matter of fact, I’ve been singing this same song for about a year. Not just related to Facebook and Google. You have to own what you do or you’ll put yourself in jeopardy. Others have covered this topic pretty well so I won’t repeat what’s already been said, but just wanted to show my support of the ideas/insights in the post. Good job!

  54. seems to me that if your into online marketing you already understand that it’s a fast changing environment. I mean seriously, Facebook wasn’t even around 10 years ago and Google+ is just getting started. The internet is still largely the wild west in terms of standards and norms and if you ever get too big you have hackers to contend with. If your still putting all your eggs in one basket then you simply don’t understand the playing field, and this article probably applies.

  55. Google is bringing 80% of my traffic… for sure it’s a lot, but before I used to use my phone to get leads ^^

  56. This is why I’ve never bought into “job security.” I’ll take the by-the-seat-of-your-pants-and-often-terrifying life of an entrepreneur any day over a scenario wherein one person I can’t control can make a single decision that would take away 100% of my income overnight.

  57. Listen, I think most rational people understand the dangers of Digital Sharecropping. Business people think about it all the time. Your post just put it into black and white terms that is difficult (impossible) to argue with.

    However, I think some folks are scared about what it would take to move their content to their OWN platform. They are afraid that spending $11 for a domain name with break them. They stay up nights worrying about the $6/month Godaddy will charge for hosting. The believe they need to go back to college to install WordPress (which can be installed with a click of a button on most hosts). They think the premium theme boogie man is conspiring against them and robbing them of their freedom to own an ugly blog.

    So they rather take their chances with Zuck, Paige, and crew even when the alternative is simple, safe, and inexpensive.

  58. Woah, what a heated debate! (To think I just retweeted it a short while ago). One would think this is the kind of point that sort of “makes itself”. I’m glad to pass this along to would-be clients considering “maximizing their Social Media investment” while sacrificing their website.

  59. Wow, you’ve had a ton of comments on this post! Must have hit home;0)
    I’ll just say, very well done and i enjoyed it.
    Keep up the great work,
    AJ

  60. Hi everyone…

    This article hits home, and reminds us that we only have real control when we own the online property that we are cultivating and not some ones elses.

    So I think that we need to re access what we are doing and not rely one source of traffic or lead generation especially those that are controlled by some outside force.

    So if we can build a online force that provides valuable content to the hungry piranhas searching for food content that gives them their weekly fix of great content, they will spread the word where the good content is, so it takes a life of its own independent of all big daddy that try to control our lives online.

    Bottom, good point work rather on our own building and using great content to build he building with so that it stands the winds, storms, earthquakes that is sure to happen online but yet our online property stays steady due to impeccable content.

  61. I spend a lot of effort trying to move companies off of their old-world view that “We need a website.” So many audiences come to seminars about social media with the notion that they’re about to learn how Facebook will save them. With this level of sophistication going in, it’s no wonder they tend to fixate on a single service. A solid introduction to building web presence necessarily explores multiple platforms and how they interrelate. I like blogging on your own domain as the foundation of building a presence; all those other platforms reinforce the foundation. I’d not heard the term sharecropping used in the context of web presence; it fits very nicely.

  62. Tea silvestre :

    Own the land. Work your fields. And then cook up a huge feast for yourself and your customers! Amen sistah.

    (I’m just bumbed I didn’t write this post when I thought of it 2 weeks ago.) Will be sharing heavily!

  63. Superb post. Thank you. I’m a maniac for building my own web properties, but unfortunately a little on the sloth-side building a subscribership. I see that a subscribership as offering the highest degree of control. Website popularity is often vulnerable to search engines. Sure, you can get traffic from other sources, but many of us strive to please the almight search engines. But, a subscribership can be a great source of traffic to a site and customers at any time.

    Here I expound the benefits of a list, yet delay in focusing on it. Anyway, I really liked this post. It’s excellent advice. I shudder to think what would happen if Google Search disappeared.

  64. I think this is also the same message Ning is trying to communicate.
    With their service, websites can become social even without Facebook, etc.

    The best way to use social media for me is to use it to promote your own website and community.

  65. excellent post and thanks for the reminder. i’ve written about why one should not build a website on a free host, or a platform like facebook which one does not own. i learned my hard lessons, but thanks to a rude awakening, i went on a tear to establish several successful internet businesses (niche sites) of my own

  66. True… It’s one of the reasons I always strive for just posting a couple of details of my news, so that they will have to visit my website, in case they want to see the rest.

  67. Great post and reminder on what to safeguard!

    Lately, with a large focus on social media, it’s easy to get carried away and depend on them too much.

    It’s good to diversify. You do have to rely to some extent on third parties. So spread it around. They won’t all close or on you or ‘slap’ you on the same day. And be ready for change, to use that new tool, whatever it may be. One day it’s Facebook, then it’s Google+. Tomorrow, it will be…? Be ready. Adapt.

    Thanks for the post!
    Louise

  68. Very true – witness the various IM marketers whose accounts at YouTube have been shut down suddenly and without warning, and apparently, without cause.

    I think that in general you could sum things up as: “never put your eggs in one basket.”

  69. Lady, I love you SO MUCH for this post! I saw a great little business running her entire operation on Facebook and I wanted to scream at her! Facebook has been down a few times over the past year. Facebook can’t do her brand justice. FACEBOOK IS NOT A HOME BASE!

    Anyway. Yeah. Nicely said ;-)

  70. Hello Sonia,

    This article really struck a chord with me, especially because I work as the director of management and development at a property company. The fact is, we are always at the mercy of someone – it is unavoidable.

    For instance, you used the story of your local bookstore very effectively to make your point. But consider the landlord that tripled the rent – perhaps they needed to do that in order to adhere to the terms of their bank loan. Perhaps they were told that, unless they were able to keep to their lending covenants, the property would be taken off them?

    You can even take it another step up – perhaps the bank made that demand of the landlord because the government was leaning on them to tighten up their lending criteria?

    So, whilst we will always be vulnerable to an extent, we absolutely should look to minimize our vulnerability at all possible times, and I think this is the central message of your article. Bravo!

    All the best,

    Tom

  71. I never thought about our content being ‘controlled’ by someone else this way before. I love my social media forums and it’s true that my content is being ‘owned’ by someone else–in a way. I guess I figure that’s the risk of doing business.

    I’m really sorry to hear about your bookstore! I have a favourite bookstore and cafe I go to to think and do my work and I know how bereft I’d feel if it was suddenly gone. And for such a greedy reason too! Very sad!

    I just found your site and I like it a lot! Bravo!

  72. Spot on article! I agree 100%. In my opinion (after what I’ve learned the hard way during the operation of my first company) the only way to go is ownership of your content as an asset.

    What I see as a great strategy is to create the actual content on your own site and just use the social networks to promote that content. It seems to work pretty well and it protects your content should something happen to any of your profiles. The social networks are great places to create buzz and hype, not to mention traffic. They give you a presence in the places where your customer or reader base spends a large portion of their online time.

  73. I applaud you for creating the urgency here most of us may take for granted. The important thing to do is build relationships, creating your own tribe or community, depending on your style, core values, and mission.

    The organic growth potential of social media is not something we should give up on any time soon.. But it’s important to be self-sufficient and think about referral networking. That starts with helping people, showing you genuinely care, and creating avid fans that will do the aforementioned in return.

    Word of mouth will always be relevant. As Seth Godin says, make yourself remarkable and indispensable. That will make your success sustainable.

  74. Exactly. I try to limit my time on facebook, twitter, google+, linkedin to just the bare essential and only if there is immediate benefit to what I am doing. I think commenting on blogs and forums far out weighs the worth of social networking platforms. Not to say that they are bad but I do for a fact get more quality traffic from blogs and forums than I do from facebook any day.

  75. Digital sharecropping is such a good analogy. And of course you can have a cascade of traffic going into one social marketing site or another. Yet if they decided (for whatever reason) to pull out or change the way they operate you’d suddenly have no traffic and no presence. Obviously hat’s partly the reason a lot of people use WordPress and their own domain as a blogging platform. And it’s certainly the reason I moved from Blogger to WordPress. And yet I know a number of businesses that purely use Facebook to hold all their content and have all their conversations with their customers through that avenue. Interesting…

  76. Sobering advice for any form of business, be it web based or not. In simplistic terms “dont put all your eggs in one basket”

  77. Great article and very timely. I like the “sharecropping” image. I used to just say “indentured servitude” for the same concept – feudalism.

    Problem is, it’s difficult to find patterns and then be able to anticipate marketing changes in the ever changing digital landscape. For example, just found out today that Google changed part of their algorithm about 8 months ago so that our website but more importantly “Google places” account has been getting short shrift in searches. Found out about it today because we were expecting the phones to ring off the hook last weekend with all that rain – and the phone didn’t ring once from our online marketing endeavors. Thank goodness we have a marketing program that includes face to face and networking! The human connection is still more important than any social network out there.

  78. Great article and lively discussion.

    Question – Is Seth Godin’s blog an example of digital sharecropping?

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/

    • That’s a good example. Typepad used to be a player, and now they’ve been absorbed by another company that doesn’t really value the platform.

      It’s possible to move off of Typepad onto WordPress, and we’ve discussed the issue with Seth. My guess is it will happen sooner or later.

      • It’s funny Joe that you bring this up. I was thinking about that same thing last week.

        I wonder how many popular blogs are solely dependent on Typepad?

        • Seth was the first person that came to mind when I first entered this discussion. I’m sure there are other big names not coming to mind right now but the fact that someone as influential as him is still sticking by TypePad (for now) is rather refreshing.

          Like others have mentioned, if you don’t own the platform, it can supplement your marketing efforts but should not replace them. You can never play it too safe.

  79. I rarely use Facebook and Twitter for original content. I used my social media tools to spread what’s on my blog, and get community feedback.

    I didn’t understand the sharecropping concept, so thanks for clearing it out for me.

  80. I would make more comments here but I would be building up your web property not mine.

  81. Very important reality check. I went to a local business social media education evening and the jist of it for the newbies was that in the future businesses would just have their FB, Twitter and LinkdIn profiles and would not bother with their website as they would be obsolete.

    Hmmm I was a little wary about that. Especially after all the effort I had put into my own website.

    Thanks for the timely reminder.

    • It’s kind of a trendy message now because let’s face it, it’s quicker and easier to get started with FB, etc. And it’s a common message from people who are trying to sell you social media consulting.

  82. Great advice, one should never forget the bottom line.

    In fact, a business model should always be based on a more realistic, rather than optimistic outlook.

    I use the social media mainly to spread the message about new value created on my own site, and that is indeed the best way to use social media.

    Thanks for the insight!

    Read Aloud Dad

  83. Hi Sonia,

    Excellent points.

    Provide value – on your own turf – and use a high quality auto responder service to stay in contact with your followers. No matter who closes shop, when you have your own turf, and it becomes valuable turf, you followers will follow.

    Simple formula….and the reason why I don’t get excited about the hype, whether it’s about some company starting up or shutting down. Makes no difference, because I will still be offering the same value to the same followers.

    Thanks for sharing.

    RB

  84. This post resonates with me for a ton of reasons. Most of them are obvious because as a site owner I know all about the joy of owning your own crap. So yes, I agree 127% with this article.

    The other thing that resonates with me is a bit unique. I actually come from a sharecropping background. Well, err.. my family does. My dad was raised on a pig farm in southern Indiana and when he was growing up his dad (my grandfather) was a sharecropper. Thankfully I got my entrepreneur spirit honestly and my grandfather was able to grow his measly sharecropping into a real farm.

    Here’s the kicker. Now Marse Farms is actually a pretty profitable thing. My aunt and uncle are sharecroppers on the farm under the corporation. So basically my grandmother (every day of 90 years old) is their “boss” or “landlord.”

    Keep with me…

    My grandmother (landlord) is a businesswomen and even though she loves her children (sharecroppers) she still doesn’t allow for extravagance. For example, last year my aunt wanted to remodel the basement of the farmhouse. My grandmother didn’t want the farm to pay for it so my aunt had to pay out of her own pocket to remodel the farm’s basement. Will she get the farmhouse after my grandmother dies, yes… but traditionally a renter/sharecropper or in this article’s case a site owner, should never spend money developing something they cannot benefit from down the road.

    My point is, no matter who your landlord is to you and no matter how much you trust them… you shouldn’t assume the long haul. Just like this article pointed out, you should never put all your eggs in one basket. Especially when you don’t own the basket :)

    Sorry for the long walk, but it’s not everyday I can share about my rural roots :)

  85. This is happening a lot with content farms and other article directories. Once upon a time, you could put up affiliate links in a lot sites, but that is changing on sites like HubPages, etc. Having your own website with good content is the way to go.

  86. Hi Sonia
    As a beginner I found this post very useful.
    Various people have at one time or another warned about having all your eggs in one basket.
    eBay powersellers for instance mostly have their own websites too.
    I will certainly take this advice.
    Regards
    Dee

  87. This advice works well when your content is the written word. Do you think the same would apply if your main content source were videos? For example: would you use a YouTube channel or similar site or would you host your own videos?

    • You’ll face the same issues, although bandwidth for videos can be a problem. Given that YouTube can delete your channel, I’d probably use it but be careful that it wasn’t the only place people could find me.

      For a business-critical video like a sales page, I’d host it.

    • With video be sure to also keep a local copy. Yes, that eats up your hard drive space but space is cheap compared to losing all your video. If any particular video hosts goes up in smoke tomorrow, you can always upload to a different host. Also a very good reminder to do backups and backups and backups of all your digital assets.

  88. Sonia,

    This is actually the best post I have read all year. I agree 100% with absolutely everything you have said. It is very worrying that Facebook etc have so much control over our marketing and, as you say, can delete your account or change the way you can interact any time they choose.

    I’m going to revisit my personal website and update it right now! Thanks for putting into words exactly what most of us are thinking.

    Actually, I wonder if we could form some sort of writers / bloggers / marketers collective big enough and strong enough to have a voice in these sharecropping organisations? Especially when our accounts are deleted or settings changed for what we consider to be poor reasons. Representing our members and protecting our shares? Worth a thought.

  89. This is a great wake-up call. I never really looked at using these free tools as being a sharecropper. Sure I know that they use our content to drive traffic to their site so they can sell ads, but I never really thought about what that meant. I’ve been building my business across different channels for the reasons you lay out above, and for anyone that’s been affected by the Panda update, you know that it’s important to control as much as you can, otherwise the traffic you see today can be gone tomorrow.

  90. Great post Sonia. And the commenting stir it has caused has been just as fascinating to read. I otally agree with not placing all your efforts into ‘unowned’ social media patforms. Instead they should be used as tools to amplify and channel the flow back to your main marketing efforts. Yes, an old school multilayered approach is what I believe works best – so that you get multiple touchpoints. And better still, you own the important cornerstone ones!

  91. This is a great post thanks, i have not seen this discussed anywhere dont know if this is my ignorance or it is’ nt covered enough. In my opinion i thing if people are creating blogs for small business who already have websites or to make money then i don’t understand why they wouldnt host it on their own domain, To touch on the social part, people are building client lists and reputations on social networking websites such as facebook and it was mentioned above what if they close the doors or the popularity dwindles as did myspace but what happened to myspace was everyone moved to facebook. I guess the point i’ am making is in my opinion their will always be social media now and people will move from one to another. In the physical world such as buildings thats going to be the case these days with the money situation.

    I woffled on abit

  92. Excellent post Sonia! For someone who is still relatively new to the whole online marketing game this is invaluable advice. I hate the idea of building up my business on a property I don’t own, only to be discover one day that it’s disappeared overnight because the ‘landlord’ has up and left. Scary thought. Get your own website and consistently provide value to your customers – that seems like the way to do it. Thanks again!

  93. I love this post so much that I wrote a blog post of my own paying homage to this one, and describing some painful scenarios that have happened to me – one related to digital sharecropping and one due to claims of trademark infringement. The issues of online real estate and what belongs to whom are very real. I’ve lost my piece of ground twice now!

    Thank you, Sonia, and great comments everyone.

    Jayna

  94. Exceptional content. This blog article is a must read for anyone doing business online.

  95. It’s a very good point and this has happened to so many businesses over centuries in one form or another. This is one of the main reasons why I cringe when I see people leaving their own blogs and websites to focus all their time and energy on places like Google + or Twitter. These social networks come and go (ask anybody who was on Myspace networking what that is worth now) but your own blog or website will always be there as long as you ay the hosting. Sure you can use these social networks and other third parties to drive traffic and leverage them in other ways but look after your own property first and foremost i would say.

  96. Hi, great points raised in this topic, we spent quite a bit of money on facebook advertising earlier this year, we found the price per click kept going up, with no obvious competition for the keyword or group we focused on, strange to say the least.

    Thanks this gives food for thought

  97. Great stuff Sonia – and great comments too. I’ve given a great deal of thought to Carr’s concept of “digital sharecropping” as well and I always advocate a hub (the site your own) and spoke model for my clients.

    You are absolutely write to caution site owners not to engage in digital sharecropping as an exclusive strategy, instead site owners should be utilizing a digital identity development approach that is focused on their own assets in a primary position.

  98. Well-said, Sonia – but I’d go a step further. I haven’t read all 183 comments before mine, hopefully nobody’s said this already – but I think depending on any one traffic source poses the same threat.

    When Google launched Panda, for example, SEO’s and internet marketers like me found ourselves in a world of trouble (or got of that pickle entirely). The same could be said for countless PPC jockeys and AdWords accounts shutting down.

    Diversifying your traffic gen and even monetization strategies is absolutely critical to staying afloat and in the black online.

  99. Excellent comments! And I agree entirely with the article. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – especially Facebook’s – people put way too much stock in it. I have found them to be unpredictable at best.

  100. GREAT Article Sonia. I am going to recommend that my clients read this. It really shows the other side of the “Google Factor” and social media.

  101. I’ve never heard the term sharecropper applied to web 2.0 but how true it is!! My business is entirely dependent on google and it scares me some times. I have to try to keep google happy or else my business could be in real trouble.

  102. At first reading, the article really is both scary and helpful. We’re a fashion blog on Tumblr and have no intention of self-hosting our blog, primarily because Tumblr is a great way to monitor feedback as well as interact with community members. We wouldn’t have that with a website. Secondarily, because we don’t want to invest too much in blogging and are doing it for fun more than for profit.

    But still. How scary/sad/brilliant this is.

  103. I agree with your point that we should focus more on building our own website, creating quality information/content. That is the main thing but for promoting that website in current situation Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social networking sites are the best resources which help us to get traffic and business.
    No body knows what will happen in future we should focus on current situation, do whatever you can do to get more Traffic on your website. Also keep working on your website. Just Chill….

  104. Great post and a very smart warning to us!

    It’s very simple but we have to remember to always promote our own brand and sites FIRST (with our content planted securely on our own property!)… then use the rented places to point! :) Signs can always be moved very easily in this fast changing digital-estate world!

    Thanks!

  105. So many businesses around my area (NYC) are closing their doors because of rising rent and decreasing business.

    But great points on building your own “land” – I’ve seen a few people who used to use MySpace for their digital stores and stuff.

  106. 3 emails in 5 minutes it too much, copyblogger! Ease up on the marketing.

  107. Well done! Independent businesses seem to topple all the time due to landlords’ whims. You took the aerial picture of the problem and applied it many possible scenarios.

    Leslie

  108. Sonia, I generally love your work, but I am really offended by the adoption of the phrase “digital sharecropping” around the web. Sharecropping was an economic system supported by law that kept mostly minority farmers (at least in this country) locked in inequitable business arrangements. One of the key features was that there WAS no other choice – these farmers couldn’t get loans or amass enough capital to buy their own land, and other job options were nonexistent.

    Real sharecroppers were optionless, we are not. Marketers have a choice – we can buy our own domain names, build our own lists, etc. If we become dependent on one platform that we don’t control, that is by design. I would hope that all of us in the marketing community would think twice before recklessly repeating this ahistorical and inaccurate phrase.

  109. Another great article, Sonia.

    To some extent, those of us who rely on content creation to drive organic search engine traffic to our sites are always going to be at least somewhat dependent on forces beyond on our control.

    However, that is a reality for most businesses, online or off. Whether its a bad economy, changing trends or emerging technology – as business owners, we’re never really in control of what’s going to impact our industry or business model in the future.

    That said, I can’t tell you how many of my offline clients have been advised by online consultants that they don’t really need their own website – they’ll be fine with just a Facebook Fan Page or a page hosted by a company selling them advertising.

    Those platforms may be great for supplementing your efforts – but in the end, build your long-term assets where you at least have some control over whether they’ll still exist tomorrow (or after you stop paying for them).

    • Agreed — there are always going to be a lot of forces outside our control, but if we focus where we can control the most and we backup & diversify, we improve our odds.

      Running a business doesn’t come with a guarantee, but there’s a lot we can do to mitigate our risk.

  110. The article has too much awesome. I laughed when I saw how much attention and how heated people defended their use of some one else’s website.

  111. Been chewing on this post for the last week or so.

    Expand it out beyond the big three social networks.

    I have been trying to find a better content curation methodology for myself. In the process, I realize that almost ALL of the services that can assist, essentially drive traffic back to themselves and not to my website. Or even worse, the curation accomplished is only shareable to THAT community.

    When it comes to original content, while many marketers will disagree, I am not convinced that it is the best use of my time to create original content that is only viewable on that network. Do I want to spend time writing a post on Google+ when I might be better served by writing an expanded post that exists on my own blog? If I run a poll, do I want it only on Facebook? Or do I pull people from the social networks to my site where the poll exists?

    The phrase that settles the issue for me:

    “The secret is to spend most of your time and creative energy building assets that you control.”

    • Yes, and you can still benefit from the outside sites, but don’t spend all your time building for them. (Or socializing on them, for that matter. Talk about a productivity killer.)

  112. Oh, shoot! You’re talking about the Tattered Cover, aren’t you? That was the best store ever. I don’t live in Denver anymore, but remember it fondly. I had no idea they closed.

    What a sad, but perfect example…thanks for the food for thought.

    • No worries, the story has a happy ending. They only closed one store — fortunately, by that point, TC had diversified enough that they had stores all over the area, so when they lost that one, they didn’t lose the whole business. They opened a store on Colfax to replace the Cherry Creek one, so they turned out just fine. :)

  113. I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t already been said in the article and comments … other than to say, this is a fantastic article that small business owners – begging for “likes” and driving traffic to Facebook – need to think very seriously about. YOUR website should be the hub of your marketing effort and ultimate destination/objective of the copious hours we’re all spending online with social media.

  114. What a great concept, I had never even thought of this before as a security issue, but it makes total sense. Thank you for reshaping my business philosophy!

  115. My web designer, Beth Hayden, forwarded this post to me. Thank you, Sonia, for addressing this issues. I work with mental health professionals helping them to develop their private practices. Invariably my clients consider placing their first (and only) websites on these gimicky sites like Homestead and TherapySites and others that “take away the headaches of hosting.” I then rebutt with many of the reasons you would want to self-host your own website. However, like my clients, I am not tech-savvy. You have given me even more reasons to “tend your own gardens” and I’m happy to pass them along.

    I, for one, am definitely developing my online assets and it’s paying off. I want that for each of my clients, too! Thanks, Sonia, for you work on this blog! I always enjoy your posts.

  116. This is completely a no-brainer. If you want to do business then pay for hosting and get your own commercial domain. Thousands of geocity site owners felt the hammer when geocity pulled the plug sometime back in 2009. People lost hundreds of hours of hard work in an instant. Who wants that to happen to his/her business?? Not me!!

  117. Wow! I am so intrigued by this post. It opened my eyes on a lot of thing that I thought were otherwise before reading this. Using facebook and other platforms really seems to be a good deal, but we usually forget that it is still not completely ours what we do on these platforms and anytime everything can change upside-down.

  118. About 10 years ago, the oldest book store in Dayton, Ohio (104 years old) across from the Dayton Daily News was forced to shut down because the Dayton Public School System wanted to expand into the corner of the gigantically-large building it was already in. the lease was up, the school district refused to renew it (despite the irony) and the book store went out of business, taking a lot of history with it. I spent the last five minutes of almost every lunch hour in that book store, turning in and buying a book on a whim most days. Was very sad.

  119. ” A well-designed website with your own hosting accunt
    An opt-in email list, ideally with a high-quality autoresponder
    A reputation for providing impeccable value”<—very good advice. Remember, though, that – these days – you can replicate what the big corporations are doing with very small funds. You see what they do, you oursource the replication to an indonesian or indian or philipinian person, and you have a site that functions like the big one does. Just a thiought.,

  120. Sonia,

    Nice article. It points to the need for diversification. That is a vital business principle in any vertical and any business aspect. If any aspect of your business is overly dependent on one provider, traffic source, customer base, or vendor, you’re vulnerable.

    Unfortunately, far too many business owners fail to recpognize this an act to mitigate the risks. For example, if your online busines is basled largely on Google search engine traffic, you’re but an algorithm update away from havbing your business wiped out. If you’re a bricks and mortar business, and you rely excessively on a single customers, you’re vulnerable to them changing their business, switching suppliers, or going out of business.

    It is exactly the same if you build your business on someone else’s land, whether that is virtual real estate or physical.

    • Great article that was probably a little ahead of it’s time waaaay back in August 2011!

      BUT I don’t believe there’s a need to panic just because we don’t “own” what’s on Facebook, Google etc. Diversification is indeed necessary but, as with everything in business, we should be careful to educate ourselves in the mediums we use. That includes watching the horizon for signs of change and danger and applies not only to our online business but EVERYTHING WE DO in our business.

      I agree with your three assets model. I always view the website as the “hub” and the social networks are merely outlying posts working to bring people back to that central hub.

  121. As many people found out with google panda and penguin, nothing is ever secure on the internet. And that’s exactly your point – which was very well laid out. We can work as hard as we can in social media, but building an audience, strengthening your reputation, and working on relationships with readers will be the strongest use of your time there. Excellent article – will be sharing it!

  122. Another great piece, tweeted.
    I suppose when you actually think about it, it makes sense. Also liked the idea of a real world example.

  123. Great article, I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to explain this to people in forums endlessly whining that the recent Google changes have destroyed their business; if your entire marketing mix is a Google position based on spamming article websites you’re destroying your own business. Farming analogy works really well too!

  124. Really interesting blog. As internet marketeers, we need to also think of the prospect that any of these social media platforms could fall bust similar to Myspace and that we need to be adaptable to any obstacles and have contingency plans in place to deal with it,

  125. I like this post so much I’m commenting again almost 18 months later! One recent thing I did in further recognition of this idea was to minimize the “social follow” buttons on my site with my recent redesign – they are now in the footer rather than the header.

  126. first few paragraphs really scared me, but later I thought deeply about it, and now it looks OK .
    BTW: Great message given by you.
    Regards,

  127. Hey Sonia I can relate to the bookstore part of your article! Two seasons ago I thought we were locked into a 5 year agreement at the perfect warehouse location for my business. Two years into the agreement the owner of the building told me we had thirty days to vacate.

    Turns out they already had a plan in the making to move in a really really big auto part supplier to help with their over-flow of auto parts. So in the middle of the 4th snowiest winter in Minnesota’s history, we were kicked out onto the streets.

    Lesson learned, read the FINE print, not the person you have done work for, for years.

    Website & Social media ~ Spot on, build your brand your way and on your own. I think this post will be around for another year or two or three!

  128. As with David G above, this is my second comment–months later.
    This is ending up to be one of those ‘whack on the forehead’ type evergreen posts that will live forever.
    If we have everything tied up in Google–or any one thing as a foundation for our business–then we have cause to fear the impact of the decisions of Google.

    That is why I’m going back to also include the offline activities that can be impacted by direct mail–as I did in the 1970s and 80s. And many others are seeming to follow the same path–back to the future if you will.

    There is a LOT of wisdom in the article and especially in the comments here.
    I’m glad we had this wake-up.

    Best regards,
    Steve

    • I looked it over when we re-published, and literally the only thing I changed was my bio. This is just one of those principles that will keep serving you in good stead — even in 5 or 10 years when Facebook or Twitter may no longer be the major players.

  129. This is the best article I’ve ever read on this site. I completely left Facebook last November when they implemented their first change to the way the news feed was configured and suddenly all my “loyal friends” that I had spent 2 years cultivating weren’t coming to my wall. I recognised immediately that they weren’t “my friends” at all, they were Facebooks friends. There is nothing wrong with that, but I was there for my work, not to give free content to Facebook. So I closed down all social media (including comments on my blog) and am now working toward a completely independent web presence. My blog (still a wordpress site at this point, but changing) has grown enormously since then. I still get a lot of shares and links from Facebook, but its all generated by quality content on my site which is where my focus lies. I do absolutely no work on those sites at all. If you’re content is good enough, they come to you. And that’s where your time and energy need to be spent.

  130. And this is why you need to have your very own website!
    Great post as usual Simone thanks for sharing this.

  131. Great information. Thanks for writing this.

  132. Great post and I have always thought that it was very time consuming and risky. Putting effort into building a powerful website makes so much more sense in the long run.

    Seen very little response from social media, but people come to my site and interact as long as I am doing the same. As they say you have to give in order to receive. A friendship has to be built and do we really care about the nonsense that a lot of the social sites attract. Need to always filter out what kind of customer you really what and who you really want to communicate with. Don’t need a million friends if only 5 are ever going to read your blog!

    Definitely trying to spend more time creating great content and the social media takes a back seat for most of what I do. Sure it is fine to try and reach out, but totally agree if your business is built entirely on that it can be the road to a collision course.

    Mary

  133. The old fashion SEO still remains. “Facebook or LinkedIn or Google+” are just temporary tools, and all the social platforms that will surface in the future, will be just the same. In the long run they are worthless.
    Your website is a good example. Is the good and interesting content that pulls in visitors and also the on page seo, not the social networks. Good websites are going to last even after the fall of Google or Facebook.

  134. This article is amazing (as always). Great introduction with the story that made me read the whole article.

    The issue of online sharecropping is something that every startup entrepreneur should be told to watch out for, like you said, it’s not your platform (FB, Google etc.) and it can put you out of business literally overnight in some cases.

    -Vaclav Gregor

  135. What a great post! The message is so true, and was interesting to learn about the sharecropping analogy. Thanks for sharing :)

  136. This is very true. I experienced this when I was selling on ebay. When I was making good money on ebay, opening up ebay store, they shut me down. Now potentially Facebook may spoilt my business. I’ve been wanting to turn my fans into my mailing list, but the conversion is pretty low.

  137. This is a great article and I 100% agree! Owning the 3 assets you mentioned are essential for the success of long-term plan for any business. Thanks for the advice.

  138. Great article. Was listening to a podcast with you on it and was like “What the f is digital sharecropping”? Excellent explanation

  139. Right on target! Some recent issues and abrupt changes to a few of these ‘digital sharecropping’ sites have brought this back into focus, a clear message that it is time for a detour – again.

    I’ve hit roadblocks due to this ‘digital sharecropping’ concept, made the mistake of investing way too much time time and focus on ‘free’ sites such as Facebook or Squidoo or other similar web platforms. Then there’s some abrupt change completely outside my control that screws up the entire picture!

    A good example of the definition of insanity…why do the same thing over & over expecting different results? I still use those sites some, but avoid giving them front seat status.

  140. Two years after this post was written, it’s still just as relevant. We do a lot of marketing and PR consulting for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and we NEVER tell them that it’s OK to build their entire business on someone else’s proprietary platform. Especially not when there are so many high-quality open source platforms available (like WordPress, for instance. And here, I’m speaking about the software, not the software + hosting solution that is WordPress.com.) Why in the world would you go to such enormous effort to till someone else’s fields?

    I’m feeling the effects of digital sharecropping myself. I used to get a huge amount of business from both Elance and LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s user profile has changed (for the worse) so much in the past several months that it inspired me to write a blog post: LinkedIn Jumps The Shark. I used to generate a lot of business on LinkedIn, thanks to the way recommendations were displayed on the profile. Then they launched the meaningless “endorsements” feature, killing of the customary display of the full text of endorsements. This platform used to be quite helpful in finding marketing and PR clients, but no longer. No I focus on building out my own site now.

  141. I may have commented here before when this article was originally published, but now I come armed with firsthand experience of Facebook leaving us high and dry…

    We recently rebranded our company from Flowers for Africa to inMotion Flowers (I’m including the names because it is relevant to their response). So naturally I submitted an application to have our Facebook page name changed. Well, my application was rejected by FB! This is the gist of their response:

    “Unfortunately, your request doesn’t meet our guidelines. The name you requested suggests that what your Page is about has changed, which can be confusing for people who liked your Page.”

    What!??? How does rebranding your business change what your page is about? I had already changed the name within our About section and changed our username to the new company name. So the only thing that will be confusing to our customers, is if we leave our FB page name as our old company while everything else including our website says the new name…

    Worse yet, while they ask you to reply to the email, it fails to send for some reason, so I can’t even contact them to refute the rejection!

    Their suggestions at the end of the email:

    “Create a new page”???

    Thanks for nothing Facebook!

    I hope this doesn’t happen to anyone else… and if anyone has any suggestions as to how I can email Facebook about this, please do let me know.

    Thank you.

    Brendon

  142. Cole D. Lehman :

    How do you feel about digital sharecropping as it applies to enterprise collaboration/project management tools? Google docs, dropbox, basecamp, etc? A whole new article ; )

    • Those are creation and storage tools, not publishing platforms. I suppose there is some danger using “cloud” apps, but it’s not quite the same thing.

  143. Oh now I got to know its true meaning.This word Digital Cropping was heard by me in a podcast and I was wondering its meaning.

  144. I built an external blog on Blogger for my company’s website and I haven’t switched to self-hosting yet. My main hurdle is justifying that move (as it entails a share of the budget), because the focus is to deliver direct traffic to the main site. Its been delivering a few referrals though. I’ve been wondering how to kick start traffic to that blog, and I’ve found it.

  145. I definitely see the benefit of owning my own building, rather than renting. I went right ahead and checked out synthesis.

    I have been getting really serious about this blogging thing. I’ve been following all the guideposts and checkpoints, and I know that wordpress is the place to be. But, I started on weebly and I am not technologically savvy in the slightest. I feel scared and overwhelmed when I see things like CDN and DNS and HTACCESS.

    I want to be the owner, but I’m not a handyman. Should I hire someone to build the foundation (i.e. my website)? That feels like a really pricey option when I have no incoming revenue or plausible results (yet).

    Any advice on using weebly versus switching to hosting my own site?

  146. Since day one I have depended on Twitter for most of my traffic. My account (which is @lolaprovocateur if anyone is interested) has plenty of followers and drives traffic to my blog like crazy whenever I want it to.

    Seriously. Posting links on my Twitter account is like turning on the visitor taps!

    But now, after reading this, you’ve made me think that depending on Twitter is, just maybe, a bit silly. Looks like it’s time for me to do what all the established names are doing and really start building my email list.

  147. Yup! I learned the ‘hard way’ about web2.0 sites. I have used them to host a URL once in awhile. Then Posterous was shut down by whoever bought it (Twitter?) and I had to shift gears on that one.

    You are completely correct on the three things to build for longevity -and I’m working on it -in a big way.

    Thanks for the excellent article. I’ll drift back from time to time and see what’s cooking.

    • Yes, I lost most of my content on Posterous. I finally read the TOS and was horrified to discover that they now own all my family photos. I had two blogs and at least, deleted photos from one, but Posterous shut down before I got to the second. Are my photos still around, ready to be sold? It’s sickening.

  148. Question: I’m new to this – after discovering I don’t own the content I create and making do-nothings rich, I’m determined to own my own site. However, I’m not so much interested in starting a business right now but want to create a blog that only friends can access. How do I do that?

  149. Great post that relieves my stress about reading on some other blogs all those articles that say “blogging is dead” or “publishing is changing”. I believe it is all about not putting all your eggs in the same basket while still owning your core platform on which you have the full control. Though currently we are devoting by far the majority of our efforts on our core platforms (our websites), we might start spending more of our time on external platforms. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see the changing balances in the future. Thanks, Sonia!

  150. Interesting topic! Blogging is still such a powerful tool when done properly. Thanks for sharing!

  151. Thank you very much for this post. You’ve brought back some sanity into my mind, which was just about to explode because of the disrespectful practices of google plus. While you didn’t particularly speak about the big G+, your post did make me realise, it’s all the same, everything you’ve said also applies to google plus.
    I’ve subscribed to your blog, hopefully, I’ll be from now on, in a community with more people around, who understand these principles.
    Thanks for returning some sanity into my mind :)

  152. Learned this ‘digital sharecropping’ message the hard way along with many online partners. Never put all of your eggs in one basket, ESPECIALLY when you do not OWN the basket!

    Oh YES, this is such a valuable lesson for newbies online! Many refuse to listen, despite the warnings… words like ‘free’ and ‘easy’ being irresistable to them. There is no such thing as free or easy in online business building.

    The ‘digital sharecroppers’ are building a business for someone else, one who may disappear or delete your work at any time. Is ‘free’ worth losing countless hours of investment of your time online? Time is money. Build your OWN brand… and OWN your digital footprints.