Digital Sharecropping– Vast Majority of Online Business is Sharecropping: But More Distressful– They Don’t Even Know It…

You are digital sharecropping and you don’t even know it… You are building your business on someone else’s land. Digital sharecropping means creating content that you publish on sites you don’t own–like; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… without direct compensation; Just like the sharecroppers of old who tended the land of others and lived at the mercy of large landowners…

Similarly today, many businesses with their social media strategy, which revolves around the websites of other businesses are in a powerless position and at the mercy of large social networks…

According to Kevin Marcoux; most people don’t really understand how much they are actually giving away, and how they are, in fact, devaluing their own– value, creativity, intellectual work… in exchange for free webpage that has practically no cost to the provider… if business people better understood the social media model and dynamics, they would be more enthusiastic and proactive about building their own Internet freehold, where their work, value, intellectual property remains under their control. 

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According to Nicholas Carr, who first originated the term– digital sharecropping; when you visit; Facebook, Twitter, and thousands of social media websites and post your content on their– walls, groups, forums… you are giving away a very valuable part of your intellectual property and getting absolutely nothing in return… they (the websites) and not you, own your content… It’s worth remembering that the business model of Web 2.0 social networks is the sharecropping model.

After the Civil War when the original sharecropping system took hold in the American south, plantation owners made money in two ways: They leased land to the sharecroppers and they also leased them their tools… It’s no different now in the digital age… The payments for land (i.e., web page) and tools (i.e., video, widget…) are not transacted direct through exchanges of cash, but rather indirect through the sale of ‘ads’… but the idea is the same…

So, Who owns what you post on the Internet? If you can’t say; I own my creations… then you’re getting screwed… If anybody should be making money from content you create, even if it’s just ‘ads’ revenue, you should be first in line; not Facebook, not Google… You are the means of production and social media is just the means of distribution… Without your content companies like; Facebook, Google… don’t have anything to distribute and nothing to sell…

In the article Economics of Digital Sharecropping by Nicholas Carr writes: One of Facebook’s crucial financial measures is the ‘average revenue per user’ (ARPU)… Since, Facebook’s content is created by its members, ARPU also provides the monetary value of each member’s labor. If the average Facebook sharecropper were to be paid a share of revenue for his or her work on the site, that member would make a sub-minimal wage– about enough to buy a cup of coffee… Needless to say, that amount is so small that Facebook members would never even think about it... The revenue amounts only become financially interesting when you aggregate them on a massive scale…

Now even though Facebook would very much want ARPU to grow steadily, it probably doesn’t want the number to get so large that it becomes a meaningful amount to its members. If that happened, members might start thinking about the ‘cash value of their labor’ rather than just its ‘attention’ value. The line between these two economies become blurred; by keeping ARPU modest (and focus on scale), Facebook (and others) keep the all-important divide between the ‘attention economy’ (i.e., members see themselves as working) and the ‘cash economy’ (i.e., company reaps the monetary value of the members’ work). The last thing a for-profit social network wants is for its members to start seeing themselves as laborers…

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In the article Who Are You Promoting With Digital Sharecropping? by Jared William writes: Digital sharecropping is what happens when you create content on someone else’s property, i.e.; you do the work; you create content, and the websites keep all of the benefits… These modern-day plantation owners make it easy, e.g.; just click here to sign up, add your name, email address… now you are a sharecropper.

And, that means you have a place on the Internet– you can scream, yell, rant, play, show off your work, join conversations, constantly check your account to keep up with all of the other folks doing the same things: It’s enticing; it’s easy; it’s delusional… If you’re trying to run a business, or build a brand, or otherwise engage an audience… when it’s all said and done, you’re creating content on someone else’s digital land: You’re a digital sharecropper…

But, what happens when your digital landlord changes the rules, or even ceases to be the place that draws a crowd? You are screwed. The simple truth is that social websites are great resources but you must  bring visitors back to your home base– your website– in order to build a sustainable business… You must control the visitor’s entire experience… Social media has its place– interacting with friends and fans on Facebook, Google+, Twitter… these places are like digital watering hole… But sooner rather than later, you must have a site of your of own that’s fully engaged with your visitors, customers…

In the article Digital Sharecropping – Customer or Product? by Marion Jacobson writes: With Internet powerhouses like; Facebook, Google, Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest, hundreds of others… customers are willingly posting ‘tons’ of content on these sites daily; for free… But, as you might already know, these powerhouse social media firms are in business to create communities, apps… not out of altruistic desire to help their fellow-man; it’s business stupid… They are using your content to make money… and, that’s perfectly fine with most people, in fact, millions and millions of people… Since businesses are rapidly jumping into the social content fray headfirst, it’s a good time to revisit the question; are you the product or the customer that is makes money for someone else?

Are you a digital sharecropper working hard and producing great stuff that’s making someone else rich? If your answer is ‘yes’ or unsure, then you must quickly change mindset: Bring your traffic, your authority, your links… to your own business website, not theirs… post your  company blog on your own domain; don’t use other websites… Leverage the other social media sites to– tweet, post, plus… and share your content as much as you want, but post excerpts that link back to your original post on your site…

If you have a business page on Facebook (and you should),  promote your own content along with other engaging posts, conversations… Just remember that having a ton of original content on Facebook will not help you in the search engine results contest... But, it will help you engage with customers, fans… and a great way to increase brand visibility. But the key issue revolves around– your business being ‘findable’ on Facebook… but, as important, is the protection of your original content– it  belongs to you and it must first appear on your website… Which means that you don’t have to worry about losing content, or other sharecropping issues; if the free online repository has trouble; goes out of business, decides to charge a fee, or changes rules of the game…

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In the article Sharecropping: Sucker’s Game by Scott Baradell writes: Sharecropping goes digital, which is a sucker’s game… Why? For two reasons:

1.) Lack of audience ownership: Just as subsistence farmers of past were stuck on someone else’s land forever; so does a strategy centered on someone else’s website leaves you dependent on that website… But, most important, if you send your audience to another site, such as; Facebook rather than to your own website, then you own nothing…

2.) Lack of predictable outcomes: Since you have no control over another website and you are easy prey for changes that might take money out of your pocket and make your labors fruitless. So what’s the solution? Simple; invest in building your own website with fresh, frequently updated, mostly non-branded content that will attract prospects and other important audiences to your site…

As for– Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Quora, Flickr and the rest… Use them, of course, but for the purpose of– leveraging their audiences to build your own website... It’s equivalent of working on someone else’s land (and, setting aside some of the harvest to build up your reserves), until you have enough resources to create a more lucrative property of your own…

But, in reality; many businesses are putting all their energy and hard work just to build someone else’s business? They are, in effect, tilling soil and helping others grow their business, rather than their own… When a business is dependent on another for livelihood; they are a digital sharecropper… in fact, it’s 21st century version of 19th century sharecropper… Digital sharecropping is not just a recipe for disaster, it’s long-term business suicide…

According to Bryan Del Monte; while individually, content may be trivial but when aggregated that what’s made digital media what it is today– a multi-billion dollar enterprise that has concentrated power in the hands of an oligopoly… In other words, content producers work for free as far as; Facebook, Bing, Google, LinkedIn… see it from their accounting books.

Just look at their terms and conditions; not only do they have effectively unlimited rights over your contributions (including, publications…), they also have much stronger rights than you, the user, have over your own digital existence… In some cases, they can involuntarily appropriate or dispose of your information, your identity, your content, your creations, and your labors, in however manner they see fit… The vast majority of businesses and people existing on the digital landscape are either; slaves or sharecroppers… that are making others rich, and they are working tirelessly to do so….

The vast majority of business, people… using social media are happy with the model because they see their primary interest in garnering ‘attention‘, not in capturing ‘value created‘… We futz about ‘Klout’ and how many followers we have, and not the fact that our daily efforts build the empire of others… Put perhaps more bluntly, most people believe– ‘being socially famous’ is more valuable than the billions of dollars that successful social networks are earning by leveraging your content generation…

Everyone is pretty miserable trying to figure out what works: The belief is– all you need is great content and you’ll be famous– that model is wrong… According to Anita Campbell; the question at the end of the day is; after all the effort you put into creating content– do you own the fruits of your labor? When you built something of value, and is it ‘yours’?

The point of business is to create value for your commercial enterprise, but if you are only creating value for other businesses, then you are defeating purpose for being in business… Remember, sharecropping is a sucker’s game and it continues (alive and well) in today’s digital age–  it’s up to you; take control of your business, protect your content, and build a profitable business…