Familiar with the term Digital Sharecropping? It’s a phenomenon that most people don’t understand. An SEO guru colleague, Heather Lloyd-Martin shared a newsletter email regarding it and got me taking another look.
Digital sharecropping refers to social media channels and how people and businesses interact with them. The earliest concerns about it date back to 2006.
The term derives from the sharecropping, (aka feudalism) that happened after the end of the US Civil War. People had no money so paid to use a landlord’s property with a share of their crops. They didn’t own the land or even the tools they used.
In the game of Monopoly™, when you land on a property that is owned, you have to pay rent just like sharecroppers did.
It’s happening today—digitally. And it can be very risky for your business if you are dependent on it.
Social Media Digital Sharecropping
In the last few years, many businesses, especially B2C, have shifted their marketing to focus completely on social media. Some skip a website altogether, focusing instead on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Simple. Easy. Sweet.
What they don’t realize is they have no real control over what the social channel does. The channel owns the real estate. The channel is their landlord.
So they post lots to get more likes and more fans. They work hard to build a social empire of followers.
So what’s wrong with that? It works great to stay in touch with friends. It’s been a way to stay connected during the pandemic.
However, did you know that once you post pictures the channel actually can now sell the images someplace else without your permission and without compensating you? It’s in the fine print and it’s been this way for years.
Social was designed to be gathering spots, like the water cooler or watering hole. People visit, put up posts, and share for free. In exchange, the channel sells advertising to monetize users. It’s quite profitable, ask Mark Zuckerberg.
However, what if you are a business owner?
Matthew Inman, creator of Oatmeal comics got hit with the dark side of his social media empire.
Inman’s had a website for years where he publishes Oatmeal comics. But to make it easy to stay connected with followers he shifted to build a huge following on Facebook and Instagram. People love his posts.
According to a recent The Oatmeal Instagram post, Facebook has decided if Inman wants to reach more than a fraction of his followers, he needs to pay them $2000 PER POST. And this is content he’s putting up free for his nearly four million followers.
In his Instagram post, he explained the situation and invited people to sign up for his newsletter where they can be guaranteed the full dose of his comic goodness.
He’s also started only sharing part of “something too big for Instagram”, or Facebook, and sending the reader to his website to see the rest.
He is moving away from being dependent on social media. Inman has learned the risks of being a digital sharecropper. Now his focus is real estate he owns and controls. His website and e-newsletter where there are no middlemen charging fees.
Why is digital sharecropping important to understand?
With social media, the rules change with little notice.
Paid posts, or rebuilding a following on a new channel, are expensive.
Inman worked for years to build his following. Then the rules changed. Without paying huge fees, only a tiny portion of his followers would see his posts.
You don’t want your business to be in Inman’s situation.
How would it impact your marketing if you had to pay for every post you put on your business page?
For your business to succeed long term, you need a plan to take control of your social marketing.
I’ve discovered the ways to fight back and I’ll share them with you.
Here’s something most people don’t think of…
Where will you be if a different new social channel becomes the big buzz? Think it won’t happen? Where’s MySpace? Friendster? Google+? MySpace still exists, but it’s pretty lonely there. It went out of favor.
And a recent Social America report shared that for Gen Z and millennials, Facebook has lost favor. Instead, they are using Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. And this will change again, it’s inevitable.
Every social empire you build is only temporary. So if you want to depend on social, get prepared for changes and having to rebuild.
3 ways to offset digital sharecropping
When I work with clients we use social media as part of the mix, but we focus on things they have 100% control over. We focus on enhancing their website, connecting with emails and newsletters, and building a reputation for offering value.
Your website is something you have complete control over. Wherever you market, drive the traffic to your website. Make it the hub of your marketing efforts.
Start a post on social and send them to the website to see the rest. Share a new product or service and direct them to your website to learn more.
Invite visitors to subscribe to your newsletter. You can increase the number of signups by offering something useful or of value as a reward for subscribing.
Send them emails with links to information or products on the website.
Direct mail pieces have gained favor since there is a lot more in our inboxes than in our mailboxes. What you send is more apt to be seen. Use mail as another way to bring people to your website. Drive them to a special report, service, or offer.
Assure your website offers a positive experience and is easy to navigate.
Contact information needs to be easy to find, preferably on every page so the visitor doesn’t have to hunt.
People have become more skeptical. Use transparency to boost trust. Consider putting a contact number in a narrow banner at the very top of each page. It’s validation you are a sound trustworthy business. They may never call, but it makes you seem safer than a business without it.
Newsletters and emails
Using email to connect and share is one of the best investments in your marketing mix. They come from you.
Whether a short post or a newsletter, they can be informational, educational, and entertaining. They can also drive clients back to your website. Introduce an article or blog with a link to where the complete story resides on your website.
Email communications are a great place to share more about your team, your brand story, and your products or services. Share your uniqueness, your visions, and your social conscience.
Emails are bond builders. People love to be part of a group or a tribe. Your emails and newsletter are exclusive for your subscribers—a place they can hear your news before the rest of the world does.
The right emails nurture new buyers. They help them have the best experience with their purchase as well as get to know you as a brand.
According to a recent study by SubjectLine.com, emails that promote a one-day offer get 21% higher opens than if you just announce a sale. Words like “today only,” or “one day sale,” get attention and people don’t want to miss out. They create a sense of urgency and exclusivity.
Use content as a way to share and display valuable information you put out. Content that’s fresh, relevant, useful, and focused on your target audience’s interests and concerns.
Avoid any techniques or content that seems spammy or pushy/dodgy.
Your value content is the reputation your business earns. Quality and value are the keys to attracting and keeping your ideal customers.
So where does that leave social? Social channels are useful tools to support your website…the real estate you own. Use social as a part of your marketing mix. Mix is the keyword. You are using but not depending on channels that you have no real control over.
Judith Culp Pearson is a digital content marketer helping businesses gain and retain customers for a higher lifetime value. Result-oriented relationship building and empathy-based marketing. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.