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Are You a Digital Sharecropper?

by Matthew Grant  |  
January 18, 2013

In a recent MarketingProfs PRO Seminar, Intel's Ekaterina Walter said, "For marketers, Facebook is definitely a rented land."

What Ekaterina meant was  that, despite all the benefits a company may derive from building and cultivating a presence on Facebook, that company remains a tenant in Facebook's house. And Facebook, as master of the house, can change the rules (or even kick you out) whenever it wants.

So, why do companies do it? Why do they build businesses on or around Facebook or eBay or Amazon or Google? The answer may be, as Sonia Simone of Copyblogger Media suggested in this week's episode of Marketing Smarts, that building your business on a rented land just seems so darn easy.

"It's easier to set up a Facebook page than it is to set up a self-hosted website on WordPress," she said. "You can do it in five minutes."

Facebook Doesn't Care About You

"These companies, they do not care about you as an individual business at all," Sonia said, "They can't."

They can't and don't care for several reasons, first being that they didn't build these platforms for the benefit of your or any other business. Instead they built them to attract and cater to their users. Intense focus on the needs of these users brought a billion people to Facebook, convinced billions to search the web via Google, and made Amazon and eBay the web's two most thriving marketplaces.

In fact, these platforms rose to the dominant positions they enjoy in many cases precisely by limiting what other businesses can do on or with them (even when, ironically, they actually rely on these other businesses to generate revenue).

A Room of One's Own

"I'm not saying don't do business on eBay or Amazon or Facebook," Sonia explained, "because they are great tools; they are great places where massive chunks of market accumulate. They are great places to capture attention and find new buyers and find new audience members."

In other words, it's perfectly reasonable to be active on these platforms as part of your business strategy. Indeed, if your customers and potential customers congregate there, you might be foolish not to.

You just have to remember that you are on "rented land" and, most important, figure out a way to move the relationships you develop on these platforms back to land that you own outright (such as your blog or your website or---heaven forbid!---your brick-and-mortar locale).

The relationship between your business and these behemoths will always be asymmetrical like the relationship between the share cropper and the land owner. Therefore, even though your presence ultimately benefits the behemoths, they are not beholden to you.

To avoid getting squashed, or having the land you've been working sold right out from under you, you've not only got to have a place of your own, you have to focus on users and the user experience just as the behemoths have.

It's easy enough to understand why these users flock to the web's largest sites. If you focus on their needs and have something to offer, you might just entice some of them to flock to yours.

If you would like to hear my entire conversation with Sonia, you may listen here or download the mp3 and listen at your leisure. You can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
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My name is Matthew T. Grant, PhD. I'm Managing Editor here at MarketingProfs. I divide my time between designing courses for MarketingProfs University and hosting/producing our podcast, Marketing Smarts. You can follow me on Twitter (@MatttGrant) or read my personal musings on my blog here.

If you'd like to get in touch with me about being a guest on Marketing Smarts or teaching as part of MarketingProfs University or, frankly, anything else at all, drop me a line.

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  • by Simeon Howard Sat Jan 19, 2013 via blog

    In my opinion, the key to any market is the same as it has always been: diversification. Any business that wants to survive online should have their fingers in as many pies as possible. To me, that also mean being an early adopter.

    Speaking of early adoption, I think that is when you have the biggest advantage in your relationship with any platform. If you're building good cross traffic between your older social media platforms and newer ones, you'll find that the owners of that younger platform are a lot more interested in keeping you happy. Build a relationship at that stage, and it will be paying dividends for a long time.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Mon Jan 21, 2013 via blog

    Thanks for the comment, Simeon. I agree on the diversification front as well. Too many people put all their virtual eggs in one virtual basket.

    Also, an interesting point about early adoption and the attentiveness of young platforms.

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