What is Digital Sharecropping?

Sharecropping is a system where tenants farm on land owned by another person and give a portion of their crops to the landowner. In 2006, writer Nicholas Carr coined the term “Digital Sharecropping” to describe a phenomenon that has arisen among online businesses. It happens when a website relies on other users to provide the majority of its content.

According to Carr, “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.”

While in traditional sharecropping, the landowner is in charge, online “landlords” are the websites: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.

What’s the Problem?

Anyone can create content on these websites. However, the content ends up belonging to the website, not the creator. The more content we create for them for free, the richer and more valuable the landlord becomes.

With any kind of sharecropping, the landlord is in control. The landlord receives the majority of the profits. The landlord can dismantle the system at any time. Even trustworthy websites can suddenly go under or become obsolete. This leaves all of their users suddenly without their services. Most importantly, the landlord doesn’t really care about its individual underlings. Facebook doesn’t care if a single business page gets deleted.

Let’s take a closer look at this Facebook example. Most businesses these days decide to make a Facebook page and update its content regularly. This is a good thing and provides many benefits. It brings in new viewers and customers, raises awareness of their product, and opens a channel of conversation between the business and its clientele. But what if Facebook suddenly decides that you’ve violated its terms and conditions? What if your account gets deleted and you lose your one way to talk to your customers? Facebook is fast-paced and constantly changing. This can come back to haunt you if you rely too much on its services to run your business.

What Should I Do?

There are several ways you can go about making your online business presence stronger. The great news is that by taking these steps, you not only protect yourself from the hazards of digital sharecropping, you also make your business stronger now.

The first step you should take to protect your business online is to have a well designed website that you host yourself. This should be your most crucial business asset online, since it doesn’t rely on other sites. When you use other websites, make sure you link back to your own site constantly to bring in viewers to your own property.

Diversification is your strongest weapon against the downfalls of digital sharecropping. Use many platforms and systems. Provide content on many social media sites. By using a variety of tools, you protect yourself when one of them lets you down.

Another useful tip is to create an opt-in email list on your website. By providing content through an email newsletter directly to your customers, you cut out the middleman in the conversation.

A crucial aspect of building an online presence is to develop a reputation of trustworthiness and value. Provide high quality content, take Internet security seriously, and avoid spammy practices. If your customers trust your business and value your content, they’ll continue making purchases and spread the word about your product.

Following the most recent social media trends is a great way to bring in new business and keep the interest of your customers, new and old. However, you should never build your entire online platform on an asset that you don’t own. By diversifying and talking as directly to your customers as possible, you can create a strong online presence that doesn’t rely on a company that you can’t control.

If you want more tips about SEO, content marketing, and other topics, check out Virtual Market Advantage’s other blogs here!

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