Would you put your company’s fate in the hands of strangers?
Spoiler alert — you already are.
Just about everyone is renting their digital presence, and some companies don’t even have any digital space they actually own themselves. Are you one of them?
We often reference the idea of “rent vs. own” for your digital presence. Simply put, a rented space is anything you don’t entirely control, while an owned space is something you do. Facebook Pages, Google My Business, TikTok accounts, Medium posts and more are rented spaces.
If your company only has rented space, you could be in grave danger.
What Does it Mean to Rent vs. Own?
“I control my Google My Business page,” you might say.
Correction: you have access to it and can edit information at Google’s discretion. You’re at the mercy of any changes they make. You control and own the content but nothing else.
The digital presence you own is completely different. If you have a website, a customer database and a mailing list, you have complete control of the information and the audience. You’re not going through a middleman that can override your message.
You own both your website’s information and the way it’s presented. You have the domain name; people can still go to YourName.com and find you if you switch providers. You can switch from MailChimp to RainMail without an issue for your email newsletter. Publish what you want. Do what you want. Nobody can stop you.
A TOS change for something like YouTube gives your videos lower visibility. Your main platform might die (when was the last time you heard about MySpace?). Even if you have the raw files, you made them for a specific format that fit that platform, and it won’t easily fit another.
What Challenges Do Rented Spaces Bring?
Ding Dong, Your Platform’s Dead
Many successful celebrities and influencers have grown a following on a channel and then seen it die.
Vine is one of the best examples. Some of the biggest influencers today, like Logan Paul, got their start on Vine. Twitter once claimed it topped out at an audience of 200 million. Then in 2016, avid users got the news: the app was ending. By the start of 2017 it had been mothballed, taking its place in the graveyard of dead platforms like Google Plus, Yik Yak and Friendster.
“You were on top of the world and now it’s over,” said Jason Nash, one of the platform’s top content creators. “I had 2.7 million followers on Vine, but I’m never going to be able to entice a million to join me somewhere else. A six-second Vine is a completely different art form. It has all of these attributes that something like a Snapchat and YouTube doesn’t have. Each platform is so different, but nothing was like Vine. The whole art form is dead and gone.”
Nash has since built up an audience on other platforms that rivals his previous success, but it took time and effort. If you’re heavily invested in a platform that goes under, it can set you back significantly.
What’s Yours is Mine
When you post to social media, most platforms have a clause in their terms of service that lets them use your content. You still have the rights to it. You just grant them a license that allows them to use it in things like promotional material.
This usually doesn’t become an issue, but it’s worth being aware of — if you post a picture to Facebook it may show up in something Facebook puts out down the line. Copyright lawyer Adam Weissman notes that it’s good to keep back content that you plan to commercialize and content that is just “too good” to give that sort of control to another platform.
As much as possible, you should use your social media content as a teaser to drive your audience to content you publish on a platform you own.
Changes in the terms of service can hurt your reach or even kill off an entire platform for you. Instagram and Tumblr changing their restrictions on adult content is one of the most visible examples — many adult content creators had to leave those platforms or change what they posted.
This is the trade-off of rented spaces: visibility vs. control. Having owned content elsewhere is insurance.
Is Anybody Listening?
Facebook had very high organic reach when they were trying to get people to engage with the site. This drove marketers to start creating content. Over time, people’s News Feeds got saturated and organic reach declined — both naturally due to the number of posts and artificially due to Facebook prioritizing paid content. Now organic reach is difficult on Facebook and most companies rely heavily on paid media.
That’s not always the case. If you’re a high-profile content creator that keeps people engaged, you can get verification and monetize your account yourself. The vast majority of content creators will have to pay for reach though.
Watching You, Watching Me
As we wrote about recently, Apple and Facebook are at the front lines of a war over online privacy right now. Apple’s latest iOS update let users choose whether to share their personal data with apps on the phone. Users opted out in droves.
The conflict extends beyond these two and includes regulation like the GDPR, browser standards like Firefox banning third-party cookies and more. The upshot of it is: those super-accurate targeting tools you would use to drive traffic are likely to get much less accurate.
How useful are those rented platforms if their targeting tools are defanged?
There are a number of challenges presented by rented platforms. Let’s look at owned spaces now.
Ownership Has Challenges Too
Money, Money, Money
Owning your own digital presence means being willing to invest time, effort and money. You’re going to have to pay for hosting and security. You’ll have to pay subscriptions for the tools you need. You may be able to trade time for money with time-saving tools, but you’ll have to spend something.
The upside? Any content and information you create becomes an asset, not an expense. Over the long term it can pay for itself many times over — but you have to get there first.
If You Build It, They Will (Probably Not) Come
Just building an owned space doesn’t guarantee you an audience. SEO isn’t immediate, and it’s harder to get noticed now than it used to be. Discoverability is key. It doesn’t matter how good your content is if nobody sees it.
Owned platforms usually take a long time to reach their potential. It takes time to build a dedicated audience and a mailing list. Rented platforms allow you access to an audience so you can build up quickly.
Building an audience requires a good marketing plan applied consistently over time. You have to work hard, create interesting content and accept the risk that that audience may never come. That’s why so many people turn to renting — the audience is already there, so the same effort can bear fruit relatively quickly.
So Should I Rent? Or Own? Both.
It’s critical to have an owned space you control, but social media and other “rented” spaces exist to provide visibility. They give you an avenue to introduce people to your company — people that might never look you up or hear about you through word of mouth.
You need both to be successful. Rented platforms provide an audience. An owned digital presence creates long-term content marketing value. Use one to drive the other. It’s a simple formula.
Content + audience = success.
You can be successful if you understand how to apply that equation. Be the master of your own destiny and your digital presence. Not sure how to do that? Know that you don’t need to go it alone. We’re in this with you. If you need a little help, just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services