digital rental,digital sharecropping,Social media networks continually expand and update their services in an effort to convince businesses to build their brand presence on the network’s digital land. LinkedIn recently revamped its publishing platform to introduce new capabilities. Medium has gained popularity as a blogging and networking platform, and Facebook’s Instant Articles accept content from more publishers.

Many companies and not-for-profit organizations, large and small, have taken advantage of those social media platforms to create a digital presence, to market their products, and to promote their PR message. Many individuals and influencers also build their online presence on social networks. They do it because they can gain more attention on those platforms than on their own websites, blogs or other owned media. They also incur lower costs and avoid the need to hire technical staff.

However, in building their PR and marketing on rented land, they take an enormous risk.

The Case of the Disappearing Facebook Page

John Nemo, CEO of LinkedIn Riches, relates how he learned about that risk in an article for Inc. Nemo recently discovered his Facebook Page had disappeared without warning. When he attempted to log in, it was simply gone. After waiting for an answer from Facebook for more than 72 hours, he eventually concluded that he violated a copyright claim. He thinks it was an image that contained a corporate logo, but can’t be sure because Facebook never identified the particular content. Using an email Facebook provided, he emailed the person who had complained to ask what he did and how he could rectify the situation. He did not receive a response. It’s possible that the complainer was a troll.

“A Facebook Fan Page I spent several years (and thousands of dollars) building is suddenly gone, and it’s unlikely I can do anything to get it back,” Nemo laments. “If you choose to build your online house on someone else’s digital property, don’t be shocked if they kick you out, raise the rent or change the rules without warning.”

Fortunately, Nemo had heeded advice about building on rented digital space and had focused on promoting his own website and building an email list. Ironically, he makes his living training marketers and salespeople how to find leads through LinkedIn. Naturally, he continues to promote his business on the LinkedIn social media network.

Advice for Renters

Nemo recommends: Use social media to locate prospects, but move them to your website and email list as quickly as possible.

“The key is not becoming too dependent or reliant on those social media channels when it comes to having conversations with prospects, delivering products or talking to your customers,” he advises.

Other experts also recommend a multi-channel approach that entails creating high-quality content for the organization’s own website, treating social media sites as outposts where you invite your audience to your own website.

A Multi-Channel Approach

Steps for that strategy include:

  • Publish engaging content on the corporate blog.
  • Promote the owned content on appropriate social media networks.
  • Revise the corporate blog content and republish it in third-party websites and social networks.
  • Promote the republished content in social networks.

Content producers will probably continue to debate the pros and cons of owned media (a website or blog on your own server) vs. what’s derisively called digital sharecropping. Building a website on rented land of website builders such as Wix or Weebly, or relying on social media networks such as Facebook or Pinterest can help expand reach and release marketers from the more onerous technical tasks of building and managing a website. However, like sharecroppers in the past, digital sharecroppers live at the mercy of the large landowners. They risk losing control of their content at any time. The network can tweak its terms of service and block, delete or ban their content.

The third-party websites can change their rules, or even disappear. Brands that hitch their PR and marketing wagons to the wrong social media star assume an enormous long-term risk.

Bottom Line: Website builders and social media platforms attract many companies and not-for-profit organizations willing to build their future on rented digital property in order to avoid technical issues and reduce costs. However, relying on third-party networks, especially a single platform, poses enormous risks for public relations and marketing. Rather than putting all eggs in one basket, prudent businesses strive to move customers and prospects to platforms they control and employ a range of PR and marketing strategies.