“Digital Sharecropping” is a term that floats around in the online marketing world, and most physicians don’t know what it is. I know this because it’s a bad thing that many docs do anyway. And since they passed their boards, I’m pretty sure it’s an issue of familiarity and not understanding. It’s just not that tricky.
The term makes reference to post-Civil War farming practices that benefitted the landowner and took advantage of the farmer. It was coined by Nicholas Carr back in 2006, and it’s still discussed among content marketing experts in 2015.
The concept is just the same as with old-school sharecropping. If you don’t own your land, you are at the mercy of the landlord. You can get kicked off your land or have the rent raised tomorrow.
On the internet the same is true. When you create content on someone else’s platform, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or somewhere else, you are at risk. This includes the website that your medical group provides for you! Why? Because you aren’t Mark Zuckerberg, and you don’t own any of those platforms.
Let’s say you create engaging posts on Facebook and build a great rapport with your audience there. What happens tomorrow when Facebook decides it hates all doctors and shuts your page down? This hasn’t happened, and I doubt it will. But Facebook has made it very difficult to reach your audience.
What about building a wonderful content library on the website provided by your medical group? There’s someone managing it, and it’s free to you. It seems like the most straightforward option. But what if you decide to leave the group? Stranger things have happened. If you did have to leave, wouldn’t it be nice to have an online identity that travels with you – a place where the patients who know and love you can find you?
What’s more, if you do it right, you are creating valuable content that is an asset in itself. Why would you give it away for free to Google+?
MySpace, Facebook, and many other businesses have realized that they can give away the tools of production but maintain ownership over the resulting products. – Nicholas Carr
The fact that the obsolete MySpace was mentioned in this 2006 article brings the point home. Even if your landlord isn’t a robber baron, you just don’t know how long any particular platform is going to be of value to you.
So what should you do? You need to take several steps to retain control of your content and access to your audience.
- Create your own website with a domain name you own. Pay for it to be hosted on a reputable hosting service. Now your content belongs to you.
- Build an email list by embedding email sign-up forms on your website. Do this with a legitimate email service. NEVER take advantage of the person who shared their email with you by sending them something that is not of value to them (we call that spamming).
- Use social media as a platform to distribute your content and drive traffic to your website. Share links to your blog posts, free downloads, or webinar sign-ups on social media. If your content is compelling, social media users will click through to your website to access it. Then, if you do it right, they will sign up for your email list. (See #2 above.)
- If your medical group provides a website for you, use it to add a prominent link to the website you own.
Now, no matter the circumstances, you own your online identity, your content, and access to your audience. These other platforms are simply distribution channels for sharing said content.
Set up an email list and embed an email sign-up form on your website. They should be easy to see on your homepage, and at the end of each blog post. Now, instead of adding content to social media pages, add it to your website, then tell your social media audience where to find it.
See our resources page for email service providers and other services that can help with your site.
If you don’t own your site, or if you aren’t sure if you own your site, then get in touch, we can talk you through it.
When all is said and done, you should own your work, and you should have access to the people who have agreed to allow you to contact them. Don’t be a digital sharecropper.