Digital Marketing in Nigeria: The Bane of Digital Sharecropping
In the area I grew up there was a middle-aged lady who ran a restaurant. She was polite, neat and cooked good food. People flocked to her restaurant. I did not patronised her much (mum frowned at any form of buying cooked food “from outside”) but we all knew her.
She was the hardworking woman who had built a thriving little restaurant.
Fast-forward a couple of years. I came back from school (I was in the higher institution at the time) and noticed she was no longer there. I asked my mum and she casually said the landlord had sent her packing-citing different reasons. Her restaurant was noisy… she stayed too late…
So she was told to pack her loads and leave.
That’s a classical illustration of my topic this Monday – Digital Share-cropping.
What is Sharecropping?
Sharecropping refers to the farming practices common in the old feudalist countries. Some of us, probably, only learnt about it in school. You can also liken it to Subsistence farming.
Basically, here’s how it works – there is a big landholder and individual farmers. The individual farmers work on the land of the landholder whilst the landholder reaps a large part of the benefits.
It’s a crazy deal.
The individual farmers are at the mercy of the landlord. The landholder remits some of the profit to the sharecropper who does all of the work. The terms and conditions are up to the landholder.
The landlord is, well lord- he can go away, he can have mood swings and drive the farmers out. He can get rid of them and leave you empty when he likes.
It’s a lot like what Nigerians are facing in South Africa.
A lot of hard-working Nigerians migrated to South Africa. A lot of them have expended years of blood, sweat and tears building successful businesses only for the “owners of the land” to wake up one day to say it was their land- so Nigerians should return to their country.
A lot of us watched in pain as businesses and properties running into millions of dollars were plundered. Lives were lost too.
It is not fair but it’s real. It is yet another form of share-cropping.
What is Digital Sharecropping?
Digital Share-cropping is a term coined by Nicholas Carr to describe a peculiar phenomenon of Web 2.0.
One of the vital 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.
In other words, anyone can create content on sites like Facebook or Instagram, but that content effectively belongs to Facebook. The more content we create for free, the more valuable Facebook becomes. We do the work, they reap the profit.
The reason I’m writing about digital sharecropping is not because of the economic rewards. It’s because of a more pertinent issue- the Issue of Control.
These sites/ social networks have absolute control over whatever happens to the content and platforms you build on their platforms.
A few Mondays ago I wrote about the dropping reach on certain social media platforms.
That is just one and perhaps the least significant of the ways the digital landlord can exercise his power.
And it ranges from harmless actions such as changing dimensions and layouts to reducing page reach to more disastrous deeds such as deleting users’ pages when they are found to have violated their rules(which they can and usually do make up as they go).
Only late last year, popular gossip blogger Linda Ikeji’s site was taken down when someone filed a claim that she had violated his copyright.
It’s the power the landholder holds.
He controls his territory. He can change it, recreate it and do whatever he deems fit.
This is not a good thing.
As an online marketer, one thing you should always look out for is the amount of control you have.
Your website is the only thing online that you have absolute control over.
How does digital sharecropping apply to digital marketing in Nigeria?
A lot of marketers and business owners alike are digital sharecroppers.
Their sites lie in the recesses of oblivion while they pump in millions to revive or activate social channels.
They have, and continue to spend, untold amounts of time and energy on sharecropped lands, neglecting platforms they truly own and control.
Once the reach of those sites begin to decline/ when the lord of those lands decide to exercise their powers- they heart-brokenly move to yet another new and freshly popular site.
What you should be doing is developing your owned online assets and leveraging on the power of the other lands to increase the power of your owned online assets.
I know it’s quicker and easier to get started on facebook or any of those other social platforms. But truth be told- “Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ etc” are just temporary tools and all the social platforms that will surface in time, will be just the same.
So Are You Guilty of Digital Sharecropping?
Not sure if you are a digital sharecropper? Ask yourself these questions.
- Is borrowed land the only place people can find you?
- Do you even having owned land at all?
- If something goes wrong with the platforms where you can be found, is there an easy way out?
So what’s the Right Way to Act?
Know who owns the chicken:
Even when you think you “own your content” placed on these sites come to the full realization you really don’t control.
It’s a lot like the proverb in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The child may continue to feed the fowl thinking it belongs to him. Realty will set in when it’s time to kill it, then the real owner will emerge.
Use platforms you don’t control, but don’t give them front seat status :
They can be used as tools for growth, but they shouldn’t be the major place where you build your business
Have a long term strategy:
You may decide to start out on those platforms, but have plans to build and cultivate platforms you ultimately control.
Consider the POSSE principle:
POSSE means Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere .Though not a one size fits all tactic; POSSE is a mind-set that may help you actively build platforms you control.