Digital sharecropping means creating content and publishing it on sites you don’t own.
Just like sharecroppers of old who worked land owned by someone else, living at the mercy of large landowners… many ministries and Christian organizations are building strategies around giant social media networks, subject to the rules and whims of these companies.
When you create content and host it on social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, etc., you take advantage of the free (or cheap) opportunities they offer, while simultaneously increasing the value of their platforms.
Unfortunately, you also take the risk of losing control of your content. Your content effectively belongs to the social media site.
For example, on Facebook if you publish content that is deemed to have violated their terms of service, your content can be blocked, deleted, or you could even be banned from the platform.
Facebook recently updated its “Community Standards,” and what the company considers to be “hate speech” is getting a lot of talk. Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, said “Religious communicators are wary that spurious charges might be leveled against them when they proclaim truth from Scripture on controversial issues.”
There is another risk to digital sharecropping.
Targeting audiences on someone else’s site can be like aiming at a moving target. Audiences are fickle. Technologies change rapidly. At its 2008 peak, MySpace was the most visited social networking site in the world. Facebook crushed MySpace. Things continue to change. There are whispers, ‘Facebook is losing its cool factor.’
These factors are beyond your ability to control but can directly impact your ministry when you go wholeheartedly after the host site’s audience and use their media tools. Years of effective ministry can be extinguished overnight.
So what’s the solution?
1. Keep control of your content on your own website. Make your website a hub of fresh, frequently updated content. Host your content yourself, or partner with a platform that operates on your site and allows you to have complete control of content and monetization.
2. Engage with your visitors. Control the entire experience. Invite visitors to interact with you, giving you an idea of the type of content they want.
3. Develop a reputation for adding value to your audience. Do a free webinar. Have a Q&A clinic. Keep your normal communication channels open.
4. Use social media sites as “outposts.” Get in there and invite their audiences to your place – your website – where you can make them feel at home, and give them the inspiration, the information, and the answers they’re searching for.
Social media sites should be a complement to any integrated marketing mix. But do you really want to put your whole trust in a company that doesn’t know you from Adam and doesn’t care whether your ministry succeeds or not.
Build a platform with content that you control. Don’t risk your mission by building on rented land. The best strategy is a multichannel approach, starting with your own website as the center of operations.