We posted an article a while back about Digital Sharecropping. The term refers to the idea that if you’re putting your content up on somebody else’s site, they are reaping the majority of the benefits while you’re at their mercy; they can change their terms, claim ownership or other rights to your work, hold your work hostage, or any number of undesirable scenarios.
Here’s another one; they can suddenly impede your distribution, then offer to let you pay to get back what they took away. Case in point, Facebook’s new “sponsored post” program; if you have a page on Facebook for your business or organization, you can pay them a fee per post to make sure that everybody who has “liked” the page will see it. That seems fair, right? It would if not for the fact that as soon as they announced the program, they changed the settings on your page so that only 15% of your followers will see your updates if you don’t pay up. The good folks at Dangerous Minds explain it all for you.
“What are you complaining about, Facebook is a free service!” I hear you cry. Well, no, it’s really not. You pay for it every time you use it. When you signed up with them, you agreed to let them store and distribute a lot of personal information about you–who you are, where you live, what you buy, what you like, and all the other details you post on their site. That information is worth a lot of money. Do you have one of those savings club cards from your grocery store? The one that gives you a lower price on things you buy if you swipe the card or put in your phone number? I used to design ads for the company that ran those programs back in the days when the Web was new and modems were 14.4k. The way they work is you let them track your shopping and in return they give you a discount; in other words they pay you for your information. They take that information and build a frighteningly accurate portfolio of you, one that can predict what you buy and what will make you switch brands, and they sell it to manufacturers who then target you with customized offers; coupons at the register, bundles of offers in the mail, personalized catalogs, all that stuff. They are so good at it they can tell you’re pregnant before your family knows. The New York Times ran a lengthy article explaining how retailers and manufacturers use the demographic information they pay handsomely to acquire about you.Facebook gets all the same information and more and they get you to give it to them for free.
Facebook is brilliantly designed to not only collect all this information and more, it actually encourages you to freely offer up more information than they could ask for. Ever take one of those fun personality tests? Facebook has it. Ever answer one of those “35 things about me” quizzes that your friend sent you? Facebook has it. Even if you gave them a fake name and location, they know who you are and where to find you through your cookies and IP address, and now that there are “log in with your Facebook ID” buttons on thousands of other websites, they can collect a whole lot more information about you, and all of it is gold to them.
Up until recently, the deal was that you paid for your “free” Facebook account with your personal history and profile; you got to play Farmville and they got to track what you looked at, what you liked, what you bought, and who you followed. That was the deal. Fair is fair.
But then Facebook went public. Suddenly their business model changed. Whenever a company goes public, their business changes. Here’s how:
Let’s say you sell frammistats. You make the best frammistats, and your customers love them. To keep up with demand, you become a publicly-traded company. Instantly, you are no longer in the frammistat business. No, your business now is selling stock. Your customers are on Wall Street, and the most important thing in the world is keeping your stock price up. You can do that by selling a great product at a good price, but if you do that, your profit margin will be too low, your company will be labeled “underperforming” and you will be ripe for a hostile takeover or leveraged buyout. All of a sudden, your product and its buyers are merely cogs in the machinery, and their only purpose is to keep the stock price up. Your employees only exist to keep the stock price up, and if sending their jobs to Outsourcistan will improve your bottom line and bump up the stock, so be it. If reducing all your employees to part-time status so you can deny them benefits, or replacing half of them with interns, or switching to freelancers or independent contractors will do it, that’s how it goes. If making lousy frammistats from lower-quality materials will improve your margin and raise the stock price, you do what needs to be done, because Wall Street wants what it wants.
And so it is with Facebook. They are now in the stock business. The old model of getting you to eagerly hand over all your personal data and then selling it for top dollar isn’t enough anymore. They need to monetize every possible revenue stream. For now, they will charge you to reach more than 15% of your audience. Later they will charge you for other things. Eventually you’ll be paying to play Farmville and sitting through commercials with every link you click. You may even end up paying for the ability to block people.
Except Facebook forgot one thing: we don’t have to use it. There is no law that says people have to check in on Facebook every day. Remember MySpace? It used to be a thing. Before that it was Xanga. Before that, LiveJournal. Go back even further and you’re in an AOL Chatroom, and before that, if you were online at all, it was a Wildcat BBS system. Time marches on. Technology changes. What’s in today will be out tomorrow. If you think about it, you can come up with dozens of formerly indispensable goods and services that once dominated their markets and now no longer exist.
When Fox/Newscorp bought MySpace and turned it into one long nonstop ad for Fox movies, TV and music, people left in droves. Before that, when AOL began devoting all its resources to soliciting new customers and failed to serve the existing ones, people switched to other ISPs. It’s only a matter of time before somebody builds a better Facebook, one that offers what Facebook used to without the exploitation and intrusion that is rapidly becoming the norm.
Here are 7 Social Networking Apps for when Facebook Jumps the Shark. And then there’s the Diaspora Project. There are certainly others, and new ones joining the field every day. One of them will topple Facebook, and it will be because of Facebook’s arrogance and contempt for their users.
Be ready to switch. Meanwhile, your social media campaign needs to include a whole lot more than just Facebook; it’s time to get up to speed on Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram and whatever the next hot app will be, because Facebook has foolishly chosen to make itself 85% less useful to you in a shortsighted grab for your wallet at the expense of your loyalty.