The digital sharecroperAlthough it’s probably not the first time this slice of wisdom was shared, a couple of years ago there was a discussion on the community weblog MetaFilter about using free social sites and apps. And it was pointed out that if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

It’s even truer today. With internet powerhouses like Facebook and Google, Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest and hundreds of others, “customers” are willingly posting virtual TONS of content on these sites daily. For free. Yet these companies have not created their communities and their apps out of an altruistic desire to help their fellow man. They’re using your data to make money.

And that’s perfectly fine with most people. Millions and millions of people.

But now that small businesses are jumping into the social content fray headfirst, it’s a good time to revisit that old adage and make sure you’re not the product that makes money for someone else. Don’t be a digital sharecropper, working hard and producing great stuff that’s going to make someone else rich.

The way things work online is that any piece of content: a blog post, a review, a video, an infographic, a PDF, a white paper, an eBook, a widget, an app – any content at all – has a verifiable date and time and location indicating when it first appeared online. The search engines give this origination the highest regard. It is the authoritative source and therefore receives all the love, in the form of exalted positioning in the search results.

And since organic search results deliver astonishingly more eyeballs to business websites than paid search, showing up well in search results is imperative. Owning your own content is a big part of that.

  • If you have a company blog, post it on your own domain, don’t use a free blogging platform. Bring that traffic and the authority and the links to your own business, not theirs.
  • Leverage your social sites to tweet, post, plus and share your content as much as you want. Post excerpts that link back to your original post on your site.
  • If you have a business page on Facebook (and you should), be sure to promote your own content there along with other engaging posts and conversations. Just remember that having a ton of original content on Facebook will not help you in the search engine results contest. It helps you engage with your customers and fans, and it’s a great way to increase brand visibility. Your business needs to be findable on Facebook, but your original content belongs first on your website.

If your content is housed on your own site, you’ll never have to worry about losing it if your free online repository goes out of business or decides to charge you for it or changes up the game in some other way.

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