The rapid advances in technology today have made it easy and profitable for many businesses to leverage platforms that others have developed based on digital, intellectual and relational assets, in order to capture the power of a larger stage.

It’s easy to be seduced by the up-front benefits that come from building a business or growing your brand through someone else’s platform, otherwise known as digital sharecropping.   But without proper planning, it’s a dangerous move. It leaves you without physical assets that can help you grow, and leverage your business to a more competitive advantage.  It might sound like the perfect pairing up-front, and for many companies, it can be tempting to put all of your efforts into third-party resources and tools, since being on a larger platform can broaden your business exposure online.  But what happens when your goals don’t always align?  You can quickly find you’re not really in control of what you built, and suddenly the platform can change with big (and negative) consequences for you.

Building your business on a third-party platform can definitely broaden your business exposure, but third-party platforms should never comprise the core of your entire business presence.

Let’s get real – whether it’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other platform with Terms of Service that can change from day to day, (and they all do), when you make the decision to build your business on a platform that doesn’t belong to you, it’s a major risk.

How risky, you ask?  Well let’s take a little walk through the recent past.  In April of 2017, YouTube changed its advertising policies, and shook up its Partner Program, which had been around for about a decade.

A few months later, Photobucket dropped a bomb of its own on its users, by suddenly updating its terms of service to disable hotlinking on all images that had been uploaded to free accounts.  Photobucket, which launched in 2003, was previously free for all users to upload and embed images all over the web. It was a popular image hosting service of choice for early internet users until the likes of Facebook and Instagram came along.

Suddenly, thousands of listings from online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay were filled with error images after the photo hosting site cut off free listings, and quietly introduced a $399 annual fee to users who want to embed images on third party websites. Users immediately accused Photobucket of extortion, as the service failed to make the update to its terms of service abundantly clear.

Ready for more?  At the end of January, 2019, without any prior notice, Twitter suspended API access for many third-party applications that were created to help Twitter users better manage their accounts.  Twitter said it was enforcing tighter restrictions on its API use in order to limit the capacity of tools which allowed bulk and aggressive” following behavior, such as following and unfollowing many accounts at once.  The companies that were affected, however, said they have all complied with Twitter’s regulations, and have even worked with Twitter in recent months to ensure they’re not violating the platform’s API limits.  As of now, those services are still offline, and it’s unlikely they will ever be restored. And just within the last month, information has come to light that Facebook is considering experimenting with “hiding” likes on News Feed posts, similar to the move it played on Instagram in August as a way to help break users’ fixation with getting likes on their pictures.  Facebook said it began the test to “remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive” on Instagram, and it was “excited by the early test results.”

These examples and too many more to list, are food for thought before making the decision to build your business on someone else’s platform.  In an age of ever-changing technology, you have to be aware that if you want to create and publish content on a site you don’t own it can be reduced to nothing in an instant.  Anticipating changes in the terms of service when building a business on a platform you think is stable can leave you and your business in a powerless position.

This is not to say that you should never think of using someone else’s platform or technology, just that if you decide to go down that path, a sensible, cautious approach, combined with a strong exit strategy and back-up plans for additional revenue streams should be part of your overall business building plan.  And first?  Make sure to anchor your business with your own domain name, digital assets that belong to you, and a website (even if it is just a page or two).

The true value of using a platform that doesn’t belong to you to build your business is that it allows you to connect with a network of information, people, ideas and technology that reaches far beyond your own capabilities.  When you do it right, it can help you quickly funnel resources and contacts back to your own business that you would have never reached before.  The key to success when leveraging a platform that doesn’t belong to you is balance.  You need to create value, deliver service and capture an audience on your own that you can then integrate into your own network.  Once you have that, you will have a foundation, and an audience, that belongs to you, and you alone.

Want to know more about Digital Sharecropping, have questions about this article or want to suggest a topic for me to cover in future blogs? I’d love to hear from you! Email me at today!

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