Digital Sharecropping – Why Digital Isn’t Safe

The most successful businesses in the world are cash rich. They own their buildings, land, trademarks, distribution networks, manufacturing sites and even the rights to decide who can and can’t sell their products. This has taken years if not decades to sort out.

With the continued explosion of the social web, many companies, including my own, are using social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin to thrive and grow. There is one massive issue here though; what if those platforms ceased to exist or changed their offerings to users? What are you going to do if you work in the digital realm and rely on Google and the like to make money?

Digital Infrastructure is Usually Not Owned

You can own your website and domain, but you don’t actually own anything else that is online. We as digital entrepreneurs are using mostly free (some paid) sites to market our business products and services, but ultimately we are on unsteady ground. Everyday there are new posts from various sources talking about how Google has changed or even the offerings of some of the social networks themselves. Facebook seems to be in constant Beta and that makes it tough to stay on top of things. Remember that when you post content to most social networks, you are ultimately trading your intellectual property (IP) for the exposure that each site offers. On one hand this is great, on the other, it can be very frustrating when, as a creative, all you have is your IP. Creatives in the digital space really struggle with this, but it’s the price that you pay in order to create profile and awareness for your business at almost zero cost.

Digital is Too New to Legislate and Protect

If you focus solely on your IP and want to grow your business, you have to consider that there will be different legal requirements to safeguard your copyright etc. What can we do to make this easier and less complex? We’ve all seen, read, and listened to pirated music, videos, and other digital content. Sometimes we’ve done this without even knowing that we are breaking the law. Most of us have some type of music on our mobiles and a vast majority of that wouldn’t have been paid for in the first place. How can digital protect itself when it appears as though everyone expects everything on the web to be free?

Even if you wanted to get technical and bog yourself down with contracts and the like, it would probably stifle your business’s growth and prevent rapid expansion. The courts in the UK still don’t actually know what to do with the many cases of copyright and illegal downloads etc because its happening on such a large scale. Of course everyone knows
not to buy dodgy DVDs in the pub or fake designer gear in a back alley market. But, what about digital?

Freemium Models Are The Way Forward

Everyone knows that freemium digital services and products are the way forward. Take HootSuite for example. They have a free version of their software that allows anyone to engage, grow, and monitor their social media for free. Once you see the value in their offering you can then upgrade to more features and benefits at a cost. Many online services even offer a free 30 day trial of their software to ensure that you are getting what you want from their digital product.

Spotify are another great example. You can listen to as much music as you like on Spotify, but you will have to sit through various adverts if you are on the free version. It’s not until you actually fork out some cash that you will be able to stream and download on various devices without the hassle of marketing. It seems to work for most people. Those that ‘live’ on Spotify are happy to pay the small monthly fee, because they see value in the content that is available.

So, if you are operating in the digital world, try to come up with a free offering of your service or product (just like the lite apps in iTunes). This will allow you to share your offering with as many people as possible without the hassle of contracts and T&Cs. Once your offering is considered to offer great value, those that use the free version will be happy to start paying. By giving it away in the beginning, you are allowing the social web to do all of the hard work for you for free! Just remember that these platforms continue to change and grow, so be wary of what you give away. Make sure that it’s only the tip of the iceberg and not the whole thing.

Allan Blair Beaton is a social media scientist and HootSuite UK ambassador. Allan’s passion for the social web and the connective nature of people, places, and business. Allan regularly blogs on the value of human relationships using social media and having the correct strategies and infrastructures in place for maximum ROI in social media.

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