Is Facebook Turning Us Into Digital Sharecroppers?

digital sharecroppersAuthor Nicholas Carr coined the phrase digital sharecroppers to describe those of us who create content on community Web 2.0 sites.

He says we are like sharecroppers after the Civil War — tilling land that we don’t own, barely eking out a living, while someone else who owns the land, benefits.

Carr writes a not-very-flattering portrait of Web 2.0 business models, noting:

“By putting the means of production into the hands of the masses but withholding from those same masses any ownership over the product of their work, Web 2.0 provides an incredibly efficient mechanism to harvest the economic value of the free labor provided by the very, very many and concentrate it into the hands of the very, very few.”

In other words, in Carr’s view, those of us with Facebook pages are just working our fingers to the bone to make Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, a billionaire someday when he cashes out. Yep, Facebookers, you’re just digital sharecroppers.

Moise Levi also points out how Facebook is profiting from YOUR content:

I have been using Facebook for a while now and I finally see what they are REALLY doing.

A few days ago, they once again changed their format.

The blog you are reading here can be seen on my Facebook account (seen only by my friends), with ads ONLY belonging to Facebook….

In the past, the RSS feed into Facebook was only uploading my posts in a simple format.
Now these posts are available with ads from Facebook.

I Tweet as well on Twitter ; guess what ? My Tweets go to my profile on Facebook, and you can add your comments on my profile …… you can also comment my Alpha Global posts ….

Bottom line ?

The blogger creates the content via Blogger and Twitter

* * *

And the blogger ? he/she does not make a penny by driving content to Facebook

As of today, I STOPPED uploading my contents (Blogger and Twitter) to my Facebook profile.

I think they both have a point. If taken to extremes … you could indeed end up being a digital sharecropper and have little to show for it at the end of the day.

If you just use Facebook and other sites casually for personal purposes, it probably doesn’t much matter to you. But if you are using Facebook (or any content sharing site) for business reasons then you probably care — or should care.

The question is: at the end of the day, after all the effort you put in, do you own the fruits of your labor? Have you built something of value — and is it YOURS?  After all, this is business, and the point of being in business is to create value in your commercial enterprise.

I think there’s a way you can participate in community sites such as Facebook, and not be relegated to a digital sharecropper. That is: you should have your own websites or blogs that you own. Or write books, develop DVDs or author academic papers. Whatever methods you use for developing content and intellectual property that you own, you should do it. In other words, create the majority of your work on a venue or in a form where you own it and can benefit from it.

Then place some (not all) of your content on community social media sites. Use this social media activity as marketing and promotion. Use it to drive traffic back to your own websites or the page on Amazon where your book is for sale; to create personal brand visibility online; to develop a reputation as an expert; to expand your network of professional contacts; to create a community of fans and followers; and to spread word of mouth about your business. But don’t use mass social sites like Facebook, FriendFeed or Twitter as the place where you publish the majority of your intellectual property — or devote the majority of your efforts.

I think if you follow this advice, you will gain the benefits of social media sites, without all the downsides of sharecropping.

Be an owner — not a renter.

More in: 37 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

37 Reactions
  1. This is very true Anita. We must be very responsible in to where we will invest greater efforts. As you said it’s business so we must weigh things first, prioritize our activities based on the greater return a business owner can get from his efforts.

  2. In my opinion it’d be silly for Facebook to let people distribute their business content throughout the site and profit directly from it. Facebook is already bringing together a huge amount of people to potentially become your “friend” and see your message. I don’t think you can ask for more than that.

  3. Yes it is important to participate with the different means that are available as mentioned by the author, and not just end up as digital sharecroppers.

  4. Loren Feldman of 1938 Media has a video post with his puppet. Title: Content Will Always Be King.

    Regarding creating a personal brand, read my post (click on “Martin Lindeskog” Says), Thought Leadership Marketing.

    There you could take some time and listen to the webinar, The Power of Personal Branding. Bulletproof Your Business & Supercharge Your Career by Becoming a Rock Star Thought Leader in Your Industry. It was led by Larry Genkin with assistance of Nathan C. Kievman.

  5. Martin Lindeskog

    I mainly use Facebook in order to connect with old and new friends. But I also use the feed from my different sources and then stream it on my Facebook page. In this way my friends could connect with me in different ways, e.g. follow me on Twitter and FriendFeed, and go to my blog now and then.

    I will use Facebook for creating a type of community / fan group for our new online business venture. It will drive back traffic to our new blogs and online shops.

    If you want to connect on Facebook, click on “Martin Lindeskog” Says. I have created a “shortcut” URL for Facebook with “”.

  6. Anita:

    Publishers have always taken a “cut” of the profits made from content. They earn that “cut” by promoting the content so that more people will read it. Zuckerburg is doing the same thing. He’s aggregating eyeballs so that we can feed them content.

    To you point we can’t give him ALL the content, but we sure can use his pile of eyeballs to sell something too.

  7. Susan Reid of Discovering Your Inner Samurai

    Point well made. I appreciate the perspectives you’ve provided, Anita.

  8. Very worthwhile discussion Anita. As business owners wanting to leverage the Internet, we must be wise to the idea that our content is leveraged on social networks and many content sharing sites to fulfill their business objectives. That is ok if we are satisfied that our objectives are being fulfilled in the process. To your point, we need to not only be aware of this fact, but also make sure we have a strategy to bring folks back to our main site to get more valuable content.

    Thanks for bringing this out.

  9. Maybe some of us aren’t thinking about our investment in Web 2.0 as something that requires material compensation. Maybe the goal is social rather than financial – to help, to heal, to bring reason, laughter, joy…

  10. Good advice. As online entrepreneurs, we have to be cautious with our content. As Anita pointed out, if you are just online for entertainment purposes then you really shouldn’t worry about it. But for those of us who also want to earn a living just like Zuckerburg, we need to look out for our own interests.

  11. I agree with what you say. But with regard to blogs, isn’t that just what Google Reader has been doing for years? And the other rss readers… they have adverts on their sites too…

  12. I agree wholeheartedly with your points, Anita. I decided about 2 years ago that writing exclusively on other peoples’ websites was not in my long term best interest.

    I bought a couple of different domain names and set up small sites in a couple of areas that I tend to write in. I still participate actively in several forums and edit Wikipedia, but now if I am going to write a piece that takes some real time and effort, I often choose to post it in on one of my own sites.

  13. I couldn’t agree more, Anita. If you do everything within someone else’s domain, you are a sharecropper. The best thing about this post is you’ve raised awareness for those in the Small Business Trends community who may not have thought of this end result. The race to join the social media craze often has us jumping in with both feet without thinking through the ramifications. Thanks for bringing order to the chaos!

  14. Hi Anita, thanks for the smart post. We have been working hard in the Squidoo and Facebook areas and appreciate your insight and advice. It is smarter to own your own content area and try to fertilize other fields to drive traffic in. Thanks for the heads up.

    Dot Girl First Period Products

  15. GoEverywhere Team

    This is a fantastic post and brought my attention to some ideas I never really thought about.

    I access Facebook everyday from my webtop but I use it as a tool to promote my blog posts, as well as keep in touch with friends and family.

  16. Great post. We have been using Facebook to promote our winery (small business with just 1 employee) for quite sometime. Most recently, we used fans pages for a promotion around syrah ( We keep most of the content on the web to make sure we own it long run.

  17. Interesting, Anita. It never occurred to me that someone would use Facebook as a place to add lots of content, rather than a place to connect, promote, and link to content.

    I’m forever marveling at the way new media changes business and communication. Love your insights.

  18. Hi Liz,

    I noticed that too. We just have to be responsible on to where we must focus our time and efforts in.

  19. Marcia,

    Well, I wrote this mainly to provoke people to think. I am a strong believer in using social media sites and find them valuable. However, just remember to focus the majority of your efforts somewhere YOU own, and use social sites primarily to help spread the word. Social sites you do not own should always be secondary.

    Here’s an example: if you want to build a community, it’s all well and good to set up a Facebook Group. Just remember that with a Facebook Group you really don’t own it. Facebook can change the rules on you, promote your competitors in the form of ads on your Facebook Group pages, take other actions you may not agree with — even shut the group down.

    Now, if your Facebook Group is small (say <100 people) and secondary to other activities on your own sites, you may not care too much what Facebook does. You may be happy with the way things are.

    On the other hand, if that Facebook Group starts getting really big and active, you might want to think about creating your own community on a site of your own, with forum software you put in place, and thus have more control over your destiny.

    Just one of those strategic things to think about....

    -- Anita

  20. By the way — I don’t mean to pick on Facebook here. In fact, I have the same thoughts about a variety of social sites, like YouTube or FriendFeed or Twitter.

    Take Twitter: I see so many people spending so much time on Twitter and neglecting their own blogs or other venues that will help brand them better or position them as thought leaders.

    Twitter, to me, is great! You definitely should be involved. But not so much that you neglect other venues or activities to position your business.

    When I see people who have 14,000 Twitter updates, I can’t help but ask if some of their time couldn’t be better spent elsewhere. Why are they spending so much effort on a site they don’t own?

  21. Very good practical advice on the matter. Everything has its upside as well as its downside and Facebook is no different. But just being smart about it can solve the issue (if it is one for you, depending on how you’re using it).

  22. Oh no! This is an eye opening article. Thanks for this Anita. You know what I checked out Twitter and have learned from different people that they are spending much time on it and sometimes forget to do the other tasks they are supposed to do. And you are right, why should we spend so much time to a site that we don’t and will never own.

  23. I think we might do well, perhaps not in this thread, to contemplate the “non-financial business benefits” of Facebook and Twitter and Web 2.0. It’s intriguing to me to realize that there are things that bring success that complement the things that bring us money – like community, recognition, affirmation, shared laughter….

  24. Really great post Anita, wish I had realized this sooner and I wouldn’t have wasted so much time on Facebook. I can see now how having a presence on Facebook cannot beat owning your website/blog.

    There are those out there, who are telling people to direct all their marketing efforts solely on FB. Why do you think that is?

    Anyway, thank you very much for an insightful read.
    Best Regards.

  25. Entrepreneur Solo

    Excellent article. Reflects another I read earlier today about owning the place where your most important content is placed. After all facebook could become mySpace in the future.