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:

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.