Social media content ownership

[There is a fundamental social media issue many ignore until it’s too late: ownership. This piece deals with balancing your power struggle with social media companies; the next entry looks at maintaining in-house control over your social media accounts.]

Who gains the most from your social media efforts?

The challenge presented by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., is that these services belong to somebody else.

  • The power dynamic is in their favour — you’re not even a customer.
  • Your business goals will rarely, if ever, align directly with theirs.
  • Their goal is to be gatekeepers (and toll-takers) for all online social interactions.

How can you get involved while keeping your eyes open?

What does ownership mean?

In this context, ownership roughly equates to control. If I posted something, you may ask, don’t I control it? If only it were that simple.

Services like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram want to host the opinions, events, photos, videos, moods, announcements, and links you want to share. Which is ok — to a point.

Do you own the domain?

If you don’t own the domain, then the site and its contents are in somebody else’s control. They can do what they like with it & don’t need your permission to change it.

Are you ready for things to change?

  • Sites go out of business (too many examples to list)
  • Businesses get acquired (Gowalla)
  • Services get retired (Ping, Google Reader), Google+, and too many other Google services to list.
  • Business models change (Flickr, MySpace)
  • Priorities change (Instagram, Twitter)

Consider what any of these scenarios might mean to you if you’ve invested a lot of time & effort in a service.

Can you see the site’s log files?

illustration of a redacted documentLog files are not to be confused with high-level reports like Google Analytics. Can you access the web servers’ log files — the raw, unprocessed access data? If you’re not allowed, then you don’t own it.

  • Facebook shares some basic numbers with you for pages, but they have a lot more data. What they’re showing you are the equivalent of redacted documents — the profitable bits are blacked-out.
  • Twitter tells you who follows you and favourited a tweet, but you don’t know how many people read it, who they were, where they were, or when they read it, what link they followed to it, using what app on what platform. Twitter knows all of this: you don’t.

Are you free to make any edits you like?

Can you create, revise, and delete your content? If not, you’ve given up control. Twitter, for example, will allow you to delete a tweet, but you can’t edit a tweet once it’s posted.

Can you pick up your toys and go home?

  • Can you download your data from a site to publish it elsewhere?
  • Will they retain copies? For how long?
  • What can they do with your data? Is it your data?
  • Can you delete your account? Are you sure? Is it deleted or merely deactivated?

What gets displayed with your content?

With sites like YouTube or Flickr, you may have little control over what related content gets displayed alongside yours. Maybe that’s ok, maybe it’s not. A lot depends on context. Do you want competitors showing up beside you?

Take ownership to maximize benefit

Here are a few things you can do to re-balance the relationship:

  • Engage through social media, but publish on your own site  — use Facebook to link to your announcements, posts and event details on your own website; don’t let Faceboook own your content.
  • Link to yourself first — when you upload videos or photos to a service, embed them directly on your own site, too; the links you tweet should be to your site.
  • Encourage conversation — invite comments on your own site (but expect most discussion to be off-site; monitor and join in). Monitor/moderate actively.
  • Search the site for your keywords — see what comes up and what’s likely to be displayed as related content (especially on YouTube, Vimeo, & Flickr).
  • Host your own blog, so you can moderate the discussion (for civility); approve comments so they can go public. This will also allow you to easily change platforms, which is harder once you’ve committed to a 3rd-party, hosted service like Blogger.
  • Use branded email — are you using an email account whose domain name is advertising a webmail service provider, or your business’ Internet Provider? Really? You have another company listed on your business card? Use your own domain for email.
  • Avoid link-shortening services — they turn long, character-hogging links into short, Twitter-friendly ones, but they add another point of failure, may not work long-term, and obfuscate your original link. They also dilute your brand and hide potential security issues. Note that Twitter shortens all links using their domain, routing traffic through their own servers on its way to your intended destination; no, this is not how links normally work. #ownership

The bottom line? Be aware. Once you share something on social media, you can never truly get it back; you always give up a little ownership. Understanding the trade-offs you make helps you find the right balance, making the most of your investment in social media.

[The next instalment in this series looks at maintaining in-house control over your social media accounts.]