The business imperative for building your brand on rented land

rented land

By Mark Schaefer

One of the most-repeated mantras in the social media/content bubble (and it is a bubble!) Is “don’t build your house on rented land,” meaning, build your content house on a property you own, like a website.

This adage has been going around the business for at least 10 years and reinforced by stalwarts like Copyblogger and the Content Marketing Institute.

But there are few, if any, “rules of thumb” that work in social media marketing for 10 years, including this one. The whole “rented land” thing makes a nice soundbite but we are at the point in our industry where we are repeating these phrases without thinking about their business truths any more.

I was prompted to write about this after reading a post from one of my favorite thought leaders, Christopher S. Penn. I rarely disagree with Chris, but we disagree on this, at least a little. This is what he wrote:

The final, most important lesson is one I’ve personally reiterated for over a decade: don’t build on rented land. We don’t own our social media accounts, and services like Facebook are under no obligation to give us a free lunch, or to keep things consistent.

Build on what you own. Invest in your website. Invest in your email list, in your mobile list, in your mobile app, in the things you control. In the long run, investing the most in yourself (rather than a social network) always pays the biggest dividends.

I agree with my very smart friend that you absolutely need to invest in your content “homeroom.” But a difference is, today we also MUST invest in building content platforms in other places … on rented land. Not only is rented land important, it is essential for content marketing success today.

Let’s unpack that idea.

Go to the audience

The “rented land” theory focuses on the nature of your audience and has been articulated by people like Robert Rose who said on a podcast:

“Do you chase your audience or do you build something that ultimately your audience will rally around? I think it’s the latter because ultimately, the value to the business is in the relationship to the audience. If you have an intermediary between you and the audience like Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc, you do not have a relationship with your audience. You are building someone else’s business, not your own.”

Theoretically, I agree with him — that’s how content works in an ideal world. Maybe it even worked that way 10 years ago. But we no longer live in an ideal world and it hasn’t worked that way for some time now. As you peer into the future, trying to drag people to your website to view your blog post or video seems increasingly fruitless. So, we need to adapt our strategies to this new world of content flow.

Facebook, Google, Apple, Snapchat, and others want our content. Not a link … the content. Should we play by Facebook’s rules? YES! We should! We should publish our content where they want us to publish, and more important, where our customers want it! Rose asks, should we chase our customers? Absolutely we should chase our customers, rather than expecting them to chase us.

The economics of content today

It’s fine to populate your website and mailing list with content. But the economic value of content that is not seen and shared is zero.

The focus 10 years ago was on a vibrant and legitimate “inbound” model that preached content as a magical magnet that would attract high potential leads to your site. But the world has changed and even the poster child for inbound, Hubspot, admits that it doesn’t work like it used to.

  1. Content is no longer a novelty. There is so much competition that you simply can’t rely on pulling people to your “house.”
  2. A content strategy must involve much more than content on your home base. It involves a complex cocktail of promotion, distribution and paid components.
  3. Research shows that consumers want the convenience of having all of their information in one place … like a news stream.
  4. Corporate “apps” are in decline. Most people only use nine apps a day. How many companies have a content app so great that people will click on it as part of their daily routine?

The main idea is that there is ZERO VALUE in the content sitting on your website. It must be unleashed! We need to put that content everywhere we have a chance of people seeing it and sharing it. And that means embracing “rented land.”

The rented land imperative

Content is no longer the finish line. It is the starting line.

We have an urgent responsibility as marketers to push that content out into the world every place our audience can see it.

For the past two years I have been publishing on my website, but also away from my website on Facebook, LinkedIn, Medium, and other rented lands. I am now getting many more views and much more engagement on rented land than inside my site on “owned land.”

On one Facebook post, a friend commented: “I saw your blog post in my email inbox but had not decided to read it. When I saw it on Facebook, I read it.”

A powerful insight.

The bad news is of course is that she did not read it on my website where I have lots of other amazing things to see, but that’s life. Instead of “inbound” content that brings people to our site, we need to also focus on “outbound” content that builds our brands (in the hope they will eventually visit our site!).

Driving the most important metric

The most compelling reason to have a rented land strategy is social sharing.

I regard social sharing as the most important digital marketing metric, after sales and leads.

When people share your content, they are saying “I believe in this, I want you to believe in this too.” Social sharing is ADVOCACY.

The content that moves is the content that truly drives the economic benefits of your marketing (this is the entire premise behind my book The Content Code: Six essential strategies to ignite your content, your marketing, and your business).

To succeed in this new world of Content Shock, you need to break away from this outdated rented land idea. A marketer today must employ every tactic that is humanly possible to get your content to MOVE.

Of course building your own site and mailing list is vital and always will be. But that is not enough … not nearly enough. Set your content free by any means possible.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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