I have a Facebook page, so I don’t need a website

What’s not to love about Facebook? It’s easy to use. Anybody can start up a page for their business in a few minutes. Lots of your customers and personal contacts are already on there, so it’s easy to get a bunch of friends right away. And best of all, it’s free. And that means no fees for web hosting, web designers and search-engine optimizers.

Sounds perfect.

Until you consider the danger of digital sharecropping. That’s when you plant your online crops on somebody else’s farm.

Consider what happens in the real world when you rent but don’t own your office or business space. Even if your business is humming along smoothly, if you’re bringing in a steady stream of new customers or clients, if you’re keeping costs under control and if you’re planning for the future, your landlord can put you out of business in 30 days.

How? By tripling your rent.

Believe it or not, the exact same thing can happen online. Consider this from Copyblogger’s Sonia Simone:

In other words, anyone can create content on sites like Facebook, but that content effectively belongs to Facebook. The more content we create for free, the more valuable Facebook becomes. We do the work, they reap the profit.

The term sharecropping refers to the farming practices common after the U.S. Civil War, but it’s essentially the same thing as feudalism. A big landholder allows individual farmers to work their land, and takes most of the profits generated from the crops.

The landlord has all the control. If he decides to get rid of you, you lose your livelihood. If he decides to raise his fees, you go a little hungrier. You do all the work and the landlord gets most of the profit, leaving you a pittance to eke out a living on.

So, I hope you can see the danger of entrusting your online marketing efforts 100% to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, MySpace or anybody else besides your own website that you control. Simone says that should be just one part of a tripartite online strategy for your business:

  1. A well-designed website or blog populated with lots of valuable content
  2. An opt-in email list, ideally with a high-quality autoresponder
  3. A reputation for providing impeccable value

Facebook and the other services can support these efforts, and since everybody’s on them these days, you’d be silly not to use them. But don’t put the cart before the horse. Start your own farm first before you start renting land on somebody else’s place.