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Social Media: Buy or Rent?

by Randall Craig on September 5, 2014

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Social Media, Strategy

Tagged as: , ,

What do houses, cars, and Social Media all have in common?  For one thing, they all share a primary question:  Buy or Rent.  Buy a house, or look for a rental?  Buy a car, or lease it?  And should we rent our Social Media, or build our own?

Most leaders don’t even think about this last question, because they don’t consider that Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube (and in fact, every Social Media site) is rented space.

We don’t control these sites, and, on a whim, the site owner can make any change they wish, without notice or recourse.  And if we think that this is acceptable as the site is “free”, we’re dead wrong.  We pay handily with our personal data and our time.  If you thought that Facebook makes its money from advertising, you’re also wrong.  Our participation and our data is what drives advertising revenue, not the other way around.  Facebook earns billions thanks to us.  LinkedIn is similarly profitable.

The decision to rent or build is a strategic question, not just a tactical one.  Here are four key questions that should be answered before making a choice:

  1. Do you view your relationships as strategic and exclusive, or are you willing to share them – or cede ownership of them – to a landlord?
  2. Are you willing to assume the risk that the Social Media venue may make a strategically unwelcome change – or possibly shut down?  What would happen if they did do this?
  3. Does tapping into an existing Social Media venue’s momentum or features (number of users, already-built communities, etc) provide a window of opportunity or first-mover advantage?  Building a community – like building a house – takes time that you may not have.
  4. What is the cost of building a Social Media platform of your own?

This week’s action plan:  For tactical reasons, most organizations have already made the choice, and it is to rent.  This week, ask these four questions – does it still make sense?  While the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time to plant a tree – or start a community that you own – might actually be now.

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Randall Craig

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Randall has been advising on Digital Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of eight books, including Digital Transformation for Associations, the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Social Media for Business. He speaks and advises on Digital Transformation, Digital Trust, and Social Media. More at

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