Some You Own, Some You Rent

Mar 22 2012

Let’s say you are responsible for running communications for a small, medium, or large company. And, you’re in the situation where you are pondering how to get started in this social media thing. How to become part of the conversation and to channel conversations within and around your brand in a new space. You know you need to be there, and you know it’s something that’s right for your brand. Maybe you already have the support from your peers and the executive team. And, maybe there are already conversations happening that you wish you could have been part of from a brand point of view … to represent your company in a professional manner and to have contributed in some positive way to the lives and interests of those having the conversation.

If you find yourself anywhere near the situation I’ve just described, then you’re ready to take your next step. And there’s lots to think about. There’s a whole strategy that can be unfolded to help you figure out how to look before leaping. And, lots of companies out there know perfectly well how to guide you through that process (ahem, especially RD2 of course!)

This post is not to walk you through that strategy though. The purpose of this post is to potentially help you to get “unstuck.” It’s about thinking from a bigger picture perspective about the type of online property (or, properties) you will be creating. And now-a-days, there are a myriad of options available to you. And we think it’s critical to get started with the right kind of thinking, to get unstuck, and keep you from getting stuck down the road.

Here we go — You may likely be on your own or part of a team, and you will find yourself devising content strategies across different property types. These online properties may be any one of the following:

* Your Blog
* Facebook
* YouTube
* Twitter
* Tumblr
* Google +
* LinkedIn
* Posterous
* Pinterest
* Flickr

Great, so where do you start? We always recommend you start by thinking through the following simple exercise: “Which properties will you Own, vs. which properties will you Rent?” Think of the analogy as if you are living in a home. Do you own the home? If so, you can change the landscaping any time you want. You can remodel the kitchen. You can put some fancy yard art to enlighten or frighten your neighbors. You can even place a sign in your yard supporting your candidate for the next election. Can you do these things if you Rent that home? Not always. Maybe you have an extremely cool landlord who will let you remodel the kitchen, but then maybe when you are done you will find that you have 30 days notice to leave the property in your month to month contract. That would probably irritate as would any of us if we were in that situation. You might be free to hang a sign, but there could be restrictions over what you put in your yard. You might need approval before paying for a landscaping overhaul.

The point here is to be very careful about how you think of hanging these online properties together. We often communicate the simple “hub and spoke” metaphor. We strongly urge the companies we advise to put the property they own in the very center, and the spoked properties are those they rent. Translation: the property you own is the one you have control over. You are free to completely set the rules, the vision, the design, the content strategy, the privacy policy, and the methods through which you moderate (or not) the content that flows into, and out of, this property.

Let’s be clear, do you need rented properties such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, G+, Posterous, and many others? ABSOLUTELY! They must be part of your content strategy if they make sense for the communications of your brand. We’d be foolish to ignore those. But, hang those around the property you own, your blog property, or your social media platform property. Remember the property you own is the one you control. The property you own is NOT the property that can change its privacy policy, or how content is syndicated, or who owns the content that goes onto that property. The property you own is the property where you and your shareholders/stakeholder set the rules and not where the shareholders of the property itself decide the path you might be driving tomorrow, without your consent.

Case in point, we’ve seen some properties change. Everyone knows the Facebook saga. Sure, we’re all glued to Facebook, but when they change their rules it’s always met with skepticism. We see that skepticism in the form of public gripes that litter our Facebook walls. We’ve seen one of my favorites recently, Posterous, announce their sale to Twitter. Posterous has a really cool thing and it was so easy to recommend this as a core/home base (owned) property to anyone in the past couple of years. And, many have lots invested on Posterous in their content strategy. I’d hate to have to communicate to my fellow stakeholders that the future of our communication strategy is now in question because what we thought was an Owned property was actually a property we rented.

So, where do you go from here? It does not matter if you are a pastry chef with your own shop, if you are Southwest Airlines, or if you are a professional MotoGP racer. Position yourself, your stakeholders, your content strategy, and your brand with a property that can best support your rules. Make sure your brand is not in harms way by relying on other channels that could change tomorrow without any notification.

So setup a property, a website, a blog, a social/community home base that you can own/manage/control. Own the message, and then flow that message into (and from) the rented properties. Have fun building your community through those rented properties as well, but chose an Owned platform that fits into your strategy and budget to anchor your conversation strategy.

Owning your own home is a lot of work. There are maintenance costs and upkeep, but in the end, what you have is ultimately yours. Rented properties seem easy in the short run but don’t be shocked when the policies change, and you and your content are put out on the street.

So go find a house, paint your fences, plant some daisies, and invite some friends over – you’re here to stay.

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