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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

Rent Vs. Own in the Internet Space

16 Jan 2013

written by James Lambert

Rent Vs. Own in the Internet Space

I’ve been thinking lately about owning and renting real estate. In the real world, the goal for many is to own property, or perhaps, multiple properties. With property comes increased wealth, a sense of pride and your own space. Sure, renting has its advantages, also. It’s often less expensive and maintenance and infrastructure are not your concern. But in the end, you don’t have control of it. I mean, nobody dreams of becoming a renter, right?

Well, in real life that might be the case. But in Internet land, we have been chasing the rental dream for several years. The time is now for us to refocus and revive. It’s all about content, communication and engagement. It’s not about Facebook or the next big thing. Compare these scenarios on the Internet with real life.

On the Internet

Someone in your organization has a plan for social media. They have a content strategy and plans to build the Facebook fan page audience, create connections and eventually reap the benefits of the community and engagement. They are going to devote a great deal of soft-cost resources and an ad budget to build “likes” for the page, but the end result is an engaged and targeted audience.

It’s totally worth it.

We have all said, “that’s great” to this one. Many colleges have spent a great deal of time, money and resources building their social media followings.

In real life

Your friend is renting a great apartment. He’s been there for a couple of years and it’s a great location. He just loves the place. Your friend lays out a plan to invest $20,000 in upgrades to his apartment. Granite counter tops, new bathroom, the works. Sure, it’s most of the resources he has, but it’s a great place, and he plans on living there forever.

It’s totally worth it.

That doesn’t sound so great, does it? In fact, you probably would advise that friend not to do this.

Yet this is largely what we have devoted our efforts to over the past few years with our Internet strategies. The outcomes of these scenarios have now become clear. In real life, the landlord stops by and sees all of the upgrades. He says to himself, “Man, this place is nice. I’m going to have to double the rent.” And now your friend is paying for the upgrades twice, or perhaps, your friend can no longer afford the apartment. On the Internet, Facebook now asks its page owners to pay all over again to reach the audience they have spent the past few years paying to build. Is it worth paying for the page followers to see all of these posts? Not to me.

When I was on the social media expert panel at World Usability Day New England in November 2010, fielding questions from small business owners and various other attendees, one person asked whether we thought having a website was necessary or if businesses can just go ahead and use a Facebook page. The consensus was that just asking the question speaks volumes about the ubiquity of social media. A little over two years later, I think we all see that the answer is a resounding “no.”

Claim your own space

In 2013, it’s not about Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or any other specific platform. In fact, as it turns out, focusing on the platform was always folly. We are always looking for the shiny new toy, particularly on the Internet. And when one loses its luster, another will follow. The inevitable decline of Facebook will give rise to the next craze. And, hopefully next time around we’ll be smarter. Social media remains a great way to share and engage an interested audience. We just need to remember that we are renting that space and audience. It’s wiser to invest and engage in the spaces we own, and to continue to create our own spaces.

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About the author

James Lambert

James Lambert is director of communications at College of St. Joseph in Rutland, Vermont. He holds a master's degree in information technology and has fielded questions as part of the Social Media Expert Panel (if there is such a thing as a social media expert) at World Usability Day New England and presented for the New England Adobe User Group. He tweets higher ed and social media @jlambert622

This post was written by James Lambert

  • Jane

    Interesting thoughts, James. We still can’t ignore social networks when promoting business as our target audience is there, our competitors are there. We have no choice but concentrate efforts on social media. The other question is the goals we have for social strategy. A business doesn’t need FB funs just for FB fans. We need loyal customers, need feedback and discussion with them, need channel for announcing news. Agree with you, official website is crucial when running a business as business owner have full control over it. But still communication channel on a social network works, we will pay for it.

  • Rudee

    I never looked at the internet as renting space, but you are correct. While Facebook is getting rich, I don’t see that happening with me. Yes social media is important and on the rise, however, I sell promotional products and Facebook and others do not attract the customers I need. I continue to have a manager who tweets, uses our Facebook, and pintrest really just hoping something sticks.


  • jlambert622

    Rudee, that’s pretty common. Look at engagement strategy. My point here really isn’t that these are bad platforms, but that you don’t control them, and even if you find success, the owner of the platform can change the game – whether it’s through new rules or charging you to do what was once free.

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