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Social Media – Should You Use it Or Focus Upon Building Your Own Properties?

Steve Rubel has a thought provoking post today asking the question – should you rent or buy social real estate?

In it he explores the idea of using a service like Twitter (where you ‘rent’ and build up a community on someone else’s property) versus having your own blog on your own domain (buying).

My immediate reaction to the post was that it’s not about renting OR buying but for me has always been about renting AND buying (something I think that Steve really is arguing for also as he embraces both philosophies).

I hear bloggers who argue strongly for only building your own web properties (building a blog on their own domain on their own hosting on a platform that they have complete control over) and while I completely agree with their reasons for taking that approach (ultimately you have complete control and flexibility) I have found a lot of life in building a presence in other ‘rented’ online spaces also.

Twitter would be the primary example of this (and more recently Plurk). While I understand I have less control and flexibility with both of those social messaging services they have been invaluable for me and have helped me achieve things that I’d never have been able to do by solely focussing upon my own online properties.

I’ve talked about some of the benefits of Twitter for Bloggers and some of the features that I like about Plurk so won’t rehash them all here (many of the same benefits apply to FriendFeed also) – but wanted to make a few extra points.

3 Tips for Renting Social Media Properties

I think the main tip that I’d give with exploring any sort of ‘rental’ approach to social media is to enter into it with clear goals, realistic expectations and balance.

1. Goals

I explored the common criticism of Twitter in my post Twitter is a Complete Waste of Time! and shared how unless you work out WHY you’re using it you will often be wasting your time. For me I’ve played with many types of social media and in every situation had little idea what I was doing in the early days. However my goal is always to quickly work out what it’s strengths are and to find ways of using them to achieve my overall goals as a business person.

I guess what I’m saying is that you don’t need to have strict and formal goals written out next to your computer – but don’t just aimlessly wander around social media sites with no purpose. Take the time to identify what you want to achieve and work towards that.

2. Realistic Expectations

It is well worth keeping in mind that there is no perfect medium or platform and that each one has it’s weaknesses. When your expectations are too high for anything that you invest time into you could be setting yourself up for a fall.

Recently I spoke with a blogger who six months ago had quit blogging to put all of his efforts into Twitter. He made a big bet that it would be the next big thing and that he was going to position himself for that. Over the last month or two of Twitters growing problems with their architecture this blogger has come to regret that decision. It’s not that Twitter is bad or finished – it’s just that his expectations of that service were too high.

3. Balance

The retrospective advice of the above mentioned Blogger Twitterer was to not give up on one medium to focus upon another until you’re absolutely sure that the new one will work. He wishes he’d worked hard to build his Twitter presence AND his blog and had used each one to grow the other. I think a lot of bloggers could learn from this – I see many bloggers running from one thing to the next to be a part of the latest big thing. The result is that they really don’t build a presence of substance in any place.

Sure explore different social spaces – but don’t put your eggs all in one basket AND don’t spread yourself too thin (no one said that ‘balance’ is easy).

My approach to using ‘Rental Properties’ to Build My Own

Let me say up front that my approach is not the only one that works – but here’s the way I am using Twitter, Plurk, Facebook and other social spaces:

Steve makes a good point in his post – “Twitter has community built right in.”

The thing with successful social media sites is that they are where people are gathering – in numbers. The numbers are way beyond what most bloggers could hope to interact with on their own blogs.

I’ve written about my philosophy of finding readers for your blog many times. The first three steps in that process are:

  1. Define Your Target Reader
  2. Identify Where and How they Gather
  3. Join their Established Gathering Points

When I do step 1 and 2 on this process when thinking about my blogs I come up with a target audience who are gathering in social media sites like Twitter and Plurk. This leads me to step 3 – joining and participating in those space.

Now this is relevant for my blog but not everyone’s. You see not everyone has a target audience who use social media. However the same principles can apply….

For example – I was chatting with a craft blogger recently who was struggling with growing her readership. I asked her to go through the above three steps and she defined a group of readers who were gathering in craft forums. When I suggested she should go participate in them she asked whether it was a good use of her time to participate in other people’s online properties instead of building her own (sound familiar?). I suggested that she do both – participate where your potential readers are already gathering but also work hard to build your own properties.

Concluding Thoughts

My take home advice is that there’s nothing wrong with rental properties and there’s nothing wrong with buying them. In my own personal experience with actual real estate I’ve done both at different times in my life. In fact I always treated renting as a good stepping stone to getting into the market myself. We found properties that were affordable enough that we could save a deposit for our own place.

Perhaps there’s something in that for us all – participate in the social space and other people’s web properties in a way that gives you a leg up to build your own.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Louis Liem says:

    Bloggers can also use Twitter or Plurk to reach new readers by announcing their latest or old posts. Hopefully to increase feed subscribers. Social medias are good means to promote big.

  2. Josh says:

    Another great post Darren. In case your interested, I just wrote a review of your Problogger book on my new blog (it’s nothing bad don’t worry!) :)

  3. Edward Lomax says:

    I agree with you… you should do both. I look at what you call “renting” space as piggybacking on other sites that already have traffic. But the reason you go where the traffic is, is to bring visitors to YOUR property.

    I don’t view posting on other sites as an end in itself. It is just a way to be proactive and go out and get visitors for your site or blog.

    So, it really is a combination. You have to build your own property and make it high-quality so people want to stay once they find you. But you should also participate on other “properties” to funnel people back to yours.

    In the competitive arena of the Internet… you really do need to do both.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    This is a very thought-provoking post. I agree with your conclusion that you should both “rent” and “own”. I haven’t gotten on Twitter yet but you make some strong arguments. Thanks for another great post.

  5. Karen Zara says:

    I never thought about these topics in terms of what I buy and what I “rent,” but now I have to admit I like your approach.

    Abandoning what we’ve already built in favour of the newest trends is something that many bloggers can’t resist to, especially when their blogs aren’t doing so well and they lack motivation to go on. In fact, what many bloggers hope is that sites like Twitter and Plurk will help them feel motivated again, since they believe they’ll build the strong web presence that their blogs failed to achieve.

  6. Egbert says:

    I think deciding to use only one of both possibilities is a mistake. Building up your own community is essential (at least for big websites) but only people would join it if they are regular readers of your site anyway.

    On the other hand, people you`r connected with on third party networks are not always regular readers. Social network sites are a good way to connect with new people and increase your readership.

    Focusing on one of both is like deciding whether you want focus on existing readers or new ones.

  7. Lipton says:

    Great post, I’ve been following the advice of your ‘Grow your blog’ post and have not only gotten new readers, but expanded my network :)

    Working on the right rented property can really boost your ultimate goals, especially I think if they involve starting other businesses around the blog

  8. Syed Balkhi says:

    My philosophy with social media is mass marketing. I will target a much larger audience, and some will become my readers. There are some flaws in it, but it is seem to be working. Darren what is your say in it?

    Second, I have to agree with you on the part that no blog can interact with a large audience such as facebook, twitter and other social networks. We have to join them in order to increase our readership. Now many people think these social bookmarks are a waste of time, but in my experience, I have learned something from each social network, so as long as I learn something then it is not a waste for me because I am in the industry to learn.

  9. I was just exploring this same topic on my blog yesterday. I think that sometimes we neglect the long term benefit of things like our blogs for the short term satisfaction of media like Twitter and instant messaging. There is a time and a place for both, but we need to be careful not to neglect the full conversation on the web just as in real life.

  10. Elizabeth M says:

    Great Post! I got wraped up in Twitter for a while and then discovered FriendFeed, which works great for me.
    Your 3 steps for finding readers for your blog are straight on:
    1. Define Your Target Reader
    2. Identify Where and How they Gather
    3. Join their Established Gathering Points

    MySpace didn’t work for me, but Eons (site for boomers) did! Thanks for all of your great posts, I learn a lot from you.

  11. Liked the conclusions as well as the questions raised. I found this blog because of a post on twitter. Had I sporadically been to visit before joining twitter, I don’t think so. There is so much out there to learn and to read, so being able to “know” someone and hear what they’re up to helps translate to marketability. Does everyone on Twitter have the same interests I do? doubtful. But it’s an easy way to create some dialogue and as long as you’re offering useful content that speaks to your core clients — you’ll grow. (that, of course is true whether you rent or own – just deliver!)

    Best,
    Peggie

  12. Kari says:

    Darren, I read your post and immediately thought of a similar question in the search marketing world: seo vs. paid search. Some go all in on SEO, and some on just paid. What many fail to realize is that there’s value in doing both, and they can be mutually beneficial to each other when applied in tandem.

    Your point about balance is spot on – you use one to grow the other. It’s the circle of life for your blog!

  13. Adam says:

    I’m not sure if there really is a choice between using Twitter, blogging, or using social networks. Anyone looking to build a community or audience really needs to play to each platforms strengths. Write a blog post. Use twitter to notify your community and extend the comments. Use Facebook to help your community connect and expand their relationship outside of your blog. This is just one possible strategy, but the opportunity cost of not participating through any of these platforms is missing the opportunity to interact and create value for your audience, which a community builder cannot afford.

  14. Everything about a blog is long term.

    1. Todays post will be read a year from today by someone

    2. The comment that was left on a blog will ultimately be read by a person who will then want to check out the author of the comment. It might be today or a month from today but sooner or later the commentor’s blog will be looked at.

    3. The “Long Tail” is long because it starts to make its presence known in history.

    4. One person’s blog “Problogger” is a good example, will spawn other blogs.

    I am wary of “short term” solutions to long term challenges. Does short term really ever work out? Does it really ever have the benefit that you originally envisioned?

    You get what you pay for. In this case…Your return is normally in sync with how hard you work.

    The Masked Millionaire

  15. That a great message in the Post Darren,

    I’m saying that based on the fact that we own three or four
    web properties with Two others parked at this time. Using
    different Social Media currently such as Twitter and
    InSocialMedia. BlogTalkRadio and Ning along with FaceBook
    are like the rent properties you mentioned that we are growing into the Ultimately use in the Mix we are aimed at
    developing those parked Domains.

    Personally, I do agree that one needs to own some web properties yourself as you stated Darren. Thanks again, Thoughtful and attention grabbing for the Beloved Community to hear for sure.

  16. amirulcyber says:

    Your article and info very useful.i will practice it.

  17. JEANNE says:

    I can’t imagine NOT owning a domain – I’m not there yet, but it’s definitely the direction I’m headed. I’ve found that the more social networking sites I’ve joined, the more traffic I’ve received. I think balance is important, and I agree with Peggie – an important key to success is to just deliver :-)

  18. Fantastic post, Darren! Was this inspired by your recent Plurk contest? ;-) I agree that it is important to run multiple sources as a marketing tool. Getting your brand out there, being known, and participating beyond your boundaries offers a way for others to see you. It’s a pull method vs. a push method.

    By sharing your presence in multiple places people have a chance to know and like you. Those people will migrate to whatever you’re into just because of that ‘friendship’.

  19. Your marketing tool is wonderful, especially knowing you target audience, knowing what you want and how to get abou it is important to you all the way. How did you do this? Were you inspired or led to do it or how else?

    Good work you have.

    Vickie

  20. Mike says:

    Bloggers participating in social media would be like actors showing up at all the red carpet events. It’s a place to participate in a larger group activity owned by somebody else and get their exposure to the masses so that people might be interested in watching the new movie they will be in.

    No actor or author would think of releasing a movie or book without participating in events that are ran by other people.

  21. Reginald says:

    Has anyone with personal experience on this issue ever felt overwhelmed by what it takes to build a reader network through social media.

    How much time should one consider worthy of investing? How exactly does an individual manage the demands of social media networks and their own growing blogs.

  22. Darren,
    This is a great post as usual. There are so many factors to consider when looking to expand your blog’s exposure and readership by venturing into what is “hot” at the moment, and because not everyone has the same target audience or the same reasons for blogging, there are no “set in stone” rules or guidelines to follow when “testing the waters” in a new social media site, but also not to just abandon the platform(s) being used, and instead continue using that while adding on the new medium and have a balance so that both your time and efforts are optimized, and diversified(not having all your eggs in one basket) but not diversifying too much too quickly either (spreading yourself too thin) which is trial and error but worth it in the long run.
    Thanks Darren,
    David Peterson

  23. RocSearch, the UK-based research & analytics firm has recently released a research study on ‘Leveraging Social Media for Brands’. The study showcases the social media eco-system, its drivers & imperatives while detailing cases of brand successes and failures attempting to harness the power of this medium. For a complementary copy of the study, visit http://www.rocsearch.com/social-media.asp.

  24. Reginald says:

    Louis,

    Your point is duly noted. However, I think great consideration should be placed on the appropriate forum to invest your time and efforts in promoting your blog.