I visited Canada for the first time in 1995, the summer after I graduated high school. I went on tour with a singing group and for three months, we toured and performed throughout the Northwest United States and Canada. For the first time, I got to experience Canadian retail. I went to Eaton's in a mall in Vancouver, and saw three Gaps, three Guess, three of everything it seemed, at West Edmonton Mall. (I spent most of our day and a half of downtime at the mall hanging out with friends in the amusement park being amused.)
Fast forward 5 years and I moved to Canada. Eaton's, which hadn't impressed me all that much in in Vancouver, was a brand trying to revitalize itself and become known as the premium mainstream department store. When they re-opened at the Rideau Centre in Ottawa, the store was gorgeous. I had portraits done at the photo studio with Matt right after our wedding in 2001.
But ultimately, Eaton's went away. They couldn't survive for reasons that don't matter to this analogy. They were a tool for consumers to get things they wanted or needed and nothing more. When not enough consumers consumed, the stores closed. It's happening over and over in Canadian retail these days.
Aren't you glad you got your shopping done and took your purchases home?
It seems like a strange question, right? But think about it. What if you bought things and rented space in the store to keep them? What happens to your stuff when the store suddenly shuts down?
Content is your digital clothing
A few years ago Facebook increased the maximum number of characters in posts to 60,000. Someone figured out that is equivalent to several of the first few books of the Bible - just to put it into context for you. One of the digital marketing service providers I followed at the time decided to shut down their website because they were moving everything onto Facebook.
I stopped following them, because that one decision made me distrust their advice in other areas.
Your website is your home online. You own it. You control it. You decide what goes in the closets. You get to put out the fun and funky accessories. You get to dress it to suit your brand. You get to decide whether to stay or leave.
Your website is a home. Your social networks are rentals.
In personal finance, the decision to buy or rent is far from simple, but when it comes to your web presence, always BUY. Do not make the mistake of renting space on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (a perfect example given recent changes), LinkedIn, Tumblr or anywhere else. Why?
Because, just like Eaton's, Target and others have shut down and left people without a tool to get what they need and want, so can any and every social network fall to the whims of change or shut down. Changes can temporarily short-circuit your efforts to reach and grow your audience. A shut-down means starting all over.
Social networks are tools
You share content to social networks to drive traffic back to your website. That's the goal. Here's why:
Your website shows the real you with no interference from Facebook, Twitter, or other social network elements. It reflects your brand (or it should).
Your website is usually where your service offerings live. It's the place that prospective clients can peek in your kitchen drawers to find the right tools or ingredients to cook up what they need. Or - at the very least - it's a starting point.
Your website is owned by you. As long as you're paying the mortgage (hosting) and maintaining your site, it isn't going anywhere. Even when the power goes out, it will come back on because it's yours.
You don't own Facebook, Twitter or any of the other hundreds of networks you use as tools for promotion. Renting is fine when you need physical shelter, but it's only a tool when it comes to your web presence.