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Owned Media

The best writers do not ghost write. The best builders do not rehash white labeled generics. The best bootstrapped entrepreneurs do not go about distributing their equity. You wear your work on your sleeve. You sign your work. Yet, sadly on the Internet, we are all renters because of our addiction to free tools provided by BigTech.

When relying on free digital platforms, remember:

  • You become the product: Your privacy and personal data end up as payment.
  • Tenant status: Building your media and commerce on BigTech platforms makes you a tenant in their establishment, not an owner. Your data and audience are theirs, not yours.
  • Absence of responsibility: The ad-driven attention economy, or “surveillance capitalism”, can negatively impact our digital public sphere.
  • Risk to your hard work: You expose your content and commerce to the potential risks of de-platforming, demonetization, or changes in algorithms. The foundations of your work—data, processes, systems, operations—are at risk when relying on companies that may cease to exist.

The smarter alternative: Invest in owned media — SEO-optimized websites, Newsletters, and Mobile Apps. Invest in building and nurturing direct access to a well-defined set of people. Own your identity, content, and audience. This will help you repeatedly keep in touch without additional cost or risk.

Why this matters: In the long run, this is the most cost-effective and long term way to repeatedly keep in touch.

  • The other forms of media — Referral Traffic and Paid or Acquired Traffic — either cost money or require convincing others.
  • No this isn’t an either or: Base everything in one place (your owned platform) and then build the distribution around it. You can syndicate your content to Medium, Substack, Pinterest, YouTube or distribute on Social Media, Hacker News, Dev.to, and write answers with outlinks on Quora, Subreddits, Discord.

How to build it: To get people’s attention, give them value.

  • The traditional way: Show up. Prior to the Internet, the most fundamental way to give value to a mass of people was to constantly show up with persistence, hard work, hustle and motion. You exchange information and connections with them. Over a period of time, you start occupying a space within your audience’s mind. This constant hustling opens you up to new opportunities, resources and network.
  • After the Internet, this has crystallized into content marketing that is produce original content to market yourself. Good content that is read will help you overcome two of scarcities: trust (are you good at what you do) and attention.
  • What can you talk about? Well there are a million possibilities. Here are some:
  • As Jason Fried of Basecamp states — “The most successful chefs teach.” Do you have a unique talent stack that could be of interest? Alternatively, learn as much as you can and teach the best of what you learn.
  • People want to know who you are, why are you talking about certain issues, why do those issues matter to you, etc.
  • Within a community, raising the right questions is more important than having all the right answers.
  • Can you stay on top of all what is happening, summarize it and cut the clutter?

How to measure progress: Do people within a target group know you exist? Do they listen to you when you speak? Do they change their mind based on what you speak? Do you have the capability to convene them? Being held as a figure of authority in an ecosystem garners further audience attention.

Drawbacks: Building an audience also comes with its own risks:

  • It also makes you famous and opens you up to public scrutiny.
  • It is also one of the most restrictive forms of leverage because eventually you become a slave to the audience you have collected. Example: If you have an owned audience of students, then you can only tap into products/services to sell what students will purchase.

Don’ts

  • To signal Judgment, avoid commenting on topics you’ve no credibility to speak on.
  • Avoid signaling social status by bringing other people down.
  • Don’t name drop influential people without their permission.
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