Why You Need To Own Your Platform

In the past couple of months I have been spending time gathering all of my work online – my photography, writing , digital content etc – and housing them on this site, which has always been home to my blog and a little photography but it wasn’t an accurate and detailed representation of what I do. In the past year I have slowly been pivoting towards becoming a full time freelancer and this has meant not just working with clients who I already have a relationship with but also finding new business and opportunities. What is better than a portfolio? Welcoming people into a world you created, curated and own.

I was having a conversation this week with someone who has worked as a freelance frontend developer, UX Designer, as well as being an editor for a long time…I know I am surrounded by overachievers. One of the directions our conversation took was the importance of owning your work as a creative individual, viewing what we do through a business to business (B2B) model and how to profit from it. My biggest obstacle has always been how I can become more business minded. I can create forever, but the moment it becomes something official, something professional, my mind freezes up a bit because I now have to think about rates, contracts and the responsibility of delivering someone else’s vision. This is not my natural disposition, so I always speak to people with more experience and smarts in this area, so I can learn and forward the good one to the next person.

It has become part of our everyday routines to post online, for some, it may be about keeping in touch with family across the world, for others, especially for those of us in the gig economy, it can become a portfolio of our work. However, when it comes to intellectual or creative property that is uploaded on these social media platforms, how many of us really think of our rights, whether our work is protected or how easy it is for it to be stolen.

WHAT ARE YOU ON ABOUT QALI?

The online publishing platform Medium initially pursued small publications at the beginning of their journey and managed to attract many publishers with three selling points: free hosting, a beautiful user interface and built in monetisation tools that readers could opt-in to support them on a monthly basis. Many publishers took them up on this offer and two years later Medium pulled the monetisation features, which meant the small publications lost their revenue instantly. In 2017, a new model was announced where readers would have to pay a $5 subscription to read the content on the site, and writers could earn a share of the subscriptions through a partner program based on how engaged people are with their work. How lucrative these payments remain if and once the partner program is opened up remains to be seen?

If you publish on a third-party platform you are living on borrowed time.

Jon Norris, Marketing Lead at Codeworks

The dread of these platforms disappearing is real and during last year’s AFROTech Summit by Blavity, Angelica Nwandu, the founder of Instagram based media company TheShadeRoom, was asked about some of these fears. Although algorithm changes have affected personal accounts and businesses alike she cited the demand for entertainment news and their consistency, posting about 40-70 times a day, as having helped them through the drop in engagement. She went on to further explain that they focused on what worked for them and then built other avenues to connect with their community from there, such as their website, text message services and other ShadeRoom pages. Her biggest piece of advice for people being, to cater to one’s niche audience and what they are seeking out.

Apps are the Tool not the Master

Social media platforms are tools and great distribution channels to reach the people we want. We should try to learn how to use them in our favour, not mindlessly make these companies a lot of money and get nothing out of it. We use our talents and skills to build communities that brings so much attention to a specific platform. The only reason I got a TikTok account during social isolation was for the comedic relief from some hilarious people that almost exclusively upload their content on there. In my opinion TikTok owes a lot of people shares for making it what it is or licensing deals but that’s a conversation for another day.

I am by no means saying don’t use these platforms, but instead leverage them for your success. Ensure that the content that you are creating for each platform makes sense in that context. This means that you have to continuously experiment, try to learn what works best for different platforms and getting into a habit of documenting rather than than trying to create perfection. These apps are exploitative and they hijack your value, when you should be able to decide where and how you want to use it.

The Fine Print

How many of your social media apps have you read the terms of services for? I’m thinking not many, and I often wonder, there has been so much discussion and changes to do with data privacy and data protection yet the average person doesn’t actually read what they sign up for. It’s only when something occurs that all of a sudden people feel violated and sure these companies move mad but we also sign away our rights without actually thinking about the unintended consequences of our actions.

About a year ago, an article was published on the Vogue Arabia website celebrating the beauty of the Middle East and had used two of my photos in it. I found out about this article by chance 4 months after it went live while doing some Google searches. On the one hand, it felt great to see my photography on a site like that but on the other, I also didn’t appreciate that the author of the article didn’t just send a one liner giving me a heads up or asking if they could use them. Although I did send an email to the editor asking them to take them down, I understood where the loophole was. When we upload onto Instagram for example under their terms, they don’t claim ownership over our content but we grant them license to use it in whatever way they want, for example, if you sell a photo under an exclusive license, then you can’t post it on Instagram. You’re essentially sub-licensing so they can sell your work to anyone without your permission or giving notice. They can use it in whatever way they want e.g. promotions or ads that may or may not align with your values. We also give them the rights to give away these rights to other entities. This is a lot to take in if you weren’t previously aware and the icing on the cake is that, you can’t do the same to Instagram’s content. Go figure 🙄

BUILD A HOME FOR YOUR WORK

I do believe that having your own domain and building a space on the internet that is yours is important. With constant algorithm changes that plummet the number of people who engage with your content, users are slowly being nudged to use the paid ad features on these platforms to increase their reach because you may be creating for your people but the majority of them don’t ever see it. Our ultimate goals should be to own our platform, be free to develop it to meet our needs and to collect our data whenever we want. There are a couple of things we can do to start:

  1. Create Your Website & Your Domain
    I’m sure this is self-explanatory given the mini-sermon I’ve just given but it is necessary. Build a home for your thoughts, ideas, and work online. We live in a time where there are so many more affordable options to help us do this, and if you’re someone looking to really grow and push forward this should be something you consider. It also looks really professional to just give someone the link to your website to find everything in one place.
  2. Build An Email List
    Emails can help you build personal and targeted messages about what you are doing, future plans, call to actions etc in a way socials can’t because they aren’t as direct. Social media companies are businesses and can change depending on their ideological or financial prerogatives, when you own your email list, no matter what happens to your favourite platform, you won’t lose touch with your subscribers. Having a simple opt-in form on your website means that you can get people to rely on coming straight to your site instead of clicking through all the links on your socials and making those platforms money.
  3. Repurpose Your Content
    You may have put out an incredible thread on twitter that is doing well, an infograph on Instagram that is getting shared a lot or done a recent shoot that is mind-blowing, you can easily repurpose this content to put on your website. The time that it takes to plan, create and put out brand new content isn’t sustainable to do daily for many people, so instead of overwhelming yourself, why don’t you dust of your site by changing the format of your work across your socials and giving them a home. Use your socials as a space to give people a peep into how incredible you are and guide them to your sight to see the whole picture.
  4. You Are A Company
    I recently got asked to do a bunch of strategic communication work for a consultancy and they also asked me to consider starting up and producing a podcast that they want to launch. What I’ve come to learn is that because I’ve been exploring different mediums for expressing myself it has never felt like a job because I enjoy what I do and I’m doing it for myself. However, it’s important that we sometimes take a step back an audit what we are doing because more often than not we have a large cache of skillsets, and these side hobbies that we invest time and effort in need to be valued. Whether that is editing that travel vlog, creating copy or travelling to get your prints sorted and mailed out, many of us need to reset our minds to understand that this is labour even if it is a labour of love.

Wherever you are in your journey, I think these are important things to think about. If you are someone who posts your creative work online, understanding the implications for the future can help guide you on how you want to engage with platforms and people alike. There is huge potential for people to take back control from these platforms because we hold the power, it just means more of us need to know more about what hides behind these curtains.


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2 thoughts on “Why You Need To Own Your Platform

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this Qali! This is something I thought about 4 years ago and have spent the last 4 years refining – still working on it and curating my digital footprint. I think the culture of social media has taken away the content we can create in our own space, and so it’s time to reclaim.

    Benjamina

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