The pictures I love most, often focus the eye on a single element while the rest is quietly muted in the background. They speak to me in a way nothing else does. But blur online, can be a very different thing; damaging your brand what you’ve worked so hard to create…
I ‘ve always been a staunch defender of the truth. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always veered on the side of too many footenotes, and too much linking to other sources. There are two things I want to be known for: Being a courageous leader and being a credible source. The rest, is cake.
I learned of the most valuable secrets of life a few years back. I am not great on my own and therefore my business, or anyway I portray myself is not a one-woman machine. I am surmised of those who have inspired and influenced me. I speak openly of my love for my mentors and those I appreciate. I learned that simply bringing my whole self to the pot-luck of online, (my signature dish,) that I was 100% more credible, trustworthy and REAL. It’s why so often when I see the muddy waters of other’s choices online where I wonder why they haven’t discovered that their power isn’t in taking over someone else, but rather bringing that person with them. One of my greatest weaknesses is the almost-literal tattoo of my heart outside my body. I mean what I say and I say what I mean. This is why I am so passionate about doing RIGHT and CREDIBLE, online.
Why is it that as a writing community, some are so afraid to cite where they found a photo or inspiration? Look at August’s example of one of the largest plagiarizing fails I’ve ever seen.
The past few years, the writing community, (not only blogging, but all articles,) has seen a prolific rise in content-stealing. A quick google search brings up thousands of first-hand accounts and articles on people’s experiences. As a print journalist and a blogger, I was raised and schooled with the MLA/AP-Stylebook. We cite our sources, we cite them often and we back up our stories with legitimate information. Sadly, many bloggers do not view themselves as journalists and don’t adhere to rules of citing other’s work. For the past few months @MikeEllsworth, @RobertHeadley, @TheRedheadSaid and a few others have been engaging in the discussion, “Where does the citation buck stop when it comes to, ‘inspiration?” Social Media Chats were hosted by #SMManners which has continuously discussed the same issue. It’s not only happening by robotic scrapers of sites, but by those we know and to those we respect.
Lisa Hendrickson from @CallThatGirl recently posed the following question: “What do you all think of this? When someone copies your work, ideas and other other stuff, do you think it’s a compliment or a jerk thing to do? They say it should be taken as a compliment. I think it’s lazy and shows lack of creativity.” Brittney Wilson from @TheNerdyNurse recently noticed someone made a similar name and blog, (close enough to her own for her to question what the motives might be.) Brittney has a killer brain and complete optimism, (two traits I adore about her.) Her response was simple, “Maybe I inspired them.”
I’m the type of person that if I notice a similarity, I ask around, gather opinions and then weigh the entire situation. I love a debate and I love being informed. When I noticed another well-known blogger had deceptively-similar posts to mine, (right down to keywords, phrases, touch points and sentence structure,) I spent a over month analyzing, collecting information and since I had already emailed the other site without response, I knew I had some difficult choices to make. Because it wasn’t a one time, or even two-time occurrence, I realized something deeper was going on. A month and a half ago, I received two emails and a DM asking if I had noticed what was going on. Some I responded to, other’s I played ‘dumb.’ When others started noticing, I knew it was time to really think about my brand and the damage that might be caused if I let it fester. Plus, although I didn’t have a relationship to the other blogger, we work closely in the same space. I had already emailed the same blogger months back without a response regarding what I noticed. I tried to be delicate but firm. Then when I noticed another striking similarity, I decided to comment on their blog, cite my blog and be as professional and kind as possible. I learned a valuable lesson: I needed to protect my content, even if it was a coincidence, I would be doing my brand a disservice to stay uninformed or without action.
The quote that stayed with me most from the entire experience was, “You’re both moms! You’re bound to write some of the same stuff.” If that logic is true, how do newspapers, magazines and other collateral function for the same population of readers? Can you imagine using that logic elsewhere, like on print materials? And how on earth could this same blogger write the about the exact same life experiences, quotes, keywords and content only a month after mine? We are human and the more we have in common, the more our voices can sound similar, I knew I had to acknowledge that important point. What I noticed however, is that the blog moved from updates about children to blatant life experiences and quotes that mirrored mine. When one blogger notices or chooses to ignore another writer’s content and it’s similarities, it’s easy to feel disrespected or slighted. My journalism teacher once spoke, “A true writer credits. A shoddy and lazy writer steals.” That quote has remained with me to this day.
Since I am a technology writer, I know first-hand the extreme levels online and offline media will go, making sure their content is original and reliable. When everyone is writing about a launch or product, similarities are bound to occur. Last year at CES2011, I saw in the press room with hundreds of people that all abide by the same code: Get the scoop, make it credible and publish it first. It’s our mantra. To succeed, the only thing missing is our original voice. That is the secret sauce to good media.
Luckily, @MikeEllsworth has a penchant for sourcing and our favorite buzz word, “credibility,” as much as I do and we began another dialog. He’s a great sounding-board and intelligent-thinker. I even leaned on the #SMManners crew for their advice a few twitter chats ago. We were concerned at the amount of plagiarism that seemed to run amok in our community. Not only that, we noticed that ideas were not protected like quotations. For credibility’s sake, we looked into whether they should be. The ultimate question becomes, “Do we actually need to credit inspirational sources?” My answer is a resounding, YES.
Inspirational sources are those you’ve seen, or heard from that had a lasting impact. You may be inspired by a song, a phrase, another writer or other media entirely. Citing that source for your blog not only helps with keywords, but it allows you to continue to be genuine and heartfelt in your words. I speak nationally about remaining credible online and offline. In my presentations, I often tell my audience exactly how to get in touch with those that have inspired me; I am proud our relationship and the fact I can share their wisdom. Crediting another source, (even after publishing,) creates strong bonds with your writing network and shows credibility, grace and professionalism. It also proves you are a true writer first and your ego is second. Have you ever been in a room with someone who continuously chimes into every conversation or has a personal story for each thing you are saying? The ‘know it all,’ is often immediately internally ignored because their ego is clearly larger than their heart. We are always learning and growing, to try to prove ourselves otherwise is detrimental to ourselves and our readers.
The waters are grey and muddy in online media. We routinely see people’s RT’s posted without their name. Often, the original source might have been forgotten all-together. We are humans and it happens. If we err on the side of caution, thanking someone for the inspiration or acknowledging the similarity, (instead of making up an ill-conceived excuse,) it’s viewed better and the respect stays intact.
In his infinite wisdom, @MikeEllsworth shared with me his favorite way to protect his brand online. He stated his top 3 tips to protect your brand, online:
1.) Post your attribution policy right on your site, and right in the description of the free material. Include the request that those who use your work link back to your site.
2.) Make the download a PDF that does not allow cutting and pasting or printing. That will slow up the less-capable.
3.) Do a routine Google search of sites periodically to find your material and ask the site owners to link to you. That will increase your Page Rank, and make you more money. Turn that annoyance into an advantage.
Additionally, don’t forget about the benefits of CopyScape, a website dedicated to alerting you or helping you search to find YOUR content in other’s websites and Google Alerts, a service that notifys you of certain phrases or words that hit the web. By using free tools you can protect spam bots and other unethical entities from taking what is rightfully yours. Unfortunately, some copyright issues can occur closer to home. In 2008, I reached out to another blogger to let her know I was concerned about the way my words weren’t being attributed on their blog. I received an immediate apology and was credited, even complimented. It was an amazing experience. Sadly, a few months ago, I received no reply to what I had been noticing.
You’ll notice in my posts, the ‘blue‘ words are clickable, I’m a passionate linker. In the world of blogging, it’s much less complicated to cite sources, inspiration or give credit to additional parties. Since I believe that by simply taking people with me and acknowledging their presence in my brand, business and writing I’ve become a better writer, a more successful business entity and ultimately more trustworthy in my public’s eye. The truth is: We don’t have to know the answer to everything, because that is what our community is for.