Imitation may well be the sincerest form of flattery, but being too derivative can get you into big trouble in the world of content marketing.
Plagiarism is an ugly word that you hope never to hear connected to something you’ve produced. However, in the digital environment, where gazillions of words circulate around the world to billions of readers every day, it can be especially difficult to avoid even just the appearance of plagiarism. Yet the legal ramifications of this worst form of intellectual theft remain as dire as ever.
Successful marketing often has to be derivative. After all, your marketing efforts focus on talking to people about things that are important to them. Sometimes it’s a new issue, idea or concept, but more often consumers are looking for information on a trend or idea they’ve already heard about, wrestling with an existing “solution” that has left them unsatisfied, or coping with a problem that hasn’t yet been solved.
Your job as a content marketer is to find a new way to talk to them about those things they’re already interested in – a way that also engages them on behalf of your product or brand without drawing too heavily on work someone else has done.
Walking the Fine Line
Avoiding plagiarism requires you to first understand what it is – and what it is not. Plagiarism is:
- Passing off someone else’s work as your own.
- Lifting copy or content (75 percent or more) from others’ work and reproducing it as your own.
- Failing to credit someone else’s research, statistics, ideas or information so that a reader may assume you did the work yourself.
It is not, however:
- Taking an existing concept, topic or idea and giving it a new spin.
- Using research, statistics or information from elsewhere as long as you give full and accurate credit to the source.
Most people engaged in content marketing and content creation are probably acting with the best of intentions. Still, it can be difficult to know how to completely avoid the appearance of plagiarism, let alone the actual commission. Here are some rules of thumb that may help you:
- Never copy text word for word unless it is within a properly attributed quote. Paraphrase in your own words any information or ideas that are not a direct quote.
- Try to give your content an original perspective or introduce information that your marketing team has generated to ensure you’re offering something new.
- Site sources thoroughly, whether you’re writing a blog, a feature article, an e-book or any other piece of content marketing. If you include specific research and statistics that your team didn’t generate, you must give credit and tell readers where you found that information.
- Use an online plagiarism checker. Multiple websites and services use the full power of the web to help ensure your content is truly original, and does not resemble too closely content that lives elsewhere in the digital world.
Originality can be challenging, but it’s essential in the world of content marketing. Not only is plagiarism an ethical and legal mire you want to avoid at all costs, but the most engaging and successful content is always the most original.
A fresh idea, well executed in just the right marketing vehicle is definitely its own reward!