Steal This Post.
While technology has improved and impacted the ways we work and live, often for the better, an unfortunate byproduct of the digital age is the fact that things like voice, tone and style no longer matter much. The objective has objectively changed from selling ideas to selling product, and while a matter of snobbery and subjectivity, content marketing has turned a creative craft into a cheap commodity.
I was recently accused of “stealing” someone else’s stuff. It didn’t matter that that person didn’t, in fact, write the post themselves; instead, it was a “guest post” upon which the publisher is reliant for profit, although they did not pay for the post, effectively extracting real equity out of someone else’s sweat equity. And while plagiarism persists, I believe that while you can own a platform or publication, without actually paying for it, the only person who owns – or should ostensibly control – content is the person who wrote it.
One of the coolest parts of my job is getting to work with writers on creating cool, compelling copy that actually has something to say. That means writing for an audience, not an algorithm. This is often difficult for people in the content marketing and SEO business to comprehend, but worthwhile writing is informed not by corporate agendas or marketing messaging. Rather, it’s informed by the insights and ideas, the particular personality and perspective, of the author themselves.
A byline should actually be “by” someone, not an exercise in brand building – and using an avatar, ghost writer or regurgitating some study, survey or news story sends a subtle, yet strong, signal that the content is sterile, sanitized and lacks the stuff like style that SEO doesn’t care about, but real people really do. If it’s just an exercise in cashing in on keywords or cranking out grist for some content marketing machine, it’s not written to make an impression, only to generate one.
So while you can earn a few cents engineering posts for “organic” traffic (a complete misnomer if ever there was one), you’re also effectively limiting what should be the ultimate intrinsic value of any content – the quality of the writing and the voice of the writer. You may gain visitors, but you’ll rarely increase interest.
You may have more people “join the conversation,” but you’ll never actually advance that conversation; instead, you might get a few other link baiters or social marketers trying to increase their engagement metrics. And that creates a vicious cycle that has spiraled out of control – particularly given the fact that those who drive visitors instead of readers closely guard intellectual property that’s not only not intellectual and not their property, but detracts from the dialogue for which their platforms purportedly exist in the first place. But they aren’t fooling anyone but advertisers, anyway.
I do a lot of writing, and do so not because it’s my job, but rather, because I have something to say, and something to share. That means, unless you’re paying for the proprietary rights to my intellectual property, you don’t own my stuff. Nor, once I hit publish, do I have any expectation that it is, actually, my stuff at all.
I write for stupid reasons – namely, because I have something to say and want to share it, and don’t see reposting or repurposing as plagiarism, but the intrinsic amplification effect that happens when good content resonates – and wish people would stop caring where readers are coming from, but rather, that like all writing, it’s simply read.
Whether or not it’s worth reading is another story entirely. But feel free to cut and paste this as your own – there hasn’t actually been anything original published since Aristotle penned Poetics, period. Star Wars is just a western set in space; The Lion King is a thinly veiled retelling of Hamlet; and self-indulgent, self-reflective, disposable purple prose like this post is just another exercise in excessive egotism that’s all been published before by writers far more talented than myself. But at least it’s mine.