What you are about to read is a true story. The names have been changed, not to protect the innocent, because there are no innocent. I just don’t want to send any traffic or link juice in the direction of the offending party…
The other day I was quietly minding my own business when I discovered that I was a victim of theft. Nothing was missing, but something was surely stolen. Here’s how it happened:
I was checking my analytics when I noticed I had a visitor who came to my site from the blog page over at Arment Dietrich, so I clicked over there to check. (Gini Dietrich and the folks at Arment Dietrich have a great list of blog posts there, all of which mention them, a testament to how many people refer to the great content they produce. More on that later…). While I was perusing the list I noticed a title that sounded familiar: “Should Your Business Jump into Google +?“. Now, admittedly, in this world of Social Media, that’s a rather generic sounding title, and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve written a post that had the same title as something written by someone else. So I clicked on the link and was taken to the website of a “social media management” company.
When I got there, I started reading, and boy it sounded familiar. Why? Because it WAS my blog post. Word for word.
Think about it: a company that hires itself out to provide social media services was using my content as if it was their own. No attribution. At all.
In other words, using my hard work to build a business for themselves. Now, this isn’t a local company. In fact their website doesn’t even tell you where they are located, but I was able to use my Internet detective skills to find out that they are actually more than 2,000 miles away. In fact, there were enough other things on their website that would make me NOT want to hire them. Clearly they have no clue what they are doing, as if stealing content wasn’t enough of a tip off. And on the owner’s LinkedIn profile, he lists himself as an SEO and Social Media Expert. His words, not mine. I don’t even wanna go there…
Anyway, I decided to call them out on it. I posted a comment, knowing that it would probably go through moderation, and not be approved. Sure enough, the comments never went through. And thankfully I got screen shots, because within about ten minutes, the post itself was removed from the site.
With encouragement from others, I didn’t hold back, and my never to be seen comment was filled with snark. I couldn’t help myself:
Hey, Iâ€™m thinking I want to hire you guys. I love your content here, as it is incredibly well written and helpful. Oh, waitâ€¦now I know why. Because I wrote this post on my blog not that long ago and you completely scraped it and stole it and put it up here without attribution. Can you steal me some good social media results as well?
Iâ€™m thinking of going through your site and seeing how many other posts youâ€™ve stolen from other bloggers and letting them know. I bet there are very few, if any, that youâ€™ve written yourself.
Anyway, just wanted to let you know that youâ€™ve been caught. Do you really have any clients? Or did you steal them, too?
Your â€œAbout Usâ€ page says your â€œunique experience and expertise comes from years of assisting business owners with their marketing effortsâ€. I bet you came up with a great slogan like â€œJust Do Itâ€ for the local grocery store. You also say â€œwe understand that staying current on marketing trends is critical for growing any business, and that is why we are at the forefront on these trendsâ€ Does that mean that theft is one of the latest trends?
Thanks for loving my work so much you decided to steal it. But seriously, would anyone hire a company that canâ€™t write itâ€™s own blogs or only has 149 fans on a Facebook page?
Apparently so, but I feel sorry for them. Just tell your clients about me. Iâ€™ll be glad to help them out once they see through what youâ€™re NOT doing for them.
Meanwhile I apparently hadn’t used up all my snark because I went over to their Facebook page and commented there. This time I received a rather rapid response, and this was the excuse they gave:
Thank you for notifying us. We occasionally hire out to freelance copy writers. We will remove this article immediately. Please accept our apologizes.
So…a Social Media management firm hires someone else to write their blogs? And they only have four posts on their site, one of which was mine? I find it hard to believe, but even if I do give them the benefit of the doubt, they are still culpable.
Then, within about five minutes, My Facebook comment and their response were…removed! Another clear sign that they don’t know what they are doing with Social Media. Would you hire this company?
Now I’d like to point out that this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened to me. Just last week I found another of my posts on some sort of content farm. I contacted the website and got a response rather quickly. They agreed to take the post down, but said that it was pulled automatically by an RSS feed from another site, therefore someone else must have stolen my content first (as if that makes it better). I responded, “No, the other site was Social Media Today and I gave them permission to run my post.” The site in question is owned by some sort of Canadian capital investment firm and was scraping blogs from all over the place? Why? Presumably for SEO purposes and to drive traffic to their site. But why scrap a blog about how to keep people from replying to tweets? Rather odd.
And this has happened on a number of occasions. Sometimes when I complain they respond indignantly, as if they are doing me a favor by “using” or “borrowing” my content. Word for word, mind you.
So what are the lessons we have learned here?
1. It’s a rough world out there – Yes, even in the world of Social Media where we throw words around like “trust”, “authenticity”, “transparency”…there are scoundrels. A lot of us put content out on the Internet, and then there are those who steal that content. It’s the price we pay for offering things for free. The Internet makes this type of theft easy, but I’m willing to live with it. Thankfully people like this are the exception and not the rule.
2. The importance of brand monitoring – In addition to Google alerts and other free tools that I use, I regularly monitor what people are saying about me, and I monitor my analytics. That’s how I discovered this particular situation. How much of your material is being “used” by others, without attribution, and are you aware of it? I can never stress how incredibly important it is to have a strong brand monitoring program in place. Keep your eyes and ears open.
3. Use anti-scraping tools – Most blog theft or “scraping” is automated. As a result, I use a plug-in called Anti Feed-Scraper Message. That way, when someone uses automated tools to copy my blog, they also copy a link that gives attribution to me, and more importantly, alerts me via a pingback. Within minutes of them publishing “their” blog post, I get an email notifying me of a pingback. I check all of these out, and love when someone else decides to link to one of my posts. Scraping…not so much. Even if I can’t find a way to go after them, there is at least some sort of attribution and a link back to my site.
4. Use internal links to your own site – More often than not, most of my posts will reference and link back to at least one other post here on my site. It’s a great way to show new readers some of my older work of which they might not be aware.Internal links are smart from an SEO standpoint, but there’s an added bonus: if someone happens to steal one of my posts, a link to my own site will also alert me via pingback. In the situation at hand, I didn’t have any internal links in my post, so I was actually lucky to find out what happened at all. Internal links are always desirable from an SEO perspective, anyway. I’ve even got a few internal links in this post!
5. Be careful who you hire – What exactly are you getting? Are they legit? This goes across the board: SEO, SM, PR, etc. Do you really want social media management? Quite often companies that offer that aren’t doing anything but throwing out random tweets and posts. Shoot, you can do that on your own and get better results. There is very often no strategy. No plan. Just…”set it and forget it!” When hiring a Social Media firm, take a look at how they handle their own SM. Have they had a Facebook page for a full year with only 150 fans and 2o updates? Do they tweet, on average, only 3 times a month? Does their blog consist of only 4 posts, one of which is stolen? Those are all true for the company in question. Would you hire them? No matter who you decide to work with, make sure you know what you’re getting. And the argument that they hired a freelancer who gave them my work? Even if that were true, they still bear responsibility.
When a company offers you a package that includes a growth in “friends” and “followers”, or something known as “friend seeding”, or if they tell you they will get you a specific number of fans for a certain price, find out how. Are these just warm bodies, or real potential customers? Or are they engaged in a practice known as “astroturfing”, whereby they create fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter to follow your accounts and start conversations? If your SM or PR or SEO company is doing things in an underhanded way, YOU are the one that is responsible for what happens. Ask questions up front. Many seemingly legit companies with strong reputations are actually engaging in these practices.
6. You can’t hide on the Internet – When you do something online, you will be found out. Especially in the Social Media realm where the goal is to get found. Social Media should make us better people and better businesses because we are now being held accountable to the entire rest of the Internet.
7. Include a link to Gini and Spin Sucks in every post so they put it on their blog page – Inbound links and SEO FTW! (and yes, I linked to Gini several times in this post…)
Have you ever been the victim of digital theft of blog scraping? What sorts of things have you done to protect your work, and have you ever had to take any serious action?
- Small Business Tip Tuesday: Creating Your Own Media Relations Program (inklingmedia.net)
- Three Ideas for Self-Promoting Without Being Icky (spinsucks.com)
- 8 Out of the Way Sources for Blogging Ideas (inklingmedia.net)
- More Thoughts on the Future of Social Media (from guest writers) (inklingmedia.net)