As much as people (maybe even you) crave hard and fast rules about what to do and not do in social media, it’s kind of like the Wild West. When the rules aren’t defined, it comes down to whether you want to try and take the law into your own hands. That’s true even for things (such as blatant plagiarism) you’d think would have been clearly spelled out years ago.

One of those situations happened recently.

I wrote an article right before Thanksgiving on “16 Social Media Tactics for Building an Audience” which was republished on several websites, only two of which have my okay to share Brainzooming content.

When one my articles is republished (or there’s a new one written for another blog), I create a Tweetdeck search on the main words in the title. It allows me to track any mentions of the article since many such tweets won’t appear in a standard @mentions search.

The “social media audience” post search uncovered a guy who had begun tweeting the 16 tips, one-by-one, over a several day period, with no attribution or links back to me or the Brainzooming blog. In other words, plagiarism.

After looking at his Twitter profile (and seeing he worked for a prominent Christian ministry organization), it seemed clear he wasn’t into serial plagiarism.

The cursory investigative work prompted me to post a tweet to ask how others would suggest handling the situation. The range of responses was surprising, to say the least. From mildest to wildest, they included:

  • Be flattered and know that your Twitter credibility is higher than that and be satisfied.” @SaraSocialMedia
  • Be grateful. Anyone interested enough to search will find your post. It’s a list post, not literature.” @GrahamHill
  • “Send this to them…RT @Lotay Give credit where credit is due.” @MarkVanBaale
  • Call them out, perhaps? If they don’t respond, ask your followers to RT their posts with attribution to you?” @RoyGrubb
  • “Call ‘em out! That’s theft. Attribution is so easy, especially on Twitter.” @KatyWrites
  • Let us at him.” @EAlvarezGibson
  • Bust his balls on it with a blog post. I would call him out, and then tweet it at him.” @NateRiggs
  • Out them, block their ISP, tell them to stop publically, pull down the post, tweet your points w/ your post link, etc.” and “Want us to kick ‘em in the shins?” @TheGirlPie
  • Hire the Twittenator.” @A_Greenwood

Talk about a range of responsesfrom “take the high road” to down-in-the-dirt, post-modernist gun slinging.

What did I do?

I followed the guy on Twitter, he followed back, and I sent him a DM. I told him about seeing him tweeting the post and suggested some type of credit or link was in order.  He responded by saying he’d do that and thanking me for both the reminder and the original post.

What’s happened since?

Nothing. He stopped after the first five of the 16 ideas, and in tracking his Twitter stream, it doesn’t look like he’s ever gone back and tried to provide any credit.

In the end, this wasn’t a big deal.

In fact, the bigger lessons for me (and hopefully for you) are the benefits of setting up multiple searches to track mentions about your content, and the fact you can depend on loyal friends to readily form a cyber-posse and help you deal with lawlessness on the web!Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we’ve developed  integrated social media strategy for other brands and can do the same for yours.

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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6 Responses to “Social Media Seems Like the Wild West, But Does Plagiarism Warrant a Shoot Out?”

  1. Alex says:

    Perhaps the Twittenator scared him. But seriously, good post. I’ve had a few run-ins similar to this myself. In my experience, people either really do not understand that what they are doing is uncool, or they don’t care.

    • Mike Brown says:

      It’s interesting Alex that he thanked me for the reminder. I’d have thought that as a marketing communicator, he would have kind of gotten this was very questionable, but you never know.

  2. Many people have no concept of plagiarism or how wrong it is. When working on a project with a bunch of independent professionals, one of the marketing folk took to phoning me just prior to our weekly project meetings. Imagine my surprise to receive an email, as did the whole team, after one of these phone calls which outlined my ideas as “hers”. I did nothing, but suffice to say the chummy phone calls were henceforth content deficient from my side! (And then she stopped phoning).
    I saw your tweet last week wondering what to do and I was stumped myself, as I have never taken action on the all-too-many occasions when I have been plagiarised. I have never been flattered by plagiarism but always felt cheated. Your action, to DM him, seems to have given the best possible outcome, in that the plagiarism has stopped. A professional would have given you the credit and would never have needed to plagiarise you in the first place. A friend of mine looks at plagiarism this way – “Today, you stole my idea. Tomorrow, I’ll have another one.” In any event, the moral high ground is all very well, but a small slap on the wrist and requesting the credit that is due to you is the very least that should be done. The tip about setting up multiple searches in tweetdeck is great, thank you. I’ve been watching out for this post, and it seems like you came up with a good solution. As an aside, you blog a lot, so do you not end up with stacks of columns in tweetdeck? I’d love another post on tracking your content if you were so inclined. Thank you for this one 🙂

    • Mike Brown says:

      What a thoughtful comment Helen – thanks for sharing your perspective on the issue! The angles you take on the topic could trigger a week’s worth of blog posts….and just may do that!

      I’m probably close to your friend’s point of view in terms of broad concepts and the need for strategic thinkers to keep coming up with new thoughts to stay ahead of people who will grab the old ones as their own. In fact, within business, I always relished when someone I needed to adopt a certain point of view would incorporate one of my ideas as their own. I’d get my intended direction and another advocate without even having to sell them MY view of the idea’s value.

      Relative to searching for post titles, I don’t set up a specific title search on each post – just the ones that I expect to get published elsewhere or seem like they’ll get more attention. Here’s a post I did that touches on this: http://brainzooming.com/?p=4430. It’s worth a future post with some more detail though.

      Another post this suggests is on reading habits and plagiarism….so you don’t wind up accidentally incorporating another’s content into your own.

      Thanks again for all the idea starters Helen!

      • You are welcome Mike. You have also given me a blog post idea – about the times when you want people to take your ideas and make them their own. I deliver business training and am a business mentor and love it when the same starter suggestions get built into completely different business solutions. Cheers & keep those ideas zooming!


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