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Rules of Attribution: How to Curate Content Ethically

Rules of Attribution: How to Curate Content Ethically

[By Karen Geier]

Curation is an emerging trend for brand content strategies and it has distinct advantages: you can post content you already know will perform, you do not have to spend time, effort, or money to create the content in the first place, and as long as you’re sticking to your brand values, your followers will return for more.

But there is one thing that few brands that regularly curate content get right all the time: attribution. Attribution is crediting the original creator of a work. Attribution is seen in the industry as something as innocuous as a white lie, but those white lies can cost content producers money and accolades in the name of your brand’s clicks and engagement. Done incorrectly, it can also cause your brand to be seen in a profoundly negative light if you’re caught doing it. Here’s how to do it the right way.

Attribution isn’t always easy. Sometimes, if you see something show up on Facebook or Twitter by someone else who hasn’t properly attributed content, it might be hard to tell. What you should do is employ a few minutes of sleuthing to figure out who the original creator is.

How to Find Original Creators

If the content in question is an image, you can use tools like Google Image Search or TinEye (both free to use) to trace back the other places on the web where the image appeared. Look for the earliest date or often the largest iteration of the image and that will show you where the content originated. If it’s still unclear, try to find out how to contact the website where the earliest image appeared to find out where the content came from.

If the original piece is text-based, take the first 3 or 4 sentences of the piece and type it into Google. The closest match to your query with the earliest date is likely the original creator.

Videos can be a little tougher. If you spot a video on Facebook, do a search for words in the video’s description on YouTube. If you can find it on YouTube, that is often the original creator of the work. There is an entire industry on Facebook of re-uploading videos taken from YouTube to boost page engagement. This ethically wrong practice is called freebooting, and it costs content creators real money and real engagement metrics. Do not freeboot videos or repost freebooted videos. Not only is it wrong, but you will likely get caught by someone, and that can hurt your brand’s credibility. Always do a cursory search on YouTube first.

Attribution 101

Once you’ve found the origin of the content you want to post, the best way to attribute the original creator is “by (Creator’s Name) (link to their blog/YouTube channel/Facebook page, etc.) and via (where you originally came across the work). It’s understandable that you might not want to include the last part if the place you found the work is not on brand, so you may leave it out. Generally, it’s a best practice to credit the person who posted the content you saw, and it is a good way to generate goodwill with communities like Tumblr or Twitter, so unless you have serious reservations about the provenance of that account, it’s nice to include this information.

What To Do If You Can’t Properly Attribute Something

Sometimes a piece of content is irresistible or is perfectly on brand and you’d like to include it. If you can’t seem to find the original creator, what can you do? The answer is to post the content, with an explanatory sentence that you can’t find the original creator, and leave a method for people who might know the original content creator to get in touch. This way, you’re actively looking for the creator, and making your followers understand that crediting contributions is important to your brand.

What to Do If You Misattributed Content

There are some unscrupulous people who actively steal and profit from other people’s content. If you mistakenly attribute a piece to someone who is not the original author, it’s important to admit the mistake and re-credit the piece. Make sure your followers know that proper attribution is important to your brand. It’s important to acknowledge and apologize for these errors. In some cases, it might even be necessary to take the content down and leave an explanation as to why you made that decision.

Content is a never-ending ocean of information flowing everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear how some content comes to be. This is not an excuse for your brand to neglect proper attribution rules. Make sure you’re doing the correct research and crediting producers whenever possible, but also acknowledging when mistakes are made.

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