Blogging turns the notion of competition upside down

I had to laugh out loud when I took this phone call the other day.  A representative from a marketing agency in New York approached me about creating a guest post on my blog.  Here is how it went:

ME:  So what is it exactly that your company does?

HIM:  We specialize in Social Media Marketing strategy.

ME:  Really.  Well, that’s what I do too.

HIM:  I know. I’ve looked at your website.

ME:  Well, you’re actually my competitor, right?

HIM:  Yes, I suppose you could say that.

ME:  So let me get this straight … (laughing) You are my competitor and you’re asking me to allow you to come on to my website to promote your business and attract business away from me?  On top of that, you will be planting backlinks on my blog which are aimed to give you permanent advantage over me in the search engines.

HIM:  Well … Yes, that’s true.

ME:  Don’t you think that is a little crazy?

Now, what may seem even crazier is that I’m going to encourage him do it.  In fact I help my competitors every day. Almost every person who provides a guest post on {grow} competes with me in some way!  I don’t mind.  It’s a big world and we can all prosper.

But the reason I wanted to tell this story is because if any “normal” business person really looked at the “best practices” on the social web, she would think we’re a bunch of blooming idiots! And maybe we are.

A couple competitors have used my original content in their company eNewsletters. Now think about that. They are taking my content (without permission) to compete against me in the marketplace. Basically, I am writing their ads for them.

Last week a lady wrote “Dear Mr. Schaefer, I wanted to let you know that we are using your blog post for an eBook our company is creating. We’re hoping you would help us promote it.”  Now wait a minute. Can you first explain who you are and why you are taking my original copywritten material for your company promotion? How do I even know I want to be associated with your company?

Isn’t this nuts? Blogging turns the notion of competition upside down!

When I mentioned this observation to the New York guy who was on the phone with me he said, “Well I guess you could consider it an honor that your competitors want to be on your blog.”

What a world.  Doesn’t it seem like the traditional notion of competition has gone out the door?

Photo by inspir8tion used with permission Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • Great story Mark.

    I could hook you up with a good psychiatrist if you keep acting this way. 😉

  • It astounds me. It’s like if I were working at a design firm and in a competition to win a client’s business. Imaging that you work hard for 3 months just to find out you didn’t win but the winning submission looks an aweful lot like yours. Odd that! It happened. Same? or different?

  • Ha! I’m too far gone for that!

  • I think it is the same type of example Ralph. Thanks for the example!

  • Mark, Thanks for an insightful post. What do you suggest as a protocol to deal with situations like this? There is a way to track content used to benefit others?

  • Honestly — I’ve given up. There are so many people ripping off my content that I can’t possibly spend the time to stop it. It’s like chasing ghosts. Sorry to be a downer but that’s been my experience.

  • Pavel Konoplenko

    The idea of competition is certainly changing in our Internet and social-media-centric world. The more open world that has been created allows for greater opportunity for mutual success. Like you said, it is a big world, and this means that success is no longer measured individually. Success of competitors no longer stifles you, and in some ways can even benefit you long-term as consumers become more educated.

  • Quite an interesting comment. I’m not sure I understand your point though. If I don’t measure my individual success, what else is there? At the end of the day, I am going to look at my balance sheet to see if my business is improving or not, right? Thanks Pavel.

  • Pavel Konoplenko

    Let me clarify: Success today is no longer a zero-sum game. Obviously your individual success matters most, but the success of competitors has much less affect on your own success than it has been in the “traditional” world of competition. With “traditional” competition, e.g. a shop selling electronics, you can attain success by undermining your competitors with things like attack ads and price cutting. With today’s competition, attack ads can’t work (because ads no longer work effectively) and price-cutting doesn’t work as well for something like blogs since there’s not price to pay except attention and time. This creates a situation where the only way to create success is to create better content (be it blog posts, or a better product/service). When everyone is striving to create a better product or provide better content, competition becomes more of a mutual, collective growth; instead of creating “empty” success by which a business focuses on maintaining a high barrier-to-entry or undermining the competitor’s success without having a better product. Hope this was more clear!

  • I understand your point, but think this still pertains to a very limited view of the real world. In most businesses, sales are still won or lost on contract negotiations, not the best blog posts : )

  • Pavel Konoplenko

    Good point, I stand corrected.

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  • Cath

    Co-opitition , it’s the way forward.

  • radiojaja

    A unique perspective again Mark, and one I appreciate. Two thoughts spring to mind – I was so thrilled when I was first approached to ‘host’ a guest blog I can’t tell you! Some sort of validation at least! Now Ive turned down half a dozen as blatant ads the novelty is wearing off a bit!
    I found that while at first I felt like I was talking to fellow bloggers, it quickly became apparent, after my initial ‘naivety’ wore off, that these guys were organised and basically selling to people – much like an unprompted email sells or a tele sales guy might call you up, all selling, just a different flavour!
    On the other point of people ripping off your content, this has happened to me in other forms for 20 years in terms of other media ‘stealing’ the creative work we would come up with for clients! Its a weird feeling when an original treatment your client couldn’t afford on your radio station, turns up on a cheaper media a few weeks later!
    But I’ve realised that the originators of creative content will never suffer too much at the hands of the rip off merchants. They might win once or twice, but have no way to develop a deep and meaningful business relationship with clients, lacking as they do the creative ability to move things forward.
    In the end, the originators are looked to, and any temporary ground that is lost quickly regained – reputation intact, if with a slightly dented bottom line, the nett effect over time balances out Ive always found.
    Thanks for another great article, I love your perspective!

  • Ha! Love that. : )

  • JamesNCleveland
  • Hi Mark
    These stories really are unbelievable. What brass these people have! While it’s laughable on the one hand, those who steal your content without so much as a “by your leave” or want you to endorse them sight unseen – not cool!
    I think this upside down perspective on competition is particularly relevant to a unique brand vs a commodity. Really, who can compete with Mark Schaefer? If someone steals your content, passes it off as their own, then secures work with it, the client will get exactly what they paid for – a fake (and a thief of questionable integrity). Shame on that client for not doing his/her homework. Personally, I prefer to work with smarter clients.

    While it may seem crazy to give space to your competitors, I feel that obliging them actually enhances your brand. And while many unique brands are copied, those copies work for some clients, but for others, only the original provides the value they seek. No matter what, these types of competitors are still a copy or a guest of you – the original.
    Good luck with all the crazies.

    a.

  • markdisomma

    Hi Mark – I think there are wider implications to your story.
    To me the most disturbing aspect of this is not so much that you put
    information out there and people want to use it (after all, if you wanted to
    keep it proprietary don’t publish it) but the fact that people have come to see
    anything that’s published anywhere as freely available. And if everything is
    freely available, then there actually is no competition because there is no
    underlying economy. Last week in the New York Times, Ross Douthat fired off a
    withering attack at what he calls “The Facebook Illusion”. His key point – that
    the digital economy won’t monetize sufficiently, and a key reason for that is
    because of the behaviours (and the expectations based around those behaviours)
    that you have alluded to here.

    Competition is an economic idea. Social is community-based
    and therefore open-based. At times, those ideas will conflict and people will
    presume on your work. I’m not saying I agree with that – far from it – but that’s
    why it happens I think.

    I’ve just written a post about this, asking whether the
    digital economy is in fact an economy (yet). In it I suggest that until digital
    players can close the circle between what people see and what they’re prepared
    to pay for, we have, in Facebook and others, what amounts to an information
    channel. Blogs, it seems to me, work in similar ways. So many people see the
    information and they use it. That doesn’t denote loyalty. To them, it denotes
    availability.

    My full post is here: http://markdisomma.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/is-the-digital-economy-actually-an-economy-yet/

  • Hi Mark, I read your article with intrigue… and I was very pleased that you allowed the guest blog post!

    It was a validation for me because I often encourage industry experts (aka competitors) to write for our blog.
    In fact I seek out many social media experts (yes, competitors) to interview on our YouTube channel, speak at our events & as reciprocation, I happily do podcasts for competitors too.

    I personally believe that the more you lead with generosity and serve your audience they more they will trust, like & buy from you.
    Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Tony, you are truly the voice of wisdom and authority here. Great advice. Thanks so much for adding this today!

  • I love this comment so much. Thanks for that really insightful — and generous — addition to the discussion Alina. You made my day with that!

  • Mark your comment is rich with insights and implications. A few months ago I wrote a blog post about SOPA and the eventual NEED for intellectual protection of some kind and honestly I was shocked by some of the comments I received. Some people called me out that the idea of intellectual property is “old thinking.” WHAT??? The entire economy is based on the idea of protecting ideas through patents. We would not be typing on these fine computers or using many of the software programs we love without some kind of protection. So this kind of thinking is shocking to me but probably underlies much of the attitude we’re witnessing here. It would be fun to discuss this with you over a cold beer. Probably have a fun discussion! Thanks for the great comment!

  • Good for you Adam. My attitude is that i have no competitors. Not out of arrogance but out of a realization that there is only one me. I have a unique skillset, a unique history i can bring to an assignment — as do you, as do all the readers today. It’s a big world. We can all prosper. Thanks for adding your wisdom today friend.

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  • Hey Mark, Do you think you would have been writing the same kind of follow up post two years ago ? Or would you have raged a bit more ?

    This kind of practice happens a bit further down the chain too. How does this kind of flagrant theft of copy affect the micro-little-guys ?

  • The answer is yes, I would have raged a little more, and yes I DID rage a little more : )

    I’ve come to a point of exhausted acceptance that this is the world and I can’t fight it. Trying to stop people from ripping off content — or even respecting it — is a Sisyphean task and I don’t really know what an answer might be. In fact, as far as I know, I’m the only blogger that has ever even pointed out that there is a problem! The rest of the world does not seem to think there is even an issue. Why do you think this is Jon?

  • Well, it’s not even “imitation is the finest form of flattery”. It’s purely folks ripping each other off.
    Back in graduate school I read Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero and American Psycho and there was this line in one of them about having the right to take whatever it is you want. Right now.
    Although Ellis was writing just before the Net, it’s a very crude comment on where 80s culture was taking us and where we’ve become.
    I recently mentioned to Mr Teen that I wanted to see the new Mission Impossible movie. “I’ve already downloaded it,” he told me.
    So maybe we’re just dinasaurs ?

    Either that, or creativity is so low that all some folks can do is echo the echo-chamber verbatim.


    Jon Buscall
    jon@jontusmedia.com
    tel: +46 76 863 72 85
    twitter: twitter.com/jonbuscall
    http://www.jontusmedia.com

  • Maybe I missed it, but the story seems to be missing one element. What good does each part of this do for readers you serve?

    When I hear discussions of back-links, swaps, and even ad placements, most of us talk in terms of what we get. (of course, we’re not in this to loose). Your post tells of the blogosphere ethos or helping other bloggers, also very good.

    I like to go one step further. When I get a call (I say “call” but mean “contact”) asking for something, I reply with “what’s in this for my readers?” and usually get a dumb stare (here again, “stare” doesn’t mean that I actually go see them in meatspace).

    When I pitch something, I start with “would you reader like this?” and when accepting an opportunity for my content to go out on an interview, ebook, webinar or whatever, and the partner (I’m saying “partner” because “blogger” or “competitor” just doesn’t cut it, even it it’s not a money transaction) asks “what do you want to talk about?” I say “what will server your audience best?”

    Seems to me that you can’t go wrong if you focus on serving the customer.

  • I think it is much deeper than that. In “Grown Up Digital” Don Tapscott unearths a prevailing expectation among teens that content is meant to be free, even when they know it is wrong to take it. They assume that the economics will work out. Well after 20 years of stealing content, the economics are still broken. It’s hard to to accept that “that’s the way it is” when you start to see the long-term consequences. We have an entire generation being conditioned to steal other people’s art, content, software and livelihoods without consequences. I don’t have an easy answer. There is no easy answer.

    All I can do is change my little part of the world by paying my contributing bloggers for their work. It’s a start.

  • Of course you can go wrong by serving the customer. It is entirely possible to serve the customer until you go broke. There is certainly a theoretical limit to social media charity.

    One important nuance here. In the examples in this discussion, nobody is ASKING me to contribute my content. It’s being taken. That isn’t a strategy. It’s a crime (technically).

    If I served up every guest post that was requested of me I would literally have no time to do income-producing work, even if my readers would ultimately benefit. I do agree with your point in general Warren, but there is a limit. And in the case of people stealing content, I see no economic benefit to anyone other than the person doing the stealing.

    Thanks very much for the thought-provoking comment!

  • LOL Mark. This is precisely why I echo the Leo Babauta prescription of blogging without copyright. That’s right; my blog is uncopyrighted.

  • Collaboration is really just a form of crowd-sharing. We all need amplification or we pay Google, FB, LI etc.

    If you don’t believe in your ability to retain your crowd you probably shouldn’t be in business. Great post. Thanks

  • You know I think that makes a lot of sense Ari. I mean what the hell — it’s meaningless anyway. why not let it rip? Interesting innovation!

  • Thanks very much Nick.

  • i wrote a play and got a call from a theatre company saying, “We’re doing your play tonight would you like to come?”. I was in shock. i made other plans already. Stole my play and wasn’t much I could do.

  • That’s pretty shocking. Sorry to hear about that!

  • My best referrals come from my “competitors” and so does some of the best content on my blog. I love how the net, social media and blogging allow us to do business in different ways.

  • Seems like a good attitude Lorraine!

  • Love it, Mark…and I do the same thing ALL THE TIME. I think there’s enough for everyone…besides multiples of nothing are…

  • +1 Thanks!

  • Mark, that’s an interesting point. It is like chasing ghosts. Today, I discovered a company selling content curation technology from the Netherlands. If Google’s translation is correct, I think the software rips off other people’s blog posts, translates them to Dutch, and posts them on the user’s site as original (unattributed) work. I found them when my head of marketing discovered that they ripped off one of my blog posts and posted it in Dutch (no links back to my blog or attribution – but they foolishly left in all the images, which included our logo). The Google translation of the translation makes for some pretty funny reading, but given that our company specializes in writing highly effective content, it can also leave the impression that we can’t write. Not sure what to do about this one. Any suggestions?

  • monthlybox

    Yes, it was very disappointing to have a theatre put on my play without my permission or involvement.

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