Blogosphere is the youngest industry with huge media influence. There are almost no formal laws controlling what is right or wrong. In most cases, we are guided by our own personal perspective on the ethics but even what may seem “common sense” to us may not seem as “common” to someone else.
Many ethics mistakes are unintentional, because there is no clearly stated set of rules.
I say it is time we start working on a list of ethics that we can all agree to, starting with the unspoken ones that most of us follow anyway.
Repeat after me….
I Will Never Steal Another Blogger's Work
A more complex issue than it would at first appear, in order to avoid theft we have to define what that actually means. It isn't as obvious as copy/pasting someone's post and claiming it as your own. That is only one form of pilfering.
More insidious and less obvious is the lifting of someone's work in part, rewritten to make it seem as though it came from you. I have seen many freelancers in particular who have just started out making this mistake.
You can use someone's work as an example as something you want to create, like an inspirational starting point to get your creativity flowing. But from there, you have to write something entirely original, that offers something new to the reader. Give them something to think about, not something they could have read somewhere else.
Further reading: How to Quote without Running into a Risk of Stealing
I Will Always Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
Let's say you find something that really is just perfect, and is exactly what you want to say. Can you use it? Well, sure, probably. There is nothing more flattering as a blogger than having your work cited, or something you created shared.
With one important factor included: proper credit. You have to properly credit the person you took the original content from. That should also require a link back to the original, so you are promoting the blogger and their site.
Take a moment to also check their copyright specifications on their blog, as well. Most will have a set of regulations for using their work, such as a link back, or a comment saying you took it and for what purpose. To be truly safe, or if you are using a larger part of content rather than citing a single quote, you may wish to contact them for permission first.
Mind that a credit is not always enough. It's fine if you are quoting a sentence or two, but if you want to re-package the whole article into an infographic or if you want to use someone else's image, follow these two steps:
- Look for license info or terms of service. In many cases, a creative writer or a photographer will just state how she or he prefers you to re-use their work (or overall avoid so).
- Go ahead and ask. In many cases, especially when you are in doubt, it just makes perfect sense to go ahead and ask that person if he/she agrees to giving you the right to use their work. All in all, asking never hurts: Make it a rule to always send an email or a social media message when you have n idea of how some piece of content may be useful for you. The best part is that asking works for relationship building: You never know what kind of partnership you'll end up building based on a friendly “Love what you do… Here's an idea” notice. It's serendipity!
Further reading: Interesting Creative Commons Projects
I Will Always be Open about How I am Related to the Product or a Company
Is anyone else sick of seeing paid promotional posts that are trying to look like they are just casual reviews by satisfied users? You will read through an entire article, which seems genuine. Do you feel weird when you seem to be tricked in clicking that affiliate link?
There is nothing wrong with affiliate programs, or paid promotional content. But in order to remain ethical, it has to be clearly stated from the beginning what is going on here.
Respect your reader and you'll turn them into followers.
A quick disclaimer is a good way to build trust. Plus it's only ethical!
Hey, I am not giving you any legal advice here: I am not a lawyer. It's more of a trust and branding issue to me than anything else.
I Will Not Review A Product I Have Not Looked Into First
If you don't know about a product, don't write about it. Many bloggers are contacted by brands looking for a promotional post. Once upon a time, it was automatic that they would give you a sample, or a trial account, or whatever else was needed for you to check out the product or service before agreeing to the post.
Now, these brands are starting to demand you follow a script they provide, and something they don't even offer you a chance to try it first. This is unethical, and a little ridiculous. Refuse to work with brands who attempt this, and keep your reviews honest whether they are paid or not.
Look at trusted communities and how they protect bloggers from these types of one-sides relationships with brands. Tomoson for example is very explicit about the fact that a blogger has all editorial rights and it's not allowed to demand positive reviews or direct links:
Again, it's a matter of trust which is so hard to build and so easy and fast to ruin!
I Will Not Create Content For SEO Purposes Alone
We all know the importance of proper SEO, and the need for keyword inclusion in all content. That hasn't changed, and it isn't likely to anytime soon due to the algorithm used by search engines like Google.
But keeping SEO in mind and enhancing content for it is not the same as creating content purely for the sake of keyword stuffing and search engine ranking. Content is the most stable form of marketing out there, and crucial to any campaign. It doesn't give you a pass to make it the only concern of that content search results.
Create content to be useful, entertaining or educational to your readers. Then sprinkle in the SEO as a secondary tactic. Remember that it isn't all about keywords and phrases. It is also about value and sharing.
This is obviously a work in progress, one that covers only a small number of issues that many of us in the blogging industry face every day. What would you add to it? Let us know in the comments.