A few months ago, Dylan and I went through a strategy session as a favor to a friend of Kris. It went tremendously well. She was engaged, interested, and, most importantly, walked out of our session with a clearer understanding of her goals for social media and content marketing.
She reviewed our strategy recommendations, asked a few questions, and went on her way.
And then, just a few days ago, she got in touch. Things were going well! But she had a question. She’d been getting a weekly email that was full of great content that was super relevant to her audience and her value proposition. How much, she asked, could she get away with repurposing?
“Is it cheap on my part?” she wondered. She wasn’t sure if every single last one of her articles needed to be original, or if it was okay to republish content or adapt it and publish it on her own blog.
This isn’t the first time we’ve been asked this question, but it is a sensitive issue. So today we thought we’d cover some dos and don’ts, as well as a few ways to repurpose content should you decide to work that into your content strategy. Have a look below:
Use repurposed content sparingly. This shouldn’t be your primary point of focus. You’re in business because you have a unique value proposition and, accordingly, unique ideas. (I hope.) Use them to your advantage.
Try to lean towards your own ideas wherever possible. Along those lines, you should take every opportunity to show readers, customers, and prospects how you think and why you think the way you do. You’ll miss out on those opportunities if all you do is take ideas from elsewhere.
Synthesize, not paraphrase. It does you no good to become a clearinghouse for paraphrased popular articles. (If there’s anywhere you should be sharing content from around the web, it’s your social media feed.) Instead, synthesize: form new connections where there were none before.
Clearly cite your sources. No, you don’t need to tack on an MLA formatted bibliography at the end of every post. These days, hyperlinking and acknowledging where an idea came from is enough. But don’t you dare take someone else’s idea or insight and claim it as your own. You will get burned. I promise.
Give nods to well-respected thought leaders. There’s nothing wrong with agreeing with a well-known thought leader in your space. In fact, I’d go so far as encouraging it. Just make sure your blog isn’t solely comprised of pull quotes from popular authors. That’s what Google is for.
Make repurposed content your only focus. You’ve probably figured this out already. Repurposing content should not be your only focus. I repeat. Do not make your blog a clearinghouse for repurposed content. You’re setting yourself up for failure if you do.
Become a secondary source. Much in line with the original question posed by Kris’ friend, you want to make sure you avoid becoming a secondary source. If all you ever blog about are articles from the Wall Street Journal, what’s preventing a reader from getting their information directly from WSJ instead? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Give your readers a reason to read your blog, or suffer from lost traffic.
Forget to add your own insights. If you’re going to repurpose someone else’s content, for the love of god, please add your own insight. Think to yourself, “Would I read this myself, or could someone get the same insight by going to the original article?” If the answer is the latter, you’re probably looking at repurposing the wrong way.
Alright: now you know what you should and shouldn’t do when repurposing content. How do you actually go about repurposing it? We’ve gathered up a few ways we’ve seen clients do it in the past:
Republish an article in its entirety.
A client of ours, Scott Anderson, owns an executive coaching and consulting business called Doubledare. He reached out to us and asked us to republish a blog from Richard Branson that he loved. We did it because it fits his audience and because he hardly ever republishes others’ content on his blog.
This is something you should try not to do often, but it does work occasionally as a way to drive traffic to your site instead of directly to somewhere else. (Be sure you’re okay to republish before you do this, or you might land yourself in hot water with someone’s copyright attorney.)
Riff on someone else’s idea.
Sometimes, you’ll see an article, of which you agree with the general premise or question posed, but disagree with the author’s conclusion. This is a great opportunity to offer your own insights on the topic while also acknowledging the hard work someone else did in coming up with the initial question.
I recently saw a great example of this on Forbes. Tom Lindsay came across an article titled, “College Is Too Expensive? That’s a Myth.” Lindsay took issue with the article, and published his own piece, “Sorry, But ‘College Is Too Expensive’ Is Not a ‘Myth.’” He dissected the article piece-by-piece and offered up his own thoughts on why college is too expensive.
Even if you’re not picking apart someone else’s article sentence-by-sentence, riffing on someone else’s idea is an entirely legitimate way of ‘repurposing’ content. It also opens up a dialogue and gives you the opportunity to converse with another thought leader in the space.
Synthesize the latest thinking on a topic that interests you.
Here’s another great opportunity. Found a topic that interests you that’s attracted a lot of attention, but still feel like everyone who’s written about it is missing something? Or, do you see a link between a couple popular ideas that no one has made yet? You may have just found an opportunity to synthesize.
Like a chemist taking two unlike compounds and merging them together to make something new, you can pull from several different articles and extract a point or argument that hasn’t yet shown up. If you feel like the other authors are still missing the point, do what in research is called a literature review and frame up what others have said before introducing your own unique argument. Or, if you see two articles that are seemingly unrelated but make sense as a pair in your head, draw the two together and explain to your reader why and how you’re making that connection.
This isn’t for everyone. Synthesizing content in this way takes a keen eye for detail and a knack for seeing patterns where others don’t. In my experience, this is a skill that comes with lots of writing, and even more research. (If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!) Executed correctly, though, this is a good opportunity to show an awareness of your industry while not being a total copycat. Plus, if you can draw connections no one has seen or discussed before, you’re teeing yourself up as a unique thinker in the space.
Ultimately, it’s hard to provide a direct answer to the question, “Is it okay to repurpose someone else’s content?” because it’s so dependent on the individual situation. For some people, it works occasionally. For others it doesn’t work at all. (Would you want to work with a strategy consultant whose blog was just adaptations of other people’s best thoughts on strategy? Probably not.) For everyone, it’s something that should be done sparingly.
As the occasional piece of content when you’re stuck in a rut or find a piece by someone else you just absolutely love, there’s nothing wrong with repurposing content every once in a while.
Image Credit: CC by Amber Case