An unexpected story that made waves during the 2016 republican convention was a debate on whether Melania Trump plagiarized her speech or not. Are there any content marketing lessons that could be learned from this public scrutiny?

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To this day, I can almost hear my English teacher’s warnings of plagiarism when I’m writing content pieces for work or for this forum. I erroneously assumed that everyone had been privy to the golden rule regarding plagiarism – don’t do it. I must admit that I was taken aback when the speechwriter(s) for Melania Trump showcased a blatant disregard for the concept of plagiarism.

Before we dive into the lessons that we can learn as marketers from the obvious blunder by Trump’s campaign team, it’s essential to note that plagiarizing is ever more critical due to the need for content marketing. With content marketing, marketers are tasked with educating buyers along the buyer’s journey with the right messages at the right time, instead of pushing intrusive, sometimes-premature marketing messages.

While content marketing provides marketers with a relatively inexpensive way to communicate with a target audience, it also presents the conundrum of having to create relevant, fresh content – ALL THE TIME. This ‘requirement’ makes it very easy for any marketer to fall into the trap of plagiarizing content created by others. Many seasoned content marketers may attest to the shock of finding their well-crafted article or content piece republished on another website without the right attribution to the original source.

Personally, I don’t really care if Melania Trump’s speech was plagiarized intentionally or not, what bothered me was the campaign teams initial denial; claiming that the almost identical phrases were just by sheer coincidence. This brings me to my first lesson:

1. If you are caught plagiarizing – do not lie

Lying is one of the worst mistakes that you could make as a marketer if a company ever said you plagiarized because you didn’t give them the attribution that was required, or that your content seems verbatim to something else that was originally published by them, the best thing you can do if you ever find yourself in such a bind, is to come clean (unless of course if this isn’t true). Apologize and offer to make things right. It will save you the embarrassment and even possibly legal fees. And if you are lucky, you might be able to create a partnership where you may be allowed to republish content from the said company or website.

2. Don’t Think It Will Go Unnoticed

It’s possible that the Trump speechwriter who added the phrases from Michelle Obama’s speech thought no one would notice. With tools to track links and even full content pieces, as a marketer if you use someone else’s content without the right attribution, you should be expecting the person or company involved to easily make that discovery. I remember I once had a plagiarizing encounter with a content marketing agency the company that I worked for at the time had hired. A freelance writer for the agency, who had no communication with me (and therefore didn’t know who I was) decided to plagiarize a blog post, and funny enough it turned out to be a piece that I personally written and published on MarketingWorld. We ended up having to cut ties with the company as we started questioning everything else that we had ever received from them.

3. The Obvious – Do not plagiarize:

Plagiarizing can destroy your credibility and trust with your target audience, so no matter how strapped you are for time and need to create a quick content piece, please don’t fall into the temptation. Here are some ideas on what you can do instead:

  • Create a blog post featuring news snippets (that link back to other websites)
  • Create a most trending or most read blog posts of the month or quarter to get more mileage out of your preexisting content.
  • Combine your pre-existing content and create an eBook or whitepaper. An excellent tool for doing this is without the need for an in-house designer is beacon.

Do you have any interesting content marketing stories on plagiarizing to share, or have you ever had your content plagiarized? How did you deal with this? Share your experience in the comments below