“I’m in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met.”
When John Green’s apparent words began flooding online forums and blog posts—even making it onto posters, luggage, and T-shirts—the author of The Fault in Our Stars continued collecting royalties for his ingenuity.
The problem is that Green never wrote it. Melody Truong, a 13-year-old blogger, did.
Because Truong often quoted Green on her blog, her original words were confused for his and falsely attributed to his book Paper Towns. And with the online world fueling the fire, Green assumed the sentence appeared somewhere in his book. His online store even sold merchandise advertising the quote.
To be fair, Green has published seven books—it’s unreasonable to expect him to remember every sentence he’s written on this scale. Still, there’s an underlying lesson here for busy marketers who need help creating content.
Can You Account for Your Published Content?
Okay, so maybe you haven’t written seven books. But what would happen to your credibility if you mentioned someone in an article but couldn’t explain why when you saw him or her in person? Or what if you were asked to speak on the topics you wrote about?
You shouldn’t have to take a crash course on your own content before speaking on a panel or discussing it with some colleagues. You should be an expert on the themes your content regularly features.
The only way to keep up with your words is to take the reins in the content creation process.
1. Make sure the ideas and opinions are yours.
Having a team bring your ideas to life with the help of a knowledge management template or other system can streamline the content creation process and free you up to focus on other marketing objectives.
But when someone else is dreaming up the big ideas, you can easily lose track of what’s being written on your behalf. The opinions and ideas that appear under your byline should ideally be yours. At the very least, you should agree with everything that’s attributed to your name.
2. Personally approve your content.
Although your initial draft might be fleshed out, a few rounds of edits can give your content a major facelift. Whether you work with an internal or external content team, you need to have the final say before the copy goes out to the public. Otherwise, the final product might be unrecognizable.
3. Define your own tone.
If you don’t define your tone, you can’t expect others to replicate it when writing, editing, or even distributing your content. Find a tone you’re comfortable with, and make sure it remains intact throughout the creative process.
My company creates client guidelines the way publications create content guidelines. We refer to these details at every stage so our clients’ preferred tone comes through.
4. Communicate your goals.
You might have a specific goal or objective for each article or blog post, but members of your content team will never know unless you tell them. If they have a different idea in mind, the end result could look dramatically different than you originally intended. Keep everyone in the loop about the marketing goals that are driving each article.
5. Keep it original.
Most publications require statistics, figures, or strong opinions to be properly attributed. It’s fine to expand on someone else’s ideas; just make sure to give credit where credit is due. If editors can trace your “original” ideas back to someone else’s work, it could look like plagiarism and damage your credibility.
People will no longer trust your content if they know you aren’t contributing the big ideas. You must take the time to understand what you’re putting into your articles or blog posts.
It’s risky to be unfamiliar with your own words, as Green certainly found out. Although Green’s apology and pledge to pay Truong the royalties he accumulated made her “paralyzed by happiness,” the business world might not be as forgiving.