Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Trade-Off for Free

Besides this blog, I also write a technology-focused blog for my company. We typically get about 20,000 visits/month, so it does a decent job of sharing information with our partners/customers and creates some interesting conversations over on our community sites. One of the responsibility areas for my group is to create content for our sales team and distribution partners to enhance the sales process. This includes blogs, demo videos, whitepapers, presentations, online tools, podcasts, etc. In almost all cases, we publish all of this content into public areas and encourage its reuse. It's one of the only ways my small group can scale to the thousands of people selling our products.

But as I've experienced on this blog before, we occasionally have our content reused in an inappropriate way. In a recent case, a partner had reused the content (which is fine), but had introduced a bunch of typos and grammatical errors in their version. So not only did it make them look amateurish, but it reflected poorly on the source (my company's blog). They also attempted to claim credit (without attribution) for some video content that we created and they pulled off YouTube.

Not long ago, this would have raised red-flags for Legal and PR/Branding departments. But in today's age, with the free-flow of information being so available (and mostly free!!), individuals and companies need to rethink how they will deal with this reuse.
  • What was the cost of creating the original content? Is it worth a fight to protect that cost? In my case (both company & personal), the cost was almost zero (other than a minutes of my time), so it's probably not worth a fight.
  • Did the reuse allow the content/message to spread more virally than it might have otherwise? If the answer is yes, and the message is more important than the attribution, then it's probably not worth a fight.
  • Did the reuse create an opportunity to forge a stronger relationship with the re-user? In my personal case it didn't, but on the company side it allowed us to have a conversation with a new partner and help them better tailor a message around their strengths, while helping them lower their costs by reusing some of our content.
Now this equation doesn't always work out well, as this Washington Post article highlights for the media industry. But while the media industry complains about the evils of the digital world, the information (from wherever) is getting spread more than ever. So it really should make people question what is important in how information is shared and try and optimize around those areas. In my case it is primarily about digital learning and building my personal brand (both blogs) and driving greater sales (work blog), so reuse is not that much of a concern. If I had revenue streams associated with the work, then it would introduce a whole different set of questions. I don't think the media industry has started asking those new questions yet, as they are too caught up in demanding people play by their old rules. But eventually someone that has to tie revenue to content will ask new questions and maybe their will figure out a new model to create value. The questions and answers are out there, they just need people with a new/different focus to ask them.
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