How to Be Original Online and Watch Out for Copycats

Last Updated on April 19, 2021 by Jeremy

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It seems like we find a news story every week that is one big tech company copying another.

Facebook launching a Clubhouse clone. Facebook getting in on the Tiktok game. Spotify making moves to take on Clubhouse. Twitter launching a copy of Instagram stories called Fleets. LinkedIn even got into the stories game. We could go on.

Whenever a great new idea comes out on the scene, it is pretty safe to assume that every major player in the industry will throw a bunch of money at creating their own competitor. Why innovate when you can reverse engineer someone else's idea outright? Unfortunately, lack of originality happens just about everywhere and big tech isn't the only industry guilty of this.

This even cascades down to bloggers and social media users too. While verbatim copies of websites and social accounts can be remedied somewhat easily, imitators that are close but distinctly different (like all the tech clones mentioned above) are a problem for just about everyone- be it the biggest tech company or the smallest blogger.

In this one, we wanted to share a bit more on maintaining your originality online as well as protecting yourself when the imitation is literal theft.

Develop Your Own Voice

Share Your Voice

If I asked you to tell me the top, say, three things TikTok is known for, odds are good you're going to mention something about dancing videos. I would.

This social network burst out onto the scene, in part, thanks to the viral explosion of dancing videos. While I'm not going to judge the fact that dancing videos thrust a social network into the mainstream, I do want to touch on a simple truth: they're already old news.

I once answered a question online about why I do not use TikTok and my response was “I don't dance”. This is a bit of a lie (I do dance), but I said this partly as a joke because that video style has become synonymous with the network. While they can be quite fun, there is an inherent problem in that the 1,000,000th dance video in the same exact style is no longer original. When non-users, such as myself, have somehow seen the same styles dozens of times over, digital creators everywhere should stop and take a step back before deciding to make video number 1,000,001.

As far as being original online is concerned, we should be striving to set the trends as opposed to following them.

While it is entirely unlikely that we could set off a new video dance craze that brings an obscure social network to the mainstream, we are all in a position where we can develop our voices such that people want to copy us- and that should be good enough.

We reiterate this point again and again in our starting a niche blog article, and the simple truth of the matter is that uniqueness on the internet is hard to come by. In a landscape where little information published is actually new, content creators can get an edge by being different. This can be as simple as looking at a tried-and-true topic from a different angle, having a unique background that gives you a new perspective, or approaching the topic as a quest that is bigger, better, and more interesting than anyone else has done before you.

If your content is simply ordering the same dish at a restaurant that you saw another Instagrammer order, who ordered it because they saw three others order it, which cascades back to a recommendation in Lonely Planet, I would recommend taking a step back and asking yourself “how am I providing value?”

If the answer is that you have tens of thousands of followers already who may not have seen the others, that is perfectly acceptable. If the answer is “I am not sure” then you may need to polish your voice more.

We as content creators should all strive to create content that helps tell our story. But at the same time, our story should be a sales pitch to potential followers. Being yet another food blog or the 1,000,002nd TikTok dancer does no one any favors and makes growing that much harder. The more you develop your voice to be yours and yours alone, the more your stand out, the more direction you create for yourself, and the more people will want to copy you and not the other way around!

Be Prepared for Copycats (and Protect Your Copyright)

Copying Will Happen if You're Good

Of course, being different puts a big target on your back as once others see that what you do is working, they're going to start imitating you- just like how all the social networks are copying each other for new features.

Sure, our own level of copying may not be quite on that level, but it does happen. I, personally, have to monitor several local websites, a few DMOs/CVBs, and a couple more generic outlets who legit copy our images and other content outright. We monitor these a number of ways:

  • Directly checking updates from past offenders.
  • Check Copyscape to see if your site has been ripped off in bulk.
  • Uploading our image library to RYDE for copyright monitoring.
  • Periodically searching Google for @[username] for our social handles to see if any 3rd party embeds have been used.
    • I sometimes search my username in tandem with UGC apps like CrowdRiff.
    • You can also set up Google Alerts for this as well.
  • Lurking in Facebook groups for when bulk copycat sites pop up.

From there, what you do really is up to your level of interest. For image theft, we go for RYDE to try and monetize our images (especially on for-profit websites). For less commercial use, we may just send a DMCA Copyright Infringement notice to the infringer to have our work removed from their site or social network. If the organization could be friendly, we may simply ask for a backlink. It really all depends.

But for those who are different but seemingly copying us, well, we will take the flattery. If you can influence the influencers, you're in a good place.

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