Social Media Plagiarism

Why it is so important to be original in social media

The other week I was reading an article on Social ROI case studies to give me some ideas for blog post. I jotted down the major points and the best examples, and moved on to the comments section to see what other people were saying.

A number of commenters took issue with the fact that the writer had “borrowed” a phrase without crediting the original author. The phrase was “media agnostic” and it belongs to Oliver Blanchard- a pioneer and sort of social media scholar (and publisher of “Social ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization”). The term refers to putting social media metrics in context.

This begs my question: should we be concerned about social media plagiarism?

There are some major challenges to being original when writing about social media. One is that many readers are looking for guidance- or best practice- to elevate their own social media, or their company’s. Social media “experts” should be working to craft social media advice that is based on direct experience, studies, or analysis. But as you may have noticed, a lot of so-called social media guidelines are vague, offering tips like “listen” or “engage”, without showing how to actually do so (or not do so).

Then there is the fact that people reading about social media are probably the same people who share social media. The New Yorker did a parody of this phenomenon this month:

    “Hmm . . . What kind of ominous, doctored statistic can I make up? Did you know that twenty-four per cent of Facebook users have unwittingly divulged their credit-card information to third-party venders? Or that iPhone owners are more likely to suffer from thumb-stress-induced depression? Or that having an Android means you possess the gene for racism?”


The American Library Association- ever the sticklers for proper citation-even tried to curb uncited tweeting. This year they established a formal citation for referencing tweets. Meaning that in the off chance this blog post was ever used in some college student’s paper somewhere, it should technically be cited as:

Falkner, Karelisa (@liqui_site).
“Social Media Plagiarism”. May 18, 2:00 P.M. EST. Tweet.

But not citing the source in a Tweet or Facebook share is more forgivable than in an online essay (even if it is just published on a blog).

The biggest challenge to being original in social media writing, as I see it, is vocabulary. There simply are not enough words in the social media lexicon. And unfortunately there is no social media thesaurus (that I know of!). Writers who make up their own terms come across as out of touch and not credible.

I think these few terms have stuck simply because so much of the social media language is buzzwords, trends, and catchphrases- they all have a short life. And information is not distributed like it used to be a decade ago. Content farming means that a handful of big media companies are generating the bulk of web articles. That content circulates through search engines and the source gets lost with each new “reporting”. You can’t expect language to evolve in this scenario.

Every industry has its own “speak” and social media is no different. But in other fields, like medicine, when the research changes, so too does the terminology. Will we still be stuck with same social media lingo 5 years from now because we were too busy to share the message without the messenger?

I think social media would benefit greatly from being more transparent about where ideas come from, what they’re grounded in, and who the true “influencers” are.