This post is, in part, written after I was recently contacted to promote a new fitness guide by an un-named company. I receive, on average, around 5 requests per week to review or promote something in the fitness world - typically something being crowd-funded, a new book, or a new service. My firm rule is always that I won't promote anything that I haven't used and don't like. I'll review anything I've used but I'll be honest about it, although I try to be as diplomatic as I can.
So, when I received a request to promote a series of guides on fitness, health and wellbeing I asked for one of them to be sent to me. The guide was being marketed as 100% original and unbiased - those terms always make my spidey-sense tingle so I dug a little deeper.
Just a quick Google of 1 or 2 sentences from the guide and I got a few thousand results. I was specifically looking at the chapter on HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). You might be thinking "a few thousand results for HIIT, that's no big deal". But that's not what I'm saying. What I actually got were a few thousand results for that exact sentence, listed on thousands of websites. Here, you can try it:
1. Put "HIIT is a specialised form of interval training that involves short intervals of maximum intensity exercise separated by longer intervals of low to moderate intensity exercise or rest." into Google and hit search.
2. You will get lots of results.
3. Click on any and you'll see that exact sentence on the site. It's likely as part of an article on HIIT or used to promote a product or service.
For this sentence alone you'll see it listed on major fitness websites, university and school sites, commercial gym chain websites and countless health and fitness sites and blogs.
Many companies avoid producing their own content and simply purchase it from article companies. It's also obviously possible to hire writers to produce content for you if you don't have the talent in-house to be able to handle things. Both are entirely legal, if lazy, ways to produce lots of content with minimal effort. Hiring writers to produce bespoke content for you is much better if you have at least given them a detailed brief and they understand your market very well. For this latter option you should vet the work carefully to ensure that it's both original and it matches the tone of voice for your brand.
1. Those companies made the decision that this content was the perfect embodiment of what they felt about that topic. They also decided that the language and tone of voice was perfect for their customers.
2. Those companies couldn't find someone within their organisation who could write a piece on the topic.
3. Many of these companies are listing this content as their own. And, in some cases, directly profiting from the content being sold as their own. The thing to look out for here is the term "curated by". In plain English that means "we copied it but we agree with it".
For those who don't know, plagiarism is rife online. While I still remember being told at both school and University that referencing others work in your own was important, I don't think I ever really got it then. Now I realise that using others work for your own ends, without crediting them, is more than a technical issue.
It's diluting the accumulated knowledge of our industry.
I know there will be many people who read this post and take the standpoint that it's ok because they're using content to drive traffic. They want to have lots of keyword relevant content on their site so that more people visit. I guess they didn't get the memo about duplicate content on websites and blogs.
Duplicate content is often less helpful for your followers and it can hurt your SEO too. It's been said many times before but search engines are not really just searching, they are recommending. They typically do not want to recommend sites that have content used on other sites because it has less value to the user.
I've spoken to countless coaches, gym owners and fitness professionals who think they need to be unique. That everything they do needs to be completely different from what everyone else does. In many cases that leads to people not doing things at all. But it also brings up a specific point about coaching. Coaching is part knowledge and part communication.
Have you ever been in a situation where you've changed the way you talk or act around certain people? Of course you have. When I wrote my first book (The Complete Guide To Sandbag Training) I don't think a single person said "wow, that was packed full of information that I'd never heard of before!". Instead people said that they found that my writing made sense in a way that things hadn't previously. So when you start thinking that there's no new information you shouldn't do this:
a. Think "fuck it, I'll just use something that's already out there".
b. Add unnecessary bells and whistles to make it stand out from everything else, often detracting from the base work in the process.
Instead, you should consider your writing as an extension of your ability to coach and converse with people. Put it in your own words. When you write, imagine how it will be received and work to get your message across.
If you coach and you want to reach people online then you need to develop those skills, whether you're a natural writer or not.
I've had my work used a few times by other companies without proper accreditation (i.e. they've copied it from my website and pasted it on theirs). If you think your work may have been stolen in the same fashion it's a simple operation to enter a sentence or two into Google to see what comes back. Let me be clear, I love it when people share my work using the right channels. Sharing through social media posts, referencing my work properly or using articles that I have made available for sharing is great.
This year alone my work has been stolen by product companies, major International news outlets and athletic organisations - about 45 instances in total.
When I talk about innovation I don't necessarily mean that we need to invent more gadgets. Everyone has a gadget sat in a box, or a piece of fitness equipment doing nothing in the corner of the garage. When I talk about innovation I mean that we need more people to step up and share their ideas. More people to speak up and say "why don't we try this?". More people who care about making a real impact. More people willing to give it a go, make mistakes, and improve.
As an industry that should trade on coaching skills we seem remarkably quiet when it comes to talking to people online. We regurgitate statements and what we deem to be 'fact' but very few are prepared to put themselves on the line with their own thoughts. And just because someone else has spoken about HIIT, the Deadlift, or Sandbag Training before does not mean that you cannot.
It doesn't matter what has been done before. Find a voice for yourself, your team, your company or your brand.
If you run a gym and you want some content for your site then ask your staff or do it yourself. If you have a health and fitness blog and want to talk about a specific topic then read up on it first. Most companies are full of intelligent, creative people. Just give them a chance to show it and support them if they need it.
Growth comes from creating things - good things, bad things, and indifferent things. But we have to create in order to keep moving forward. This starts with our own ideas and is carried through by the way that we implement those ideas. You have to own it.
I have a simple rule when I consider anything for my business. Does it support it or detract from it? And by support I mean does it support my followers, not simply whether it make me more money. If you don't start by providing your followers and customers with your own thoughts, ideas and support then what's the point?