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The Unwritten Rules for Online Publishers

Easy and broad digital access has made everyone a content creator. Make sure you know how to behave online.

In a culture where approximately 75 percent of all American households own at least one computer, digital responsibility is key. We use computers for everything from shopping to running our businesses--and as someone who runs her business primarily through a MacBook and an internet connection, I'm going to drop some knowledge.

Computers and online access have leveled the playing field, giving the general public a voice whose strength is unprecedented. But just because so many of us are expressing ourselves online doesn't mean we're automatically granted a cloak of invisibility and immunity from being accountable for the things that spew from our fingers. I believe we have an even greater responsibility given the access we enjoy.

So, while you may not agree with what follows, for the sake of your business, clients and online audience, I hope you'll give it some thought.

Responsible Blogging
I've learned some hard lessons about blogging. The most important one? My audience is the reason I get to keep doing what I love to do: write and tell stories.

I have a weighty obligation to them and they're at the forefront of my mind. This is why I think it's complete crap when a blogger chooses to turn off their blog comments. If you're too popular to communicate directly with your audience, maybe you need to rethink what's important and why you got to where you are. My audience keeps me in check. My readers call BS on me (and know they have the power to do so). I hope they'll always let me know when I'm not holding up my end of the bargain.

And anonymous commenters? Not welcome in my 'hood, and here's why: You don't get to walk into a dinner party, punch the host and then disappear into the night without someone knowing your identity. A blog or online forum is no different. If you're going to pony up some thoughts, be accountable for your words by ponying up an identity to go with them.

Responsible Attribution
People have no idea how many copyright laws they're violating every day. All it takes to get past this hurdle is a simple strategy: Offer credit. If you're going to quote another blogger or news article, make sure your readers know it's a quote and give credit along with a link back to the original source online.

Same goes for photos. If you're using a photo in your article or blog post, on your Facebook page or in some other medium, just because you can find it in Google's image search doesn't mean it's fair game. If you can't afford to pay for images, use Creative Commons to search for those that are available free of charge. The caveat? You still have to link back to the original source and provide a photo credit. Inexpensive stock imagery can be purchased from sites like iStockphoto.com and BigStockPhoto.com.

Ultimately, when we stop looking for shortcuts and think before we act (admittedly, not always one of my strongest suits), we give ourselves the opportunity to do better business. I don't know about you, but that's the kind of business I want to be a part of--and known for.

Erika Napoletano is the head redhead at RHW Media, a Boulder, Colo.-based company that solves hard marketing problems and gets people unstuck and on their way to being awesome.

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This article was originally published in the July 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Responsibility: It's What's For Breakfast.

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