How Attribution Helps Build Community

Raising awareness of the importance of sourcing and attribution are pet projects of mine. Partly because of my deeply ingrained sense of justice (if I have to follow the rules, everyone should have to follow the rules). But mostly because of the effect that sourcing and attribution can have on a community - namely, a great one.

What's Sourcing and Attribution?

That awesome picture that you just posted to your brand's page? The one with the pretty background and the inspirational quote? You know the one. Did your in house graphic designer create that? No? Oh, so you licensed it from the original creator and they said you didn't have to credit them, then. No, not the case, either? Did you just find it on Pinterest or Tumblr or (shudder) Google Image Search? Then you're most likely using someone's creation as your own, without giving them any credit for it. And that's not really okay. The solution to this is to make a commitment to source and attribute the content you share.

But wait, what effect does that have on a community?


Let's compare two scenarios for a company that we'll call Widgets & Stuff. At Widgets & Stuff, you sell little nuts and bolts that are used to put things together. You have a nice logo. One day, you see that Willy, one of your fans, has created a version of your logo out of all the different types of nuts and bolts you sell. This fan doesn't work for you or anything; they just really like your company and they love making things. You take the picture and use it in a blog post, change your Facebook cover photo, upload it to Tumblr and link to that from Twitter.

In Scenario One, you never mention that it was created outside the company, much less who it was created by. Willy sees all this and the exposure that W&S is getting without any credit to him. He complains about it on Twitter and it's picked up by the creative communities online and suddenly, hundreds of upset people are writing on your Facebook page, upset that you stole something from a fan.

In Scenario Two, when you use it on your blog, you credit Willy and include a link to his online portfolio. You tag him on Facebook. You @ him on Twitter. You reblog his already existing Tumblr post. Willy's ecstatic that the company he loves likes his work so much and other fans are encouraged by your support of Willy's art to create their own. A viral movement snowballs of variations on the W&S logo and it's eventually picked up by Mashable as the hot new meme.

Which scenario works out best for your company or community? Obviously, both are somewhat extreme examples, but even on a small scale, showing appreciation (in the form of attribution) to content creators means to world to people who are working hard at creating things just because they love to create.

How do I do it?

Found a great image that you really want to use in that blog post or think it would make an eye-catching Facebook update? But there's no source attached (and no URL or name on the image)? There are a couple of ways to find the source for the image.

TinEye - A reverse image search engine, TinEye gives you a variety of ways to take an image and search through the world of the internet for the source. It does generally require a little digging into the results (especially if the image has been widely shared), but can be a great way to find your content creator.
?¿ src-img - A bookmarklet that turns any image into a Google Image Search with a simple right-click. This one can be really useful for widely used images because the GIS advanced options allow you to really drill down into a date range and find the oldest use of an image, which is usually the creator.

(Screenshot of using ?¿ src-img)

(Results from ?¿ src-img)

What if I don't have an image yet? How do I find some?

Creative Commons has you covered. Founded in 2001, Creative Commons licensing allows creators to sanction their works for reuse and remixing by the community at large, while still retaining their copyright. Creative Commons' search portal (http://search.creativecommons.org/ allows you to search on various partner sites for content that has been marked with a Creative Commons license. When possible, it's always good to go the extra step in either obtaining explicit permission from the creator or at least dropping them a comment or an email thanking them for making their work available for use.

By using responsible sourcing and attribution, you'll not only liven up your online content, but deepen relationships within your community. Commit to it Ethical Sharing today. If you want to learn more, visit That Girl Crystal on Linking With Love for a presentation and resources on sourcing and attribution.

(Image by Libby Levi via opensourceway on Flickr, used under a CC BY-SA License)

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