A Real Estate Pro’s Guide to Buying, Borrowing, and Stealing Other People’s Content

I’m looking forward to participating at RE BarCamps in Denver and San Francisco over the next month! These events are always a great place to engage in conversation about cutting-edge ideas, and I plan to pitch a session at both events called “Buying, borrowing, and stealing other people’s content.”

While I’m looking forward to those discussions face to face, a post from Greg Nino (site login required) on Active Rain reminds me that this is a topic that has many REALTORS® scratching their head about what kinds of content they should or should not use for themselves. Here’s my two cents.

Buying Content

Greg’s post and the subsequent comments by other REALTORS® reflect a common belief that hiring someone else to write content for you is deceptive and possibly even a REALTOR® Code of Ethics violation. Bill Lublin, CEO of SMMI and Century 21 Advantage Gold, as well as a longtime contributor to NAR’s Professional Standards Committee, told me that Article 12’s intent is to prevent REALTORS® misleading a consumer via the content itself. “It’s not an untrue picture to license content. It would only be an untrue picture if the content itself was misleading,” he explained.

Still, there are many who hesitate to publish other people’s content on their blog. Jay Thompson, of Thompson’s Realty and author the The Phoenix Real Estate Guy, thinks blogs are best left to the author:

“I’m not a fan of ghost written blogs. As a supplement, maybe, but not as a primary content source. The single most important thing a real estate blog can do is display your expertise and personality. Ghost written or heavily copy-edited posts will not be in the ‘voice’ of the blogger — and it is that voice that ultimately secures clients. While I do not believe there is an ethical obligation to disclose ghost written posts, if I used them I would fully disclose that I was not the author. That makes sense as a business practice, regardless of the ethical or legal implications.”

I agree with Jay that it’s a smart business practice to avoid taking ownership of content you don’t write. And I highly recommend reading everything you publish. But I also see a huge benefit to buying content.

Dan Green offers a professional writing service that syndicates content to your blog every business day called Bring The Blog. He thinks content creation steals time from activities that many agents are better skilled for, like selling houses:

“We do all the research, we do all the writing, we do all the graphics, and we do it every day. That frees up at *least* an extra hour each day to spend on sales and prospecting. Plus, because we post right to their existing Web sites, all that’s left for our subscribers to do is tweak the content and market the heck out of it.”

Melissa DelGaudio crafts custom content via her agency, Honeybee Consulting, and views ghost blogging as perfectly acceptable business practice:

“I think we’re all in agreement that a blog filled with useful, well-written content is indispensable in today’s marketplace. Let’s face it, though: There aren’t a lot of great writers out there. More than that, there are lots of people that just hate to do it, or who simply don’t have the time. Hiring a ghost blogger is a great solution. You can get terrific content for your site, and no one has to know that you didn’t write it yourself. It saves time, it saves your sanity, and leaves you free to focus on the business of doing business.”

Borrowing Content

With some attribution and a link back to the original content, some providers offer their content at no charge. For instance, if you’re looking for pictures to use in your blog, doing an advanced search on Flickr with the “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” and “Find content to use commercially” boxes checked will result in lots of great content.

The National Association of REALTORS® offers a plethora of content you can use, including the REALTORS® Content Resource, a member-benefit database of professionally written content for HouseLogic.com that any member can leverage.

Even full copyright content can be used if you get permission from the owner of that content. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call.

Stealing Content

Using other people’s content without their permission is illegal. Don’t do it. This applies to any content you find on the Web that doesn’t expressly give you permission to use it in a commercial application. Here’s what you need to know:

  • If the content has a copyright on it, don’t use it without the author’s permission.
  • If the content has a Creative Commons license, it’s probably still of limits. Check the fine print.
  • If the content has no copyright or Creative Commons license, it’s STILL protected. (Copyright is the default.)

Bottom line, don’t copy something unless you know you have the creator’s permission.

Teresa Boardman tells me success in blogging is simple. Just write something new and good every day. That’s what she’s done on the St. Paul Real Estate Blog. But most people are not as talented or dedicated as Teresa Boardman. Writing new stuff every day for four-plus years like she has is pretty hard.

Because of the time and skill involved, I feel like there’s a strong case for using other people’s content. What do you think?

Todd Carpenter

Todd Carpenter, Managing Director of the Data Analytics Group at NAR I'm a twenty year veteran of the real estate and mortgage industry, focusing on technology that fosters relationships between professionals and consumers. I am a subject matter expert in data analytics, online consumer trends, enterprise social media strategy, listing data, agent ratings, and public facing MLS portals.

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  1. Thanks Todd, I had been following Greg’s blog and appreciate your input and clarification… again! : )

  2. Hi Todd,

    Thank you for bringing this topic back under the lights.

  3. I think you might be missing the point. Blogging is prospecting. Blogging is putting yourself in front of the public for scrutiny. We may not all write like Teresa Boardman, but we can all put our best words out there and let the public decide if they like us enough to work with us or not.
    Having a mainly ghost written blog or newsletter is akin to sending photos and recordings by someone else to a music studio hoping to get a contract. Honeybee Consulting is just looking for work.
    If a company wants to promote a product or a developer wants to sway the public with a proposal it can certainly be ghost written. But any real estate blog that intends to garner business for the agent, and written in the first person, should be written by that agent.

  4. Good post Todd!

    “Even full copyright content can be used if you get permission from the owner of that content. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call.”

    A point I think many miss and/or forget. If someone *asks*, I’ll usually be happy to let them borrow any of my content. All I ask for is proper attribution (a link, in the Internet world). But you *have* to ask.

    I would disagree with Teresa on one point — I don’t think you need to write something *every* day. In the beginning days of a blog perhaps, but a daily article on an established blog isn’t really necessary. Quality and consistency matter. I think it’s OK to skip a day here and there.

    And maybe that is where a strong case for OPC (Other People’s Content) can be made. Use it as a filler for days you take off.

    Fairly recently I started having a couple of “guest authors” post to my blog. I use a title guy and a mortgage lender. Both can add depth of expertise I can not. But their posts are *clearly* identified as written by them, not me.

  5. Teresa boardman

    The blog is about the voice as much as it is about writing. I ask my clients why they called and it is because they feel that they know me and can trust me. What Glen is saying rings true. it is prospecting. They can lurk and get to know me in a non threatening way. Each blog post is like a free sample of me. If they like what they see they call or write if they don’t thy move on. Some lurk for years before they call.

  6. Todd- I have done a few REBarCamp discussions on “Blogging without Blogging” and how to use “free” content on the internet by utilizing your local, state and national Association of REALTORS blogs and websites for content. I have been telling the Realtors all the great content they can find and use on HouseLogic.com/members, as well. Stealing content always backfires, since its so easy to Google a portion of the content and see where it was originally published. I agree, pay for it or find it from content providers who don’t mind, and even encourage, the use of the material.

  7. Thank you so much for posting this! This is a particularly hot topic for me right now, so the commentary is very timely!

  8. I am looking forward to RE San Fran. It’s going to be a great opportunity to learn more about improving our blog. Getting inspiration from blogs helps me a lot in my business. However I always credit the blogs that help with my story and believe that “stealing” content takes away from an agent’s credibility.


  9. I am glad to see this. I always wonder WWTT (what would Todd think ) when subjects like that are brought up. Or WWBLT (which is ‘what would Bill Lubin think’ nothing to do with bacon lettuce and tomato.)

    I think some on ActiveRain get the game with points on ActiveRain confused with real life blogging for consumers so it is easy to get them to say ghost blogging is unethical without thinking about the COE.

    I think for some though it is a competitive advantage, throw a little dirt at the competitor who is employing a ghost writer or using content supplied by lets say ‘REALTORS® Content Resource’ and see if it will stick.

    Wondering what “If the content has a Creative Commons license, it’s probably still of limits. Check the fine print.” refers to? Content which is not licensed for commercial use? Or just always check the fine print to be sure?

  10. All of these questions came up this week at an Association Lunch & Learn, with very mixed reactions to the opinions voiced. In a perfect world I would have a great “voice” & blog consistently, but I am beginning to use some OPC (love that) to fill the gaps.