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The ethics of content marketing

Content marketing has a lot of grey areas when it comes to ethics. Some questions that often get asked include:

  • Should authors always be credited for or get a byline on their work?
  • Should commissioned work be published under our customers' brands?
  • Who owns the IP or copyright of written work?
  • Is it OK for a company to partner with agencies to produce work and promote it as their own work?

Ghost writing and attribution

Most of the writing we produce at Ritza is "ghost" writing. It is often attributed to the brand of our customers (e.g. Acme Co), or to a specific person at that company. Sometimes it's attributed to "Ritza". Sometimes it's not attributed to anyone. Sometimes it's released under an open source licence, like MIT or Creative Commons.

Legally, our writers assign all the IP of the work they produce to Ritza, and Ritza has different agreements with different customers. In a majority of cases, we legally sell the IP and copyright of these works to the customer.

This can make writers who have a background in journalism or similar uncomfortable, as they generally think about writing as a creative output, and expect attribution and/or ownership of their work. Ritza thinks about writing more in the way software engineers think about coding: it is creative, but it's often a team effort, and trying to decide who owns which parts isn't practical. Engineers who write code – either for their employer or as contractors – usually do not expect to "own" this work, even if it includes documentation, diagrams, and other creative components.

Companies use our content to build trust in their brand

Sometimes, companies want experts to write guides, blog posts, ebooks and more as a way of winning their customers' trust. This might seem problematic: they perhaps don't have this expertise in-house, but their customers now think that they do.

This varies on a case-by-case basis, but often it's better to think about this as a brand providing free education and training, rather than advertising their own in-house expertise. Places like DataCamp, Coursera, Udemy, and other online education providers often sell or give away "knowledge", and this builds trust in their own brand even though they do not employ experts themselves. Most of our customers sell software or platforms, rather than consulting and selling their expertise, so for them giving away free education is a way to get brand recognition and trust. A company selling a data science platform does not necessarily need data experts, but they benefit from other experts in the field finding content created by their brand useful.

It might be useful to think of brands has being educational providers, similar to Udacity or DataCamp, and contracting Ritza to produce high quality materials. Writing and publishing is hard, and not every company can spin up an internal team to do it, though places like DigitalOcean have done exactly this with great success.

The problem of using individual writers' names

Some companies actually want to put individual writers' names on our work. While this might seem like it comes from a place of good intentions, in reality it is usually because they want it to seem like individuals are advocating for their brand and that the recommendation comes from a "grassroots" level (sometimes known as astroturfing. For this reason, and because often a team of 3+ people works on a single article, we usually prefer ghost writing, but we assess requests on a case-by-case basis.

Ritza's content production model

At Ritza, we think that companies spend too much on traditional marketing - targeted ads, social media banners, and other adverts that provide no real value to the people who consume them. This type of marketing is easy, well understood, and provides a clear return on investment to companies, so it's understandable why many choose this route.

Ritza's goal is to make it easy for companies to divert part of their marketing budget to producing value for the world. Companies should rather spend this money on providing free training and education - it’s the best way to win favour from customers, and even if 95% of people just walk away with the free knowledge or resources, the other 5% might remember the brand and become customers (or advocate that their team or company becomes a customer).

Some companies try to produce marketing like this internally, but it's difficult. A company's own experts may be too busy, and often they can't write well. There are no editors on staff, and there are no good processes in place to produce high quality materials. If a company tries to produce this type of content internally, the process is often unstructured and the results tend towards listicles or clickbait articles.

Overall, Ritza's "Three way win" means that:

  • Our customers get high quality materials that they can use to build brand awareness and win the trust and loyalty of their customers.
  • Our writers get consistent income and support from our team, while learning and improving their own knowledge and writing skills.
  • Readers get free education and training.

Because Ritza buys hours from writers and sell words to customers, writers get consistent income and our customers get consistent value each month.