A collage of Tallinn Estonian photos on the white background

Nebraska. If you haven’t been (and that would be most of you because who wants to go to Nebraska?) it’s a state in the continental USA. It’s also the setting of a very, very important story in the world of social media and digital publishing. Ragan.com is a website which specialises in creating original content for different websites. Whenever a site wants someone to write a blog for them they’ll go to a site like Ragan and simply pay for a new blog post on a subject of their choosing. It’s work done by undergrad English students who are trying to make enough money to buy a beer that night. One day, a writer employed by Ragan posted a piece of content on one of their clients websites and included a picture.

No big deal, right?

Not so much.

Pictures are absolutely the best forms of content. They are easily sharable, go viral quite easily and the most popular form of post. If you’re writing a blog post then it’s especially important because nothing can turn an audience off quicker than a single large bloc of text. This is why pictures are essential to those of us who work in social media, because it helps our content truly shine.

So what happened in Nebraska? What heinous crime was committed which ended in an eight thousand dollar lawsuit against Ragan? Did it involve child pornography? Hate speech? A picture of President Obama photoshopped to include a satanic symbol on his chest? Well no, nothing that exciting, it simply included a picture of Omaha, Nebraska.

It turns out that the writer of the piece did something that we all do (and TSM has been guilty of in the past) which is to simply go to Google Image search and find an image that you happen to think looks good. It’s so easy to do and the majority of people don’t think about the consequences of their actions. People don’t actually think that they’ll be sued. People don’t think that simply copying and pasting a photo can lead do a lawsuit which will cost them thousands and thousands of dollars. But unfortunately this is the reality of the Internet.

So what can you do about it?

Go to any of the major stock photo sites and sign up. Shutterstock and Fotolia are good ones and whilst the subscription plans may seem a little pricy (some of them can cost thousands of dollars a year depending on how many photos you need to use per day) they’ll ultimately be worth it if you happen to get caught with your pants down.

The other thing that you can do is to simply create original content. Considering how easy it is to simply copy and paste content from one website to the next it’s not surprising that people don’t really want to create their own. To create your own content can be time consuming, cumbersome and expensive. Yet it’s also a sure fire way to a) separate yourself from the crowd and b) avoid any potential lawsuits.

The biggest problem with using stock photography is that…well…they look awful. They look just absolutely awful. They’re so obviously fake and the models in them look fake….and…ugh!

But…as a small business owner I don’t want to get sued. So you should know that the photograph which accompanies this blog post was paid for!