Cooks Source Magazine, You’re Doing It Wrong

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Lisa Barone from Outspoken Media recently wrote a couple of posts about social media marketing and how you should take a humanistic, engaging approach in order to avoid social media disaster. She points out, rather astutely, how brands have distorted the definition of social media marketing to mean “here’s another platform for us to blast information at you” instead of using it to communicate with your audience, listen to what they’re saying, and engage with them by responding to their feedback. Lisa used the Washington Post as an example of how not to do social media marketing — they banned their reporters and writers from speaking out on Twitter after one of their journalists used the account to respond to some criticism of an article about homosexuality being a mental health issue. Instead of using Twitter to address the issue, they turned their back on the conversation and continue to use it as a one-way communication tool. That’s not how social media works. Unfortunately for Cooks Source Magazine, they too learned this lesson the hard way.

Last week, a woman posted on LiveJournal about how Cooks Source Magazine found an article she’d written and published it in their printed magazine without her permission. Apparently Cooks Source found her article on her website and copied it for their magazine (which allegedly has between “17,000 and 28,000 readers”) and for their Facebook page. The author contacted the magazine and asked for an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine, and a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism in lieu of payment. The response she received from Cooks Source’s editor was surprising, to say the least:

“I have been doing this for 3 decades…I do know about copyright laws. It was ‘my bad’ indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.

But honestly Monica, the web is considered ‘public domain’ and you should be happy we just didn’t ‘lift’ your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

So, to recap: not only is the editor refusing to apologize (other than the half-ass “my bad” in the first paragraph) for stealing the author’s article, she thinks the Internet is some sort of Wild West free-for-all where people can take what they want and not have to worry about stealing other people’s content (especially since it happens all the time in college and at work…because plagiarism is no big deal when it comes to your academic or professional career). Oh, and don’t forget the cherry on top — she thinks that because she made some minor edits to the article, she’s entitled to receive compensation from the author for this auspicious favor. The balls on this woman…

Oh, let me just point out that this isn’t the first time the magazine has lifted content from the Internet — apparently their magazine is pretty much entirely comprised of content that’s not theirs. They’ve even stolen articles from NPR and Martha Stewart Living and re-purposed it in their magazine without the author’s permission. Anyway, the author’s LiveJournal entry got posted on Reddit, and people took swift action. In addition to contacting Cooks Source’s advertisers and expressing their disappointment, users flocked to Cooks Source’s Facebook page in droves and “liked” the brand so they could flood the page’s wall with the following:


Their page was inundated with people voicing their outrage, either via jokes or actual complaints. Quite the shitstorm Cooks Source has on their hands, eh? What a reputation management issue! What’s the brand to do? Well, you’d think that straight off the bat, they’d issue an apology or at least some sort of acknowledgment on Facebook since that’s where one of their biggest fires is. After all, it’s not good for business if someone comes across their Facebook page and sees hundreds of negative posts accusing them of plagiarism, right?

Unfortunately, Cooks Source does not have what I can only describe as “basic common sense.” Instead of addressing the reputation management issue they had on their Facebook fan page, they abandoned it and created a new page…and they posted this:

That is the facepalmingest thing I’ve seen a brand do in quite a while. Unsurprisingly, this update received over 300 comments, mostly negative, with many people pointing out that the magazine’s previous fan page didn’t get “hacked,” it just received an overwhelming amount of criticism stemming from people who disapprove of the magazine stealing content and using it for profit. Cooks Source just didn’t get it. Their new page included posts from them that read:

  • “Apologies for the issues on the old page. Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about hackers!”
  • “For those of you who wish to be negative. Please use our other group. For those who are here as readers welcome!”
  • “There’s lots of people here that do not seem to understand a few basics yet they seem to all be experts in the print business.”
  • “Any posts considered libelous will be removed. Thank you to Christian for his assistance on the page mechanics. We shall be temporarily adapting the wall. Apologies to our regular fans.”
  • “I don’t know what some of you think you are going to achieve? We apologized, now go find a rabbit to catch or something”
  • “Numerous derogatory posts have been removed and members banned and reported. Those people here to cause trouble are wasting their time. Don’t you think that jumping on a band wagon just makes you look lily-livered?”

Would you be surprised if I told you that the magazine’s critics did not take kindly to these wall posts? Whoever was handling the magazine’s social presence just signed their own death warrant. Instead of apologizing and acknowledging that they made a mistake, they rolled their eyes and essentially told the Internet to get over it. This isn’t poking the bee’s nest, it’s punting it, running to where it landed, and taking a steaming dump on it.

Shockingly, creating a new page didn’t confuse the trolls and leave them behind at the old abandoned one. The new Cooks Source fan page has just as many vitriolic comments as the last one (and this one may have actually been hacked by someone — it at least appears as if the magazine has stopped updating it). This incident snowballed to disastrous proportions in just a few short days.

So what’s to learn from this mess? I’ve outlined some tips below:

  1. It’s hard to get away with plagiarism. Don’t think you can just steal someone’s content and use it for monetary gain without that person catching on. It’s the Internet, for crying out loud — anyone can just copy a snippet of your content and paste it into Google to see if it exists anywhere else. People can sniff this stuff out quicker and easier than you can imagine. Ask yourself if it’s really worth it to steal someone else’s stuff vs. creating your own content. The latter may be more time consuming up front, but option #1 will cost you much more time, money, and headaches in the long run.
  2. Never underestimate the power of the Internet. It’s more fun to complain than it is to heap praise, and nobody does that better or quicker than Internet users. Whether it’s finding out who was mean to a kitten or piling onto a daft magazine editor, people can and will assemble together and make your life a living hell if you’ve done something especially egregious or skeezy.
  3. “Social” media means you can’t always control what’s said about you. If someone’s tweeted something negative about you or posted something you don’t like on your Facebook page, ignoring or deleting it is far from the best solution. Sure, you can disregard trolls who have little to offer other than saying “ur gay,” but if there’s merit to the criticism, you can’t ignore the 10,000 lb social media gorilla in the room. As Lisa pointed out in her posts, the true point of social media is to engage with your audience — that doesn’t mean you ignore them when they’re unhappy and instead try to keep shoveling the same bland shit about your company into their mouths. If all you do is delete the stuff you don’t want to hear and keep the shiny happy praise intact, pretty soon people will start to smell the bullshit and lose trust in/respect for your company.
  4. Sometimes you have to make public statements. Sooner or later, you’ll need to acknowledge an unhappy customer or field a question about a touchy subject, and it could be something ugly that was said in a public setting. As embarrassing as it may be to you, if there’s a big enough hubbub online, you’ll need to toss the masses a bone so they’ll be satisfied. Even if you address the initial issue publicly and offer to move the conversation offline in order to handle it further, it at least shows your audience that you’re attuned to what’s going on and are handling the situation. Kill them with kindness — I’ve seen brands do a good job of this in the retail space. Someone posts a negative review about a shirt that didn’t fit or seems cheaply made, and the very first comment is from the company offering an apology and information on how to get a refund. It’s not hard to turn a negative situation into a positive one — all it depends on is your attitude and how you handle it.
  5. Make sure whoever is handling your social presence knows what the hell s/he’s doing. Seriously, you do not want to find yourself in a Cooks Source situation. Whoever was (hopeful emphasis on the past tense there, as that person better be fired by now) in charge of the brand’s Facebook account handled the plagiarism incident like a bratty teenager and did nothing more than add fuel to the fire. Make sure that whoever’s representing your brand is level-headed and knows how to respond to various situations in a prompt, appropriate manner.

Both Cooks Source and the Washington Post have provided us with examples on how not to run your social media presence. Hopefully you gleaned some tips from their mistakes. The important thing to takeaway from this post is that you really need to emphasize and respect the “social” in social media — as soon as you take your audience for granted, you’ll learn the hard way just how strong a voice they actually have.

94 thoughts on “Cooks Source Magazine, You’re Doing It Wrong

  1. TrafficColeman

    Rebecca people will steal and continue to steal, the question is what you do about it..the laws are a little fluffy so if you can work out something with the crook..it will be best so you don’t have to go through the court crap..

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

    1. Rebecca Kelley Post author

      That’s exactly what the author did — she tried to handle it directly via the editor, and the editor flung it back in her face and refused to accommodate her. Now, instead of handling it legally, the magazine has a huge angry mob to deal with, which is much worse than issuing an apology and donating $130.

    2. AnnieLouJ12860

      That’s true. There will always be people who would do that. But it’s a different matter when you see a company stealing articles. I mean, what’s so hard about asking permission first?

      1. California Dreamin

        “Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.” This is maybe the most depressing string of ideas I have ever spent 5 seconds reading.

    3. melg

      I’ve noticed that there is one thing plagiarizers are really good at when they’re caught stealing ideas/content: They’re good at denying while acting arrogant at it.

    4. Ethan

      Great post! I should hope the author pursues the case. That should teach the Cooks Source editor a lesson.

  2. Ivan Walsh

    Hi Rebecca,

    Actually, the Cooks Source’s editor is right. People do think stuff on the web is in the public domain.

    What’s wrong here is their SM policy is flaky or there is none. I really think companies need to look into SM polices to educate their staff & protect themselves.

    One another note, we’ve had issued with ppl scraping our site and, believe it or not, getting higher Google rankings with the stolen content.

    How unfair is that?

    1. MVZP_01

      I thought it’s much harder to get higher rankings with duplicate content because of the duplicate content penalty that Google has punt it place. They must have found a workaround to that for them to get higher rankings for content they’ve lifted off your site.

      1. WhoSaysWhat01

        I haven’t read anything about any duplicate content penalty. I follow the Google blog and I haven’t once seen any post mentioning that.

        1. PattyT12

          Come to think of it. Isn’t this just a strategy to encourage more readers? Bad publicity is still publicity and these folks couldn’t have dipped lower in the crapper.

      2. floresparati

        Copyscape does a great job of detecting duplicate content. You know what really irks me most? Google tagging sites or blogs without first going through the content carefully. Happened to me once and I thank the Heavens I speak Spanish!

    1. nealcal

      Calling this post fantastic is just an understatement. this is brilliantly magnificent! (Now what did I win?)

    1. moolahmachine

      Sadly, there are a lot of Internet users who seem to believe that the copy-paste mentality is perfectly acceptable. I’ve read somewhere that “plagiarism is unforgivable”. I couldn’t agree more.

      1. Ara600_m1

        I see a lot of those on Facebook and Twitter. People passing off ideas, quotes, excerpts, etc. as their own. No attribution or whatsoever. I find it very telling of the people doing that.

      2. AurorMine

        People who do that are lazy. Unfortunately, you see a lot of them not just online. Cheating by stealing ideas is low.

    1. Jason S.

      They clearly have no idea how to deal with it. Unless that’s really how they do it there in their company. I hope not.

    2. Dandundun

      Errors like these can be mended with a simple public apology that’s both sincere and a pledge to upholding social media truthfulness. The looks of this so-called editorial reply does not constitute even a slight semblance of sincerity nor honesty.

      1. Marnie Sho

        It’s not even an apology. What the heck is this message anyway? Something to make people remember that they are incompetent to the highest level?

      2. georgeblanco

        Let’s take note of the important points that raised by the editor:

        1. The editor is doing it for three decades. (My thought: Doing what? Plagiarism?)

        2. She knows all about the copyright. (My thought: She also knows about copyright infringement.)

        3. The web or the Internet is a public domain. (My thought: Do you agree that the internet is a public domain and anything published on it can be lifted and printed into the paper or magazine without asking permission or any compensation from the rightful author?)

        4. Monica should be happy that the article was lifted but she was still given the credit as the author of it.

        5. The editor insulted Monica for being a professional yet her article needs much editing.

        6. The editor argue that she put some time into rewrites (My thought: The editor needs to think twice about her points as stated in number 5), so instead of paying Monica the compensation, Monica should pay the editor for the REWRITES.

        1. Rebecca Kelley Post author

          Yeah, that part cracked me up too. “Your article is good enough to steal and feature in our magazine because we’re too lazy/unimaginative to come up with our own content, yet so ‘crappy’ that we had to edit it.”

          1. Fenris

            Actually, in Judith Grigg included something else in that email that showed the kind of nerve she has. The reason that the entirety of the email hasn’t been released by the blogger is that included at the bottom of the letter was a copyright notice. Just like the one at the bottom of Monica’s blog article! Monica decided to take the high road and keep some of the content of the email private to respect the copyright notice. I just can’t believe that a woman who ignored the copyright notice on a webpage would include one in an email.

  3. JadedTLC

    Seriously, you guys cannot be defending the “wild wild west” mentality. Just because it’s easier to get away with, doesn’t mean you should defend plagiarism. Rebecca speaks true.

    Social media is, well, social. And that means getting in the dirt with your audience. I know, your suit might get wrinkled, but nevertheless – your audience paid for that suit and it’s your obligation to speak with them, not AT them.

    1. Yes2Freebies

      At the heart of plagiarism is the intent or desire to cheat and steal. There really should be stricter rules and corresponding punishments for that.

      1. GQmeansGeek

        I think eventually there will a solution to that. In the meantime, it helps that there are tools available that can help you check for duplicate content across the web. And I think duplicating content can get you lower rankings so that in itself is already a kind of punishment.

      2. Bryan Jake T

        The years I spent in college cultivated a fear of plagiarizing. My professors seemed to have a built-in radar that discourage attempts of copying bits and pieces of others’ work. I think instilling that fear in me was one of the biggest legacy of my college years. I’ve learned to respect other people’s work enough not to even consider passing off their work as mine.

      3. smstudent

        There’s a fine line between plagiarism and borrowing content. Whatever happens, it’s your call. Looks like Cooks Source just went over the top too much.

  4. Tom Wozniak

    Great post Rebecca. It is amazing how reputation management has changed with the growth of social media. Not that many years ago, very few people would ever know about a situation like this. Now, people have an easy way to get their voices heard with either positive or negative comments. It has created an entirely new customer service and public relations environment for companies to figure out.

    1. FirenzeZ

      Social media is a constantly changing environment. You can’t quite say you mastered it since new things pop out of it almost daily. You know the number one rule of social media is? Keep your users engaged via correct means and you’re definitely good to go.

      1. enajyram00

        A very well written piece! I always enjoy reading your posts. I find them relevant and entertaining. Kudos and more power to you!

  5. Ashley

    I’m curious, though, in the long run did this really have any detrimental effect on Cooks? Yeah, there are a lot of people giving them negative comments on their Facebook page but did this really hurt their bottom line? How ever they make money they might not even care about a PR firestorm. Eventually it will burn out.

    Now with that said, the original author should file a small claims lawsuit against them. They did something illegal and they admitted to it, so I’m sure she could get a judgement against them… but again, is it worth the time?

    1. Rebecca Kelley Post author

      A lot of people contacted their advertisers and expressed their disapproval, so if any of them stopped advertising in the magazine over the incident, that’s taking money out of Cooks Source’s pockets.

    2. WhoisDoyle

      They will recover for sure, if they try to address the glaring issues that emerged because of what happened (i.e. if they learned from it at all). I agree with Rebecca, they really should fire the person managing their Facebook account.

        1. RedBlack88

          Both the editor and their Facebook fan page administrator, unless they’re one and the same, failed to mitigate the damage.

        2. Tammyexperiments

          Maybe you’d like to school them on the basics of social media and web marketing per se, Jeremy, my man?

    3. ExclaimedIdeas

      They should have opened the lines of communication on their Facebook account instead of creating a new page. Their seemingly hard stance and arrogance on the issue is what hurt them more. While it is true that negative publicity is still publicity, good reviews and opinions are way much better.

      1. KrisM77

        Is this a wake up call to other companies who think the web is a shareware community gone haywire?

  6. Jona712

    Such “mistakes” can leave a blemish to their company’s image. It may eventually burn out but the damage has been done.

    1. Andrew Says So

      Mistakes are sometimes unavoidable. What exacerbated the problem was the way they’ve handled it.

    2. medomoc

      If they even had the balls to apologize properly, then any additional damages along the way would have been immediately averted.

  7. AnnieP78

    Great read! A nice reminder to us all who engage in social media. Looking forward to your next post. :)

  8. Husher50

    Social media has indeed somehow evolved into advertising and marketing platforms used by some companies who do not seem to put much value on customer engagement.

    1. ILoveMemes

      I can’t believe that she actually said those things. There’s something seriously wrong with her reasoning.

    2. Cristina Dy

      A simple “I’m sorry” note might have been a better alternative to what she said. I won’t be surprised if their supposedly wide readership would be dwindling in the next few days.

      1. B.Logan

        I haven’t even heard of them before and after this incident, there’s no way I’m going to subscribe to whatever it is they’re marketing.

  9. AL0101

    There are some companies who jump into the social media bandwagon with the barest understanding of what engagement is all about and with no reputation management plan to speak of.

    1. newmediaist12

      And what’s even more depressing is the way som of them think that’s the way social media and social media marketing is supposed to tick. Quite disappointing if you ask me.

    2. Fields of Clover

      I love your post and Lisa Barone’s too! They left me with a few things to think about.

      1. Laney Pitt

        You know what this post is truly about? Keeping integrity in these trying times. (How’s that for a shot of web marketing poetry, huh?) :D

      2. Mark Mead

        My head is aching just thinking about the mistakes I may have committed along the way as a startup web marketer…

  10. Nicole Burns

    “It’s more fun to complain than it is to heap praise, and nobody does that better or quicker than Internet users.”

    Definitely true. That’s why I think it’s always possible for companies, no matter how adept and careful they are in using social media, to commit mistakes that Internet users can quickly jump on. It’s why online public relation and reputation management is so important.

    1. Get That Ball

      It’s the same thing in real life. Good deeds often tend to do go unnoticed while even the smallest mistakes are guaranteed to generate a lot of reactions.

    2. TomYoon

      Come to think of it, web and social media marketing involves more attention to detail and customer service than their offline cousin. Besides encompassing a larger potential customer population, committing an Internet boo-boo is similar to punching yourself in the piehole. What’s your two cents’ worth on this, Shoe?

      1. EllaineR

        In addition to a massive list of other articles and images stolen outright by Cooks Source Magazine, intrepid Facebook users* have been posting other awful revelations about Cooks Source, including the magazine’s responsibility for MySpace, the recent Qantas engine malfunction, the withering of crops in Farmville, the Kennedy assassination, Windows Vista, the loss of the original Twinkie filling, and a keyboard containing only 3 buttons: C, V, and Ctrl. In fact, one user even blames Cooks Source for his crack-like addiction to uncovering their misdeeds.

        1. thoushallpass

          And to drive the stake even deeper? Cooks Source’s circulation numbers were not immediately known, as the magazine does not report numbers to the Audit Bureau of Circulation or BPA Worldwide, the leading publishing auditors. Yowza!

  11. WhateverWorks

    Nice article! Whoever was handling the Facebook fan page has no business doing his/her job. The entries posted on their new page just showed an unwillingness to resolve the issue properly.

  12. The American Dream

    This post reminds me of that nasty hangover I got while attending USC’s homecoming reunion earlier this year. Although this brouhaha may go away sooner or later, people won’t be forgetting how terrible it was anytime soon. Great post! :)

    1. NicMoon

      “Internet vigilante mission would soon follow as Cooks Source Magazine’s Facebook page blew up on 11/4/2010 as users poured in to make comments, point out stolen articles or recipes, and even contact magazine advertisers in an attempt to dissuade them from working with the magazine.” I don’t want to sound indifferent but is it just me or does anybody else think that this is a planned strategy?

  13. Alan Alan

    Using excuses to justify a mistake is low especially when there’s even no hint of remorse. They should have immediately corrected their mistake after they were informed about it and not respond or act like they did nothing wrong.

  14. Susan Armand

    Let’s suppose they will still retain a lot of fans. Nonetheless, the stigma of them being professional plagiarizers will be marked in history.

  15. veronica_sm

    What the heck happened next? As expected, the Cook’s Source became popular. Thousands of facebook users are now fans of the Cook’s Source facebook fan page and lots of bloggers are now talking about how Cook’s Source magazine stole blogger’s article without compensation. And the cycle begins anew.

  16. Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach

    You’d think that anyone who has been online for longer than daylight savings time in a position of power would realize how utterly they were laying the seeds for some massive bad publicity.

    Should be interesting to see the future fallout.

  17. TYCP Magazine

    Yep, heard about this. The editor is totally out of order. All she did was make the magazine look bad. I would never subscribe to any magazine that lifted articles like that without the original author’s permission.

    She has a lot of nerve & her lame excuses are even worse. Because it’s the internet & the article was badly written? She could’ve at least gotten in touch with the author & maybe make some suggestions. Instead, she blatantly stole her article.

    She should watch herself because karma is a bitch.

  18. Universal Remote

    That’s a good example and got a lot of attention. There are even better ones, although not as well known. How about when a government agency does this, and then uses their power to squash complaints? Thailand did it, stealing photos to use in a tourism campaign, then having immigration blacklist the photographer when he complained so he could not enter the country to file a complaint.

  19. DailyTopTen

    [start sarcasm]The original author should have “thanked” the Cooks Mag editor for editing/rewriting the article…. oh, the editor should also have been compensated big time…[/end sarcasm]

    But seriously, that editor should have been axed!

  20. CopperBot

    The saddest part of all regarding this story: if you go to cookssource.com and read the “statement” she has posted it is crystal clear that this “business” has learned nothing. Shes still making excuses and blaming other people instead of doing the one thing that could save her, namely standing up and admitting that she was being a complete idiot and didn’t know what she was talking about or how to use social media.

    She blames Facebook, Monica, “hackers”, etc… all in the name of saving face but she fails to realize shes just digging her own grave. Wow, I am utterly speechless. This is stupidity at a level I’ve never seen before.

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