What to do when you feel someone is copying you online or is a copycat

It can be so annoying and frustrating to find that your online content is being copied by someone else. Rather than letting this impact how we show up, as entrepreneurs, there are healthier ways to handle this situation.

Some of the ways you might feel you’re being copied online

There are various ways you can feel like someone is copying you. The most obvious ones being that someone uses your exact picture (not a free or paid stock photo), or your exact caption, or word for word the entire text of your carousel. This (plagiarism) isn’t what I’m addressing here, although at the end I’ll include some tips about this too.

Here, I want to address that feeling of being copied and our internal narratives and observing things from our first perceptual position around that. From your eyes, from where you stand, while browsing Instagram, you might find a post similar to yours. You might also come across accounts selling or launching similar offers, products or services you do. This may result in you feeling like someone is copying what you do, or other people stealing your idea or them being copycats.

Some examples:

  • you launch a 1:1 coaching call of 90 mins and a followup document with actionable strategies and see other accounts offering the same thing
  • you create a photo with a notebook and your latte and fall leaves, and see other people doing the same
  • you create a Reel of you doing yoga, and someone else also creates a Reel doing yoga…with the same music! 🙈
  • you start interviewing two guests live on Instagram only to find other people are also inviting guests to interview
  • you do Carousel posts sharing tips for morning routine, and someone else does the same

You could notice these and more. The point being you might feel like someone is copying you and you wonder why can’t they come up with their own thing? 🤔 It can feel frustrating and at times you may even be discouraged. “What is even the point of me showing up?” you might ask.

If that’s you, I wrote this with you in mind and hope that the tips below will help you to move forward.

My aim is that you leave this post no longer feeling discouraged, frustrated, annoyed, or drained when someone copies you or when you see other people doing what you’re doing too.

1. Understanding how Instagram works

Since this app launched in 2010, the number of users are ever growing. Currently one billion! For anyone who has their account settings on public, this means you can get seen by a lot of people. Knowing this helps put things in perspective – you will inevitably come across similar content or other entrepreneurs with similar offers. What are the chances of something you’re posting or doing on Instagram completely, totally, 100% uniquely unique? If anything, Instagram might show you or connect you with even more people similar to you or products similar to yours!

As an INFJ, I can attest to this by the number of other INFJs I’ve met on this app! Don’t get me started with being a coach or writer on Instagram! Instagram shown me that there are many of us.That being said, it’s not been my husband’s experience at all. He barely sees other coaches, he doesn’t know any other INFJ on Instagram other than his wife.

It’s not our fault that we’re seeing content similar to ours. In our respective Insta-worlds, we will soon come to see people similar to us. Instagram curates what is shown to you based on the data they collect about your interests, preferences, peers, hashtags and posts you engage with.

Suffice to say, it could well be that what you’re seeing online is based on preferences that the AI has detected and henceforth, you’ll have this curated experience.

2. Understanding where ideas or inspiration come from

From an early age, we all learn through various sources. At times, we learned through imitation and other times experimentation. We could delve even deeper to look at our brain and how it works, especially in a group (ancestors, family bond, a classroom, an organisation). But to keep things simple, let’s stick to the nature of ideas and inspiration. Their origin.

One resource I recommend is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert about ideas as ‘life-forms’. Even if I don’t fully subscribe to ideas being true living things, what she shares in her book resonates with me as I have experienced what she mentions about ideas first-hand.

It is possible that when you receive an idea, other people around the world (dozens, thousands, or millions) could also be receiving the same idea.It could also be the natural growth or progression of a specific group you belong to. Suppose you are now working from home, at some point you might realise you don’t want to be in an office, and given more years of working from home, you may start toying with the idea of working from anywhere (a café, another town or another country). This natural progression could have been what the other pioneers of digital nomadism went through prior to your decision.

3. Exposure on social media

The fact that your content is publicly visible and accessible online to anyone who views your Instagram account has both an advantage and a disadvantage. Yes, your prospective clients/ customers can find you more easily, but this also means this exposure puts your content at the mercy of other people who might want to steal your photos, copy your content and ideas.

4. Understanding your big WHY

Reframe that what you’re doing is for a bigger purpose than making money or getting clients. It’s about your bigger why – often linked with a mission whose impact is for the greater good of our world. When you understand your big WHY, this serves as an anchor to ground you in the truth of what you stand for.

Therefore, you can shift from a place of ego to that of a continuing conversation and continuing of your mission (even if it’s by other people, yes even the copycats!).

I had an experience where a couple of years ago, I had put together with a team of publicity experts my core mission of helping female entrepreneurs and nomads find a “sense of home within”. I also used a lot the word “intentional” in my copy. Since then, I’ve seen many other people launching, writing, creating content and products about ‘home within’, ‘wealth within’, ‘a sense of home’, ‘feeling at home in your business’ and ‘intentional living’. Choosing to reframe this, I perceive this to be an amazing thing – there’s more of us doing the ‘light-work’ in this world. So it doesn’t matter to me how many people do the same thing as me, or even if someone copies exactly what I’m doing, I consider these people to be in the same camp as me. We share the same mission, therefore they’re my allies.

5. Plagiarism or intellectual property infringement

It is another thing to have your art, your work, being copied word for word, or your photo being used without permission or credit. That’s outright wrong and can have legal consequences. If you’re inventing a product or creating some sort of prototype, it would be wise to have it patented. Look up lawyers or legal advisors who specialise in this and can advise you.

If you see your content or your work being used without permission, it’s absolutely acceptable to reach out to that person or account and find out more. I had a luxury magazine use my photo without permission (or payment) once and after reaching out graciously, it turns out that this wasn’t their fault at all. They had no idea who the photo was from as it was submitted by the PR representing the establishment whose article featured in the magazine. It was at my discretion whether to engage in a ‘battle’ or just let it go. I chose to let it go, that is I didn’t seek financial compensation. However I did reach out to the PR company who then apologised. For me personally, it was better to maintain a good relationship than to make an enemy.

If you’re an artist, or have created something only to see it copied by someone else, it can be devastating to see all the hard work you’ve put in being used unscrupulously by someone else. Know that you have rights, and you can reach out to them or even send a ‘cease and desist’ letter depending on the situation to have your work (logo, photo etc) removed, from their account.

Certain things you could include a copyright, or have your words or slogan or logo trademarked. Depending on the agreements available in your country, look these up and make sure you’re legally covered.

6. Ask yourself ‘is it worth my time and energy’?

For my social media boutique agency Instagram account, I had posted many photos and published valuable content about digital marketing. Shortly after, a digital marketing agency copied a lot of my captions, including my photo! It had my face on it, it was me on the picture!! I did reach out but they never responded.

It was annoying! But as an entrepreneur my priority was to manage my time and energy well. So, I turned the other cheek, I carried on doing my work. I figured that should their followers enjoy their (my) content, they’ll soon find out that their services don’t have my essence.

There’s only so much other people can copy from you. At some point, the copycats won’t be able to imitate how you speak, how you care for your clients or your community, or how you infuse your values in what you do and offer.

So always ask yourself if it’s worth your time and energy when choosing how to respond.

7. Keep showing up

Don’t let these people dim your light. Even if they’re implementing the same ideas as you or doing the very same things, offering the same products, keep showing up. The truth is that some people will prefer to hear you and work with you or buy from you rather than with someone else.

You have other attributes that nobody else can copy. Maybe it’s the colour of your hair, or how your eyes twinkle when you speak, or maybe it’s the handwritten card you include when sending out packages to customers. Whatever that is, keep showing up and allow your dream clients to experience what only you have to offer them specifically.

I hope the above helps you to reframe and think and act in healthier ways. May you keep enjoying the creative process and the entrepreneurial journey you’re on.

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