It is no secret that consumers have taken the reigns in determining what flies in the world of content marketing, but have you considered the value in the content they contribute in addition to the content you create for them? A 2015 Content Marketing Institute study showed that 78% of B2C brands were planning on using user generated content (UGC) in their marketing mix. That’s no number to scoff at, especially given the large number of companies who have seen success in using the content of their fans and advocates. Starbucks, Purina, and Coke are just a few of the big name players who have seen exceptional results in utilizing UGC. From pictures of dogs enjoying Beggin’ Strips to Starbucks’ White Cup Contest, UGC has racked up thousands of engagements for these brands while connecting with fans in a dynamic way. As you develop your marketing strategy UGC may seem like the perfect fit for your brand. However, before you start sharing those awesome shots of your product in action, make sure you know the rules of the UGC game.
The Scenario: A fan posts a great picture of them using your product, can you repost it without asking permission?
The Rules: Twitter’s Terms of Service state that posters retain copyright of content posted with exception of the permissions that the user grants Twitter and its partners. What that means is that as long as the content stays “in network” and is not being used for advertising, you are safe. So yes, you can retweet the image, as that will show the original owner of the photo. It also means that you can stream curated public tweets through a Twitter approved partner onto another location. Both of these options require that you abide by the user agreements, which generally outline the need to cite where the image is from (i.e. if you stream hashtagged photos onto a webpage those images must have the logo of the platform where they were posted). For Instagram which doesn’t have a built in repost option, Terms of Service require permission from the poster to reshare the content. If you are looking to UGC for non-advertising purposes, make sure you understand what the Terms of Service for each platform grant you and if you are unsure, always ask permission first.
The Scenario: You are running a campaign that asks consumers to share by using a hashtag.
The Rules: This falls under the concept of implied permission. If a user publically posts a picture with a hashtag, such as Coke’s #ShareACoke, the user grants permission for that image to be shared as part of the campaign within the terms of service laid out by the platform as it is implied that they understand the brand’s intention to possibly use the image. Hashtag campaigns often also have terms and conditions that outline the permissions granted by using the hasthag. However, if the brand decides that the image could be used in advertising, explicit permission is needed.
The Scenario: You are running a contest that asks consumers to enter by using a hashtag or sharing a photo.
The Rules: Using the hashtag to enter falls under implied permission; however, as with any sweepstakes or contest it is wise to build stipulations into the official rules that allow for brands to use UGC. Any official submission should require entrant’s acceptance of the terms and conditions outlined in the official rules. Brands should also take care to avoid displaying third party branding, trademarked, or copyright protected materials, as the user’s permission to use their photo does not extend to those assets.
The Scenario: You come across the perfect photo for your next ad campaign on Instagram posted by one of your fans.
The Rules: If you are using an image or content for advertising purposes, you ALWAYS need to get permission from the owner.
The rules around UGC can be complicated and confusing. A brand’s legal counsel should address questions or concerns before UGC is deployed on brand channels, especially when advertising involved. However, in general, following these best practices will leave you in good standing:
- Always give credit where credit is due. You were drawn to the UGC because of its value to the brand and its authenticity; share the credit with your fans.
- If you aren’t sure, ask permission. Even in legal grey areas such as inline advertising. If the poster likes your brand they are likely to say yes and then you are protected either way.
- When using UGC for advertising, always get permission.