If your social media pages aren’t littered with visual content, you’re definitely making a mistake. But making your own original, interesting visual content is generally costly or time-consuming. That’s why it’s important particularly for small brands to fully leverage the power of audience-made content. Below you can learn a few ways to take advantage of fan content, all without having to spend a dime.
Know the Law
As part of the complicated terms of service that everyone agrees to when joining a social platform, you usually surrender the rights to allow that network to use whatever content you’ve posted on their site. That means if sites like Twitter wanted to use a photo you posted to their service as part of their advertising, they could. This basically means social media overlords have license to use whatever content they see fit, in whatever way they see fit. But that doesn’t mean just anyone can grab these images and turn them into marketing material.
Digital media is protected under digital rights management law. That includes everything from videos and music to photos and copy. While these legal protections were largely established in the interests of protecting brands, over the past decade they’ve become increasingly important in protecting everyday people who produce content online. Nevertheless, many of these people would be overjoyed to have their work shared through your brand.
Once something has been placed in the public domain, anyone can use that work for any reason. The public domain is the ultimate fate of any media that loses its copyright protections, which are often in effect for as long as a century. But there’s an increasingly large body of work placed not under copyright, but under creative commons licenses. These licenses are far more flexible than copyright, and depending on the type of license used, businesses are permitted to share, remix, or even commercialize that media. That makes creative commons libraries a great place to search for free stuff.
Ask for Permission
If you want to use fan-created content, there’s no need for complicated contracts, lawyers, or any deep levels of legal involvement. All you need to do is contact the creator and ask for permission. Be direct, clear, and polite. There’s not much need for a personal touch since you’re implicitly complimenting their work, so even a form-letter is generally considered a fine way to ask.
However, you will take to take a record of their response. Saving the screenshot and link is a prudent step. Anytime you’re using fan content, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll face legal recourse. Virtually all lawsuits of that type involve a celebrity who didn’t want their image used.
Even in circumstances where consent to use someone’s content is almost implicit, it’s important to ask permission. Suppose you were running a promotion with a branded hashtag, asking for people to submit content to be featured on your page. It’s not difficult for someone who doesn’t know anything about your brand to unwittingly use your hashtag, and end up with unwanted attention.
Some big brands use rights management software to automate the process of asking their fans for permissions. This allows you to send an automated message that asks a content creator to signal approval by using a particular hashtag, and then automatically record permissions as they’re granted. Digital rights management software is fast and convenient, but ultimately unnecessary unless your brand is dealing with more social media traffic than you can manage.
Your best advocates are people who love your brand. When a fan creates content for you, it’s as good as an explicit testimonial wrapped in a dozen friendly interactions. That content helps establish valuable social proof for your brand because there’s little more genuine marketing content than praise from a fan.