Can I use this image? The benefits and problems of using user-generated content.

The Chinese social video platform TikTok recently found itself in hot water after one of its users discovered his videos being used in the social media company’s adverts without his permission. Elijah Jay, one of the platform’s users, found his uploaded videos being used in TikTok’s adverts despite not giving permission or receiving any notice or payment. In TikTok’s terms of service it states that whilst you or the owner of your user content still owns the copyright to what you post, by uploading via their services you grant them permission to use modify, adapt, reproduce the content in any format on any platform.

It brings up a still debated topic of digital ownership and how the content we publish on our social media platforms can be used by others or the platforms themselves. A comparable situation is when a brand curates and distributes user-generated content (UGC) on their own pages.

What is UGC and why should I care?

User-generated content or UGC, is content about your brand that your fans, customers or followers publish themselves. It’s a great way for a company to build their brand online, spread their message, reach new audiences and gain reviews from loyal customers, all while avoiding the problems of ad blocking browser extensions that you get with traditional online adverts. Brands such as Wayfair encourage their fans to use branded hashtags such as #WayfairAtHome, in their social media posts to show off products in their homes and frequently reposts from this hashtag. Reposting UGC has many benefits for brands including building a responsive online community which, in turn, improves the brands searchability on social networks and spreads “word-of-mouth” reviews.

Who owns the content an audience publishes?

From a brand’s perspective, the content belongs to whoever originally posted it. Using a branded hashtag doesn’t necessarily mean that the user is consenting for a brand to use their work and it shouldn’t be seen as such. They are however, trying to show a brand their content and would more than likely be ok with the brands re-posting on their own platforms, but always seek permission first. It’s also good practice to explain where and how their content will be used and give them credit by tagging them in the post’s caption or comments.

How does a brand control its image with UGC?

In simple terms, they can’t. A drawback of UGC is that a brand has no control over the content an audience produces or says about a company. This can open a brand to online abuse, misuse of the hashtags, trolling, negative comments, all of which have the potential to harm a brand’s image. A social media manager is an absolute must when curating and managing UGC by with rewarding the best pieces of content, whilst also filtering negative posts and abuse.

But don’t let these negatives put you off, it’s still a great way to get your brand’s products or message out on social media, just be aware of some of the negatives and how to combat them first.

Need help with your next social media campaign? Why not give Empica a ring?

Our digital team are here to help manage your platforms and digital reputation. With a blend of fresh knowledge, experience and enthusiasm, we deliver services to make your brand visible online and keep you up to date with the rapid evolution of the ever-changing digital environment. We create integrated campaigns, tailored to your budget which drive traffic to your website, engage with your customers and deliver results.