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User generated content: A best practice guide

User generated content (UGC) is turning into one of the most popular marketing tools for brands. It is predicted that by 2020 as much as 50 per cent more commercial content will be created outside of marketing departments.

While regular marketing practices are still relevant and effective, UGC enables customers to find new ways to connect and engage with brands, by adding something extra and more personal to marketing campaigns that helps to get consumers more involved. Ultimately UGC can help brands strengthen customer trust which results in a drive in sales.

How a brand chooses to leverage UGC can often lead them down the wrong path, with the laws around licensing and copyright often proving to be a dismal area - or at least an area that isn’t well researched. With that in mind, here are our top tips to better understand copywriting UGC.

Always ask permission

More often than not, you can get copyright or a licence by simply asking the author for permission to use their content. It’s usually pretty easy to find the author of the content, no matter what format the content is in. The only time when you wouldn’t need to get the their permission is when it’s taken from an open source or is out of copyright.

It is however worth bearing in mind that not everything on the internet is free to use though, and you can’t just take content from social media despite how easy and available it may seem. Equally, you must not assume someone won’t notice either. Many consumers are well aware of their rights and if they are being violated. So if they find out that you have taken their content, expect them to take legal action.

After being granted permission, decide on the type of copyright your campaign requires. Remember to be clear about the type of access you want for the content. If the author is transferring their copyright to you, it essentially means they are giving you access to the content just to see how it fits.

Use embedding as an alternative solution

There is a range of social media platforms that have several ways for you to use UGC without needing the author’s permission. This is as long as you don’t mind not owning the full rights to the content. Embedding content automatically includes the owner's username and a link back to its original place, enabling it to be copied and used elsewhere without violating rights.

Be aware of public and private content

There is a mixture of both private and public accounts on social media. Platforms like YouTube and Twitter are in the public domain, whereas platforms like Instagram and Facebook provide their users with privacy options and aim to protect those users who state that they don’t want their data shared. This means you must never take content from private accounts and use on public sites.

Use hashtags when engaging with users

Using hashtags is a really simple way to get around permissions. You can obtain UGC from your followers by telling them to use a unique hashtag when submitting content for you to use. That way followers are providing UGC knowingly and everything is done by the book.

Make it clear who you are and what you do

If you contact an author by saying “Hi, I’m Luke. Loving the content - can I have the rights?”, it probably won’t get you far, unless your name is Luke and you need the content for a blog piece. But still, it’s good for people to know exactly who you are if you’re approaching them and asking to use their content.

Due to how the content is generated by user, it is likely the content is personal to them, therefore they will want to know what it is being used for. Providing your name, role within the company and most importantly, the company you represent will clearly give an indication of who you are and how the content will be used.

Make sure to use several default messages when asking for content rights

Contacting the author of a piece of content with several emails isn’t the way to go about the situation. The last thing the owner of content wants is to feel like they’re the target of spam emails from bots. This can be avoided by creating a selection of general messages that say the same thing in different ways does take time, but it can help to make sure the content owners don’t feel they are being spammed.

Be open from the start

Be clear with the contents’ purpose, and don’t manipulate or alter its nature to make it fit your own agenda. This one should go without saying, but when you’re using other people’s content make sure there is an element of sensitivity around it. Some of the photos, videos are likely to be part of people’s personal moments and experiences.

Use initiative

After thoroughly researching content, you will have a full understanding of what is and isn’t acceptable. This will hopefully mean that you are putting yourself in a position that should result in all parties being happy with the outcome.

The alternative is the rather more complicated world of lawsuits and copyright breach, which isn't positive for anyone. Ultimately though, if the right procedures are followed these issues can be very easily avoided.

A more transparent UGC future

For so long, brands have been trying to find a way to truly connect with their audience; to make them feel involved and more than a customer. Already UGC is enabling brands to make their audience feel valued whilst also communicating their values and products, and there is still so much more that can be achieved.

Understanding what can and can’t be done regarding licensing should help to provide campaigns with a new lease of life and help start conversations with audience members that make them feel more engaged and to bring a sense of value and purpose to their content.

Simon Banks is a content writer at Lobster (opens in new tab)

Simon Banks writes for Lobster, an AI powered platform enabling brands, agencies and media outlets to license visual content directly from social media users and cloud archives.