You don’t.

(I was tempted to end the blog post here.)

Okay, okay. Let’s say you see a beautiful photo that your customer posted of your cafe. The lighting is perfect, the drink is in focus, and the composition is pleasant.

Actual questions to ask yourself, as a business, when there’s a really good customer photo:

  • Do you repost it?
  • Is reposting customer photos part of your Instagram strategy?
  • Will it be only for Instagram or will it be for multiple networks?
  • Is the photo within your brand guidelines?

On the other side of the coin, you’ve likely experienced this yourself. You, as a customer, posted a photo of a business that you visited. The next day, that business uses your photo on their own Instagram account and you receive the @ mention notification. Are you mad? Are you honored?


User-generated content (UGC)

In marketing terms, these are “user-generated content” or UGC, for short. UGC can be anything from blog posts to photos to videos. And they’re the best kind of content, because they’re free.

No, not free for the taking. Let me explain.


Word-of-mouth marketing

Many companies out there try and quantify the power of word-of-mouth advertising. It’s why full-time Instagrammers exist. According to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, word-of-mouth advertising drives 13% of consumer sales. You will trust your friend on a recommendation than the company itself.

When someone posts positively about your brand online without your prompt, then that’s word-of-mouth, unpaid advertising for you. Some companies like to harness the content by reposting it onto their accounts. Because, let’s be real, generating original, attractive content is labor intensive.


Original content wins

At the very basic level, if you have the resources, go original content all the time. This means writing your own blog posts, cultivating your own photo library, and creating your own videos. If you follow your brand guidelines, you’ll see that your customers start to trust your content, and by extension, you.


But UGC can be helpful for your marketing

If you use UGC correctly, it can assist in your marketing strategy. How? By making sure that the content is in line with your branding and mission, it can help further your brand’s trustworthiness in the product.

For example, your cafe launched a new seasonal drink. You’ve promoted it on social media with your own photos. A customer snaps a beautiful photo of it and positively captions it. You repost that photo, with the permission of the customer. Your audience sees that it’s so popular that someone else posted about it.


It’s a two-fold strategy

You talk about it, your audience hears it. But, of course, you’ll be positive about your own product! But someone else talks about it, their audience hears it and trusts it. You post their feedback and your audience trusts it a little more than you, because someone else besides you is talking about it.


Inspired by Bryan’s flowchart and the countless Instagram accounts that are being built up with other people’s content.

So what’s the best way to go about using UGC?

  • Ask for permission
  • Try not to use UGC more often than original content. You don’t want to be known as that account that grows only because of someone else’s photos
  • Create a company hashtag and make sure your audience knows to use it. In fact, use it all the time for your own photos.

Finally, speaking as a photographer and a writer, it’s really uncool to have a company use your content without asking first. What I put out there is not free for the taking. It’s a culmination of my skills, time, and editing/processing.

Think about it this way. You are spending time and money on the person who is managing the Instagram account. The marketing is driving sales and brand awareness. Taking someone’s photos to further your marketing is unpaid labor. The least you can do is ask before you take.