Caveat: A few legal considerations around user-generated content
There are a few things to consider before you start re-using user-generated content with abandon.
Many companies re-use UGC without any problems, but it’s always good to be careful. Even if 99.9% of your audience is fine with you using their words and images in your marketing, it’s prudent to ask permission first. No need to risk a lawsuit or even alienate a good customer.
Here are two common situations that can arise with user-generated content, and how to respond to each of them. Please keep in mind: I am not a lawyer. Before you launch any major campaign that’s based on UGC, check in with your own company’s general counsel.
You want to use quotes/customer reviews from a third party review site on your company website (or on social media, or anywhere else).
I see a lot of small businesses doing this. It’s generally okay, but here are some best practices to make it more okay:
- When you identify the person who left the review/comment, use just the first initial of their last name, rather than their full name.
This is a smart approach with almost any user-generated content, regardless of the source. The testimonial/content won’t lose any credibility by skipping the full last name, and you’ll have done the lion’s share of protecting the reviewer’s identity and privacy. If you want, add their geographic location, like this:
“What a great company!” – Patti L., Cheyenne, Wyoming
- Link back to the page where the original review appeared.
This is nice online etiquette. It will make the original review site less likely to go after you if you give them a little gift of a link back to their site.
- Read the Terms of Service, the FAQs and the forums/help pages of whatever site you’d like to use the review/testimonial from.
Hopefully, you’ll find documentation that says it’s okay to quote reviewers, so long as you obey certain rules.
- If you are about to launch a major campaign or print a review/testimonial from one of these sites, consider getting permission from them in writing.
Again, I am not an attorney. But I am a big believer in Murphy. It’s just too dangerous to print 250,000 flyers (or even 2,500 flyers) without express permission to use another site’s or service’s content. Print is not fixable, like the web is. It’s also vastly more expensive.
You’re running a campaign and you’ve seen great photos and posts from people that would be awesome to use in your campaign – can you use that content?
Possibly. But ask permission first. That’s what Jon Steiert, Social Media Manager & PR Specialist at Pet360 does. In a podcast on Jay Baer’s site Steiert explains exactly how he and his team get permission from their very active social media audience (discussion begins at minute 17:45):
“We need to be sure we’re getting the explicit permission from the user. One of the ways we’re doing that is we actually just got Curalate on board as one of our vendors. If anybody doesn’t know what Curalate is, it’s a visual analytics scheduling and rights tool.”
“…They allow us to scale up our Instagram and Pinterest presences really efficiently. They have this one tool called Yes Tags. And so if somebody tags us in a photo on Instagram or if there’s a particular piece of content that we’re looking for [we are notified}. For example, recently we just finished up a contest called #BeyondTheYard, it was in support of the Spring Guide that we had compiled.
People were sharing these great shots of themselves and their cats and dogs going hiking. We wanted to use it for marketing assets basically, but we had to send them a message and Curalate allowed us to do it at scale.
We could send out 5, 6 messages at once from photos that we really loved and it would just say “Hey – we loved this photo, it’s a great shot. Would you mind if we used this for our website and our social media channels? Please reply with ‘#pet360yes’ to accept.” And then we just say thank you.
Everybody was always so thrilled that we had called them out and recognized them that they – I would say 99.9% of the time – they were saying “absolutely yes. We can’t wait to see it on your social channels”. And then we would use it across Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter. We would include it in a SlideShare that we put it in our emails.
It’s really useful for us, and it’s something that I think people like to see how many other people are just like them. So in addition to making it a showcasing mechanism, it’s something that allows people to say, “Pet360 gets us” and they really are appreciative of what we do.
(Note: We asked Jay Baer of convinceandconvert.com for permission to use this excerpt from the podcast. He said yes.)