taking a photo of a baked treat to post online as user generated content
Hospitality Marketing

How to Share User Generated Content — And Stay Out of Trouble

Around my house, I’m known as “The Disposal.” This is because I go hunting for any bits and bobs in the refrigerator or pantry, and combine them into some kind of Frankenstein’s monster-type lunch — aka, I eat like the garbage disposal.

A bit of leftover rice, ground beef, and some veggies? That’s about to be a stir-fry. Some mushrooms and scallions? Hello, omelet-city. 

I’m all about using what I have and turning it into something to fill the hole in my tummy — to sometimes questionable effect.

User Generated Content (aka UGC) is the leftover ground beef in the fridge. You can (and should) repurpose it into part of your online content marketing strategy to promote your business. 

Here’s what you need to know about UGC across social media, and how you can use it without getting into trouble!

**NOTE – I am not a lawyer, and nothing in this post is to be construed as legal advice. This post is for informational purposes only.

What is User Generated Content?

User generated content is anything — photo, video, graphic, or text — that is created by a customer, vendor, or affiliate/influencer that features your product or brand. The idea is to repurpose that user content for your own marketing. When someone posts a picture of the food at your restaurant on Instagram or writes a blog post that includes a review of your brewery — that’s UGC.

UGC creates “social proof” that highlights the desirability of your services or offerings. It demonstrates that the cool kids and tastemakers are visiting and sharing about your business. 

One study showed that brand engagement goes up by 28% when companies use a combo of UGC and original content! And UGC is considered “more authentic” than brand-created content.

Plus, it gives you more content to post across your social media channels, while saving you time and resources on content creation. 

Types of UGC

There are quite a few types of user generated content. These include: 

  • Social media posts, photos, and videos
  • Online reviews and testimonials
  • Blog posts

There are others, like case studies and white papers. But for local small businesses in hospitality, these are the main three.

Where to Find User Generated Content

You can find UGC anywhere that users post content! The first place that comes to mind, of course, is social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. You can also find UGC on YouTube or on foodie blogs and websites. 

Then there are review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.  

Specialty businesses may also find UGC on more niche sites. Breweries, for example, may find UGC on BeerAdvocate. And wedding vendors will find UGC on The Knot and WeddingWire.

Businesses can encourage their social media followers and audiences to create UGC by including a call to action in their social media profiles. Tell them to post photos and tag you, or you could ask them to use your branded hashtag on social media.

A branded hashtag is a tag that you create and encourage your followers to use, so you and other followers can scroll through images and posts all in one place. 

Easy Tiger bake shop, for example, has their branded hashtag (#easytigeratx) posted in their Instagram profile. When you click on it, you’re brought to a page of over 1,000 posts that use the tag. Branded hashtags can help to build brand awareness and drive more traffic to your social media feed.

You can also run photo contests, asking your followers to share their content for the chance to win a prize. This is an easy way to gather lots of user content. Ask them to use your branded hashtag on their posts, too!

How to Re-purpose UGC

Just screen grab and go, right?

Wrong.

When someone creates something — whether it’s a photo, video, or even a review on Yelp — that’s their intellectual property. If a user posts their content online, that DOES NOT give you or anyone else carte blanche to re-use it however you wish.

It still belongs to the creator. By posting it on social media, they provide a limited license to Instagram or Yelp or whoever to display it on their platform. But that doesn’t mean you can re-share it without consent.

Now, there are some in-app ways you can share user generated content. But they vary from social platform to social platform. So I’m going to explain the basics of how you can share on each site, and when you need to get permission to do so.

UGC on Twitter

When people post a Tweet, they agree to Twitter’s terms of service, which grant Twitter and other Twitter users the right to share that content. That means that retweeting within the app is allowed. 

However, you can get into hot water for retweeting something that infringes on someone else’s copyright. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds here, but here’s how it could happen.

Lets say a photographer takes a picture of your food and posts it on their photography blog. Then, someone else downloads that picture and Tweets it, tagging you. You Retweet it, assuming that the person who Tweeted it is also the copyright holder. But they’re not. They stole it. Now, you’ve Retweeted something that the original person had no rights to post on Twitter, and you’ve violated the photographer’s copyright. 

That photographer may have a cause of action against both the person who took the photo from their website, and against you for Retweeting it. 

Is it likely that this would happen? No. But it’s possible. So before you hit that Retweet button, I encourage you to send the poster a quick DM to confirm that the person who posted the photo also took the photo.

UGC on Instagram

Instagram has no internal method for sharing or reposting content. There’s no “Share” or “Repost” button. Instagram’s Terms of Use say that posting on Instagram gives Instagram only a license to use the content, but the user retains all ownership.

So what do you do if you want to repost an image that was taken at your venue or event? You just ask! You can either post a comment right below the picture you’d like to repost asking if it’s okay, or you can send a DM asking permission to repost with credit to their account. 9 times out of 10, they’ll be happy for you to share their content on Instagram.

Once you have their okay, you can use a third-party app like Repost for Instagram to repost the image, or you can simply take a screenshot.

Just make sure you give photo credit to the original account, like this. 

Quick tip — Use Collections on Instagram to save UGC for future use. Just click the little flag in the bottom right of each post to save. Then you can organize content into Collections like Brunch, Cocktails, Crowds, Dancing, or anything else that makes sense for you.

Sharing Posts to Stories

There is an in-app sharing function for sharing content on Instagram to Stories. When you click on the little paper airplane below a post, you’ll see an option that says “Share to Instagram Stories.” This will let you share an image to your stories, and it creates a clickable link back to the original source post.

Instagram screenshot to add post to stories

However — and this was actually news to me — I can’t find any confirmation anywhere that this type of sharing is actually covered by Instagram’s Terms of Use, the way a retweet is.

Since the Instagram Story links right back to the original content, you’re probably in the clear here…but it’s still a good idea to get permission to use. And if you want to save a UGC post to a story, and then save it to your highlights, always get permission. Instagram Stories disappear after 24 hours, but highlights are forever.

Looking to add your Instagram feed to your website? Check out this post.

Embedding Posts on Your Website

What if you want to embed Instagram posts onto your website, like this?

Isn’t that what the Embed button is for? Yes it is! But you still need permission. 

Also, Instagram and Facebook just updated their API to remove this native embed function. So if you have old embeds on your website, take a look at them cuz they might be broken.

WordPress users can use the Jetpack or Smash Balloon plugins to keep their Embeds working. 

UGC on Facebook

Facebook and Pinterest are the two easiest places to share user generated content.

Facebook’s Share button is available on most posts within Facebook, and allll over the internet (including at the bottom of this blog post). The best and safest way to repost something to Facebook is to use their Share button. 

It creates a link right back to the source, which provides attribution to the creator. Any blog or website that embeds the Facebook Share button is giving you, as a Facebook user, permission to share their content on the platform. So you can feel free to share content with Facebook’s Share button, either from blogs or within Facebook itself. 

UGC on Pinterest

Just like Facebook, Pinterest has a share button (called the “Pin It” button) that many bloggers and website owners embed into their websites. Anywhere you see this button (like on any of my blog posts), the content owner is saying “feel free to Pin this content to Pinterest.”

Pinterest creates a link through the Pin right back to the source, so it gives appropriate credit where it’s due.

HOWEVER. Pinterest is also sending major mixed signals. Their terms of use forbid Pinning anything without the copyright holder’s permission. But they also have a “Pin It” button that you can add as a web browser extension, letting you save images and content from all over the web — whether or not the content creator has added the Pin It button to their content.  This actually seems to encourage users to Pin anything and everything, permission be damned.

So here are the safest ways to use Pinterest: 

  1. Pin content you already own. You can Pin images of your business and products, and link them back to your website.
  2. Pin content where the creator has included the Pin It button right there on their website. Most bloggers want you to Pin their content, because it will increase their reach and page views. 
  3. Get permission from the copyright holder to Pin anything that doesn’t fit into categories 1 or 2.

UGC on YouTube

YouTube is all about the shares! They have easy, in-app embed functionality that lets you share to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and more. The sharing function links right back to the original source and gives credit, so you’re safe to embed or share a link on other social media platforms. 

Sharing User generated content with the YouTube Share button

What you can’t do is download a video from YouTube and then re-upload it somewhere else. That’s called freebooting and it’s a big no-no.

And if you want to share a YouTube video on a platform that isn’t available through the app’s Share button, you’ll have to get permission from the content creator.

Sharing UGC Across Platforms

So far, we’ve mostly discussed sharing user generated content from one platform onto that same platform, or from a blog onto social media. What if you want to take a Yelp review and share it to your Instagram? Or share a Tweet to Facebook?

Just ask. 

A simple Direct Message that says, “Hey, thanks so much for sharing this photo/video/review! Do you mind if we share it across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram? If you’ll send me your handles on each platform, we’ll give you full credit on each. Thanks!”

Done, and done safely! 

Sharing social content is a great way to both increase your post frequency and get your fans and followers involved in your marketing. But if you don’t do it right, you can end up in pricey and time-consuming legal trouble. 

So the moral of the story? Always get permission from UGC creators, and then share away!

How to repurpose content from users and fans without infringing on their rights and getting yourself into a mess!

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