The Polite (and Legal) Instagram Repost Guide

Instagram Repost

With over 700 million monthly active users and 400 million daily active users (as of June 2017), Instagram maintains its position as one of the major influential storytelling platforms and a hotbed of customers and potential customers for any brand, big or small.

Reposting user-generated content (UGC) to your brand’s account can be perceived by the user as a compliment, or as a rude infringement; it can help a brand’s image or create a problematic ditch of negative press that wastes time and resources to dig out of; it can be done by the book or with legal consequences.

Max Dubler, a professional photographer told his story on his website about a company who reposted his photo on Instagram without his consent. He politely requested a small use fee of $25 and the company arrogantly declined saying that they don’t pay for Instagram “shares” (really reposts) and it is to “support the rider and ironically the photog(rapher).” The company never paid him the $25, but when Max put it on blast at Reddit, other companies who have used his work without permission or knowledge of use came forward and paid him.

Don’t Assume Reposting User Generated Content on Instagram is a Compliment.  

Just like borrowing a friend’s car or taking the last piece of homemade pie from your grandma’s kitchen table, manners are manners. Some users who are fans of a brand do not intend to have the content they have created on the internet as a revenue stream, and they are flattered when their photos are reposted on Instagram. But many don’t see it that way. That number is probably more than companies think.

It is better to be safe than sorry (and unlawful) - etiquette dictates that you ask for permission first. Every. Single. Time.

Instagram’s Community Guidelines state:

  • Share only photos and videos that you’ve taken or have the right to share.
    As always, you own the content you post on Instagram. Remember to post authentic content, and don’t post anything you’ve copied or collected from the Internet that you don’t have the right to post. Learn more about intellectual property rights.

Instagram has also made it easy for users to report copyright infringement and will close out the account of the person/brand who violates its TOS. Is the possibility of losing your brand’s Instagram account, all of its content and insights, and the ding to your image worth it? No, no, and no.

How to Ask For Permission to Use UGC.

There are three easy ways to ask for permission and abide by copyright infringement and IP laws.

One option is to create an Instagram marketing campaign with opt-in guidelines, such a contest.

Clearly state the rules of your contest, or sweepstakes on your social media, ads, and/or website. Here is an example from the University of South Florida and their #usfworld Summer Selfies Abroad Contest:

A second option is a two step process:

1)    Post A UGC Agreement on your website. The United States Postal Service has one. Video game company Blizzard Entertainment has more than one. Hilton does a great job – their agreement is friendly and appreciative while maintaining legal protection.

2)    Politely Request Permission by Commenting on the Instagram Post.

(We would also add the users name after “Hi” to give a more human connection as well as alerts the user to the request but Hilton does convey a warm and friendly request.) 

“If we have your permission” eliminates any ambiguity and the use of a hashtag in the user’s reply grants the brand usage and acknowledgment that the agreement terms have been approved by the user. The hashtag also gives, in this case Hilton Honors, the ability to search on all UGC that they have rights to.

There are also a number of apps and services that also help you find UGC, ask for permission to repost, and curates the images you have rights to use.

1)    A third, and the simplest option, is just politely ask permission in the comments of the image you want to use and take a screen shot of the image, request, and user reply for your records (and protection). Be sure you confirm that you are asking permission to use original user generated content. You need permission for commercial use from the creator.

Whether it is BuzzFeed’s lighthearted article on Flickr, Budweiser’s Facebook contest,  or one of the largest image curating and media news companies on Twitter, no one is above the law and just removing the post doesn’t remove the violation of the terms of service or the law. Stay safe and don’t just repost, repost with clear, documented permission from the user.

Do you have any questions or stories about the proper use of UGC? If so, comment below.