As brands continue to rely heavily on Instagram and other social platforms as a means of advertising and driving sales, an increasingly common technique is emerging: The utilization of consumer and/or influencer-generated photos. This type of content - which is largely viewed as more authentic than traditional ad campaigns by social media users and of course, is much more cost efficient - has many major fashion, beauty, and lifestyle brands scouring Instagram hashtags and brand-specific tags in order to find imagery they like and want to use on their own pages.
Away’s social media strategy, for instance, is one to watch, on this front. The budding luggage company’s co-founder Jen Rubio – who formerly occupied the role of head of social for Warby Parker – is spearheading the brand’s social presence, and one of the (many) noteworthy takeaways from Away’s growing social media presence is its user-generated Instagram photos.
As noted by Digiday last week, “Out of [Away’s] 676 Instagram posts, 600 are user-generated that have reached 15 million users organically.” That same article notes that “Away also places paid ads on Instagram, but Rubio said organic posts and user-generated content are how most people find out about the brand.”
How does Away go about getting these user-generated photos, you ask? Instagram users simply tag Away in their posts because they know the brand tends to share them. “We’ve ingrained and embedded this behavior of sharing with our community,” Rubio told Digiday. And the result is free content. Rubio said the brand never pays for these types of endorsements, unlike the $225 to $300, which Away shells out for the in-house photos it uses on its social channels.
This is also a common practice amongst big-name fashion brands. Jane Cunningham, the journalist behind British Beauty Blogger, a well-known London-based site, told TFL that she is routinely approached by brands all seeking to make use of her photos. The terms they have offered her are far from uniform, she says, but one common theme: They are almost always “entirely in the brand's favor.”
Cunningham notes that it is “not unusual across channels, particularly Instagram, for a brand to send a generic 'hey, we love your image - respond YES if you are happy for us to use it on our channels.'” Such cold calls for content come with strikingly one-sided terms and conditions, which weigh heavily in favor of the brand. Cunningham points to L’Oreal’s terms as a particularly telling example. The brand’s terms read as follows:
By responding #yeslorealpro or uploading content to our image gallery you agree to the following: You grant to L’Oréal and its affiliates and/or related entities, a worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, non-exclusive, transferable right to use your video(s), photo(s) and/or other content posted to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Google+, together with your social media handle, social media user name, profile picture, caption and location information you may have included in your content (“User Content”) that you have tagged with any of the Hashtag(s) in any media, including but not limited to on its webpages and social media pages, retailer sites, third party sites, stores for its marketing and/or its advertising. You grant L’Oréal the right to use your username, real name, image, likeness or other identifying information in connection with any use of your User Content.
Also included in these terms, “You accept that L’Oréal will not pay you for the use of your User Content and/or for any intellectual property rights connected with them.”
The latter point is a noteworthy one, as most brands expect to use the content without having to pay for it. “I was approached a while ago by YSL who wanted to use a particular image of a mascara on their website and emails, offering to credit me wherever they used it,” Cunningham says. “I asked about budget, because the request came from marketing, so the image would be used in a promotional capacity but they said they had none.”
This common tactic, according to Cunningham, is “basically a free way for brands to fill their social content while positioning it as a great honor for the content creator!” So, while the brands are certainly benefiting from this scenario, the extent to which individual Instagram users, whose imagery is used by brands, stand to gain, is likely not the same.
Cunningham, for one, is skeptical as to whether the potential exposure that could come about as a result of such a deal – the reason many Instagram users agree to hand over rights to their photos in the first place – evens the playing field. She says, “When people do upload a selfie or product picture, the brand links straight to the product in question and [much] more quietly offers a link to your site.”
She further notes, “Content creators, far from having their content appreciated or 'shared', are becoming sales people for brands. There are plenty of ways for brands to be 'social' (these are 'sharing' platforms after all) without cynically trying to rinse creators for sales. It is now a standard expectation from brands that you will willingly help to boost their sales - actual product reviews that are thoughtfully and carefully executed are becoming ever more few and far between.”
With bloggers/influencers wising up to the potential drawbacks that come with such photo-sharing deals, brands might have to start bringing more to the table to induce them to hand over the rights in their photos.