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Legally Sharing Customer Photos On Social Media – What You Need To Know

Legally Sharing Customer Photos On Social Media – What You Need To Know

At a recent social media conference I attended, one of the key things that stood out to me was a session about how to *legally* share customer photos, or what is known as “user generated content”. User generated content is what happens when someone takes a photo of your business/their food, etc. and either shares it to social media (either by posting directly to your business page, or posts it to their personal page but tags your business or uses a hashtag of your business name). This can be done by posting an official review, simply saying how amazing your business/food was, or by “checking into” your business.

User generated content is powerful – It extends your reach exponentially, and provides additional content telling potential customers how good your business is. This is something I try to look for when generating content for social media pages, and share when possible. Did you know in a recent survey, 88% of people trust a stranger’s opinion when it comes to businesses, even more so than a friend or family member? If someone else can say how amazing your business is, it just makes it that much better than if we said it. The customer’s photo/content is deemed more trustworthy and credible; as a bonus, their post is automatically shown to their friends who may not follow your business page but probably should, which is why a business should always try to share customer’s photos.

But … now we’re getting into a shady/grey area when it comes to using people’s pictures without their permission online in an effort to promote a business, and it gets a little complicated. Social media is social by nature, and sharing posts is good, but there’s a slightly different rule-set for businesses. So hang on…here we go!

If you share a customer photo that has been posted directly to your company’s page, you’re allowed to share it to your business page WITHOUT permission as long as it stays on the same platform (for example: FB -> FB or IG -> IG). Point of note: Even though sharing pictures is a part of the social media experience, it is still expected that business pages show common courtesy by giving photo credit. Ex. “Thank you Sally for sharing your picture with us!”, so always give photo credit. Additionally, since you did not get written approval, you should NEVER use these posts in any adverting! Don’t boost the post on FB either. You are using someone else’s intellectual property to promote your business, and if you did not receive approval, this is not legal.

However, if that photo has been posted to Facebook, you cannot then copy it to take it and post to your company’s Instagram page – to do this, you absolutely NEED that person’s permission because the initial intention behind the posting was not to promote your business, but to share how amazing the food/experience was. This is important to note. You’re using someone else’s property to promote your business, and that’s not ok without their permission.

Now, if the photo has not been shared with your business at all (i.e. someone just posts a picture to their own personal page and tags your business name), you always NEED their permission to share it to your page whether or not you’re sharing it on the same platform because again, 1) they didn’t share the picture with you in the first place, and 2) the intention behind the posting was not to promote your business, but to share how amazing the food/experience was.

It was also explicitly said at the conference, that it’s not good enough to just give photo credit alone; we need that explicit approval because you’re still using that person’s personal property to promote your business. You also need to save/document a written approval (via screenshots) along with the picture we’ve been given approval to share so there’s “proof” you’re sharing the correct photo you’ve been allowed to share…just in case something happens down the road.

Now, you’re probably fine – I mean the people you deal with love & respect you, they’re probably not ever going to complain you used their photo, and most people are super flattered when their picture is shared, but it just takes that 1 litigious person to come along & you’re screwed. Again, the flip side is we are using someone else’s property to promote your business, so that’s why need approval. Try not to be overwhelmed, I’m simply letting you know there’s been a shift in social media; this is all a gray area as this is new territory for the social media world, but better to be safe than sorry, right?

Am I being overly cautious? Maybe … but now that we know what we’re supposed to be doing, we can’t claim ignorance for any future pictures/posts. It will definitely take longer to do social media marketing properly, but at least we’re protecting our business and giving proper credit to our amazing customer ambassadors! After all, if you created something, wouldn’t you want the credit for it too? It really is that simple: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

  • Brendan
    February 4, 2019 at 7:25 am

    Hi! Awesome post!

    I was thinking about running a “contest” type of thing for my eCommerce brand where I offer customers an entry-level $25 gift card and a chance to win a $100 gift card (for the best submission). The contest would be a video submission of them using our products/ displaying how they use the product. This is basically a way for me to get quick content for using for marketing purposes haha.

    With that being said, the intent is to use for marketing – Facebook in particular. If I include in the contest explanation email that by participating in this contest, they agree for their content to be used for marketing purposes, can I do this? And do I need anything else like for them to send an email saying that they agree for their content to be used for marketing purposes? Please let me know. Thank you!

  • dayna
    April 26, 2021 at 9:00 am

    this is great info! thank you so much! wondering what the rules would be for a photo that was left on a review? a customer posted a great photo with their review of one of my products on amazon. amazon does not give us (the seller) any contact info or any way to reach the customer. we aren’t even able to leave comments on reviews anymore, where I could ask this person to reach out to me! (amazon recently removed this capability, which I find to be INSANE.) so my question is…. can I use that photo the customer posted as my product image on the listing page? I suspect no, but figured I would ask. thanks so much for such a great article!

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