For many businesses, it’s a staple of their social media marketing to reuse or regram photos posted by their customers, fans or followers.
And it’s no wonder: social proof is a brilliant way to show evidence of a product’s success and sharing content created by your audience is a great way to build community. These kinds of photos also do a fabulous job of adding colour to your feed, and showing the culture of your company, too.
But there’s a small problem with this approach in Australia: it’s illegal.
Yep, it’s illegal to take content someone has created on social media and post it on your own channels without written consent the creator – even if you credit them.
Now, in Australia, we draw a lot of our online culture from the US, where most social platforms originate. But their copyright laws are very different in different countries, so our American friends can use content in ways we cannot.
When you regram, it is rare that the original photographer will complain that you’ve used their photo. It’s so rare in fact, that posting content created by others is so normalised that most people aren’t aware it’s illegal.
But the simple fact of the matter is that you could find yourself and your business in legal hot water by doing posting someone else’s content without asking content. There have been multiple cases where a business has posted a photo created by a customer, only to have that customer send them a bill for the photo. And that business has no legal leg to stand on because they have – knowingly or not – broken the law.
One of the main reasons businesses don’t ask for permission is that it simply feels too hard. But it’s really not that difficult with a few systems in place to make it easier. Let’s get started.
How do I ask permission to regram Instagram posts?
Let’s start with the basics for how asking permission to use someone’s photo works.
1. Find a photo on Instagram of your products, service or business which has been taken by someone. You might find this through a branded hashtag, a geotag, or by encouraging people to take selfies. People may have even tagged your account to let you know you’re in their pic.
2. Write a comment on their photo from your business Instagram asking for permission for you to use it.
I use something like:
Hi, we absolutely love this photo! Would you give us permission to post if on our account in the next few weeks? We’d give you credit, of course! Thanks!
3. Wait for them to respond. I save a copy of a link to the exact photo in a spreadsheet and check back in on it every few days until I hear back from them. This isn’t just for red tape – it is almost impossible to find a single image on an Instagram feed a few days later, so keeping a direct link is so handy!
4. Check back in every few days to see if you’ve been given permission to use the photo. Some businesses additionally take screenshots of the consent given, should the original photographer delete their comment at a later time and dispute that permission was given.
5. The image is then yours to repost. Add your own caption and, of course, it’s a courtesy to credit the original Instagrammer.
Some people keep this crediting short and simple at the end of their post, just by adding the camera emoji and the Instagram handle of the original photographer.
For example: 📷 @beaney
So that’s the basics of asking for consent. The challenge most people have is how to actually put this system into place in their workweek.
Let’s look at how you can approach this.
Not all photos from fans need to go out the same day as they post it. Take the pressure off! The photo is just as rich and engaging if it posted the same day as it was taken or the next week. And, being realistic, it’s not often people give permission to use a photo the same day (they might not even see your comment for a few days!).
Setting expectations within your business that a same-day turnaround is not essential means that there is plenty of time to seek permission.
Leveraging the #ThrowbackThursday hashtag is a great approach for using these photos because it implies you’re featuring something that has happened in the past. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t simply post “@xyz visited last week – here’s the great shot they shared!”
A monthly sweep
If you use a content calendar and plan your content in advance, why not review photos you’re tagged in over the past month and ask permission in one go?
Lock in a regular date at the start of the month, set aside a few minutes to ask everyone permission and then check back in a week later. As you get permission, pop them into your content calendar for the following month.
There’s no rule that says that just because you’ve got permission to use a photo that you need to use it immediately. Pop that baby in the content calendar like you would any other post and use it over the next few weeks.
Did you know I was going to suggest this one?! 😂 It’s my favourite! If you’ve got permission to use a photo, there’s no reason you can’t post it multiple times. Post it a few months later, or the next year. Make it easier for you.
This is particularly useful if you plan to share a customer photo once a month, but you haven’t got any recent shots you’ve got permission to use. Why not reuse a classic shot that you do have permission for? Recycle, recycle, recycle.
Hashtag consent is a system you can set up where if users post their photo with a specific hashtag, then they’ve given you consent to use the photo. Use this in combination with a link to some terms and conditions that are available on your Instagram bio and a very unique hashtag that is unlikely to be used by accident, for example, #beaneycanusethisphoto.
While some have said that this is still a legal grey area and explicit consent is the best option, it’s another approach to consider that reduces people-hours used on 1:1 outreach. Of course, consult your friendly neighbourhood lawyer if this is one you’re thinking about.
Run a contest
This is a classic – run a contest on your website! Win a bike when you submit your photo of our business and it’s the funniest. Have users agree to Terms and Conditions on your website which includes consent for you to use their image.
This method avoids having to contact each user to ask for consent because by participating, they are agreeing that you can use it. This one can be harder to see results as there are more barriers to entry due to it being on a website, but it is one to consider if 1:1 outreach is impractical for your business.
What’s the recap?
If you’re going to use Instagram photos created by customers, fans or your audience, in Australia, it’s essential to ask for consent. It’s not just a courtesy, but it’s the law. Of course, if you’d like more detail, please contact your friendly neighbourhood lawyer.
Key things to keep in mind when asking permission to use Instagram photos:
- Be aware that content may take a few days and keep that turnaround time in mind when planning its use
- Set up a system for tracking consent, such as a spreadsheet so you can duck in once a week a check-in on the status of if people have given permission, and keep screenshots of consent
- Consider reusing content a few times – make the most of every shot! It also takes the pressure off deadlines
While at first, it might seem like it takes a lot of time to ask consent, but once you’ve got a system in place, it’s really only a five-minute task once every few weeks.
I hope I’ve inspired you to roll out a system to ask for consent when you’re using images. Not only does it protect your business, but people are often very flattered you’ve asked – which is great for building brand loyalty. Niiice!
Originally posted in 2021, updated 2022
Want to work with Rachel?Rachel Beaney is a writer and social media content specialist, helping businesses connect with their audiences.
She’s worked with local, national and global companies, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping businesses tell their stories with creative and data-driven solutions.
She is based in Sydney, Australia.
Want to work together? Rachel would love to hear from you. Get in touch today.