Social media user engagement is critical for every business, no matter what their industry.

The right social media marketing strategy can increase your fan base and have a direct impact on your revenue stream. The wrong approach, however, can land you in hot water. Public relations problems can damage your reputation and impact your bottom line for a long time to come.

It’s always worthwhile to monitor your brand online and track what people are saying about you, but some problems can be avoided with some common sense.

One Big Way to Hurt Social Media User Engagement

Today’s digital environment is bringing up a host of issues that revolve around individual privacy. The ad blocker landscape, for instance, is an entirely new industry that didn’t exist before the internet. Intrusive ads are to blame, according to many in the media sphere.

Similar intrusiveness can cause problems with social media engagement.

Recently, the New York Times reported that some brands have been using users’ social media content without their permission. People who posted and hashtagged photos of major brands’ products, for instance, were surprised to find that their photos had been reposted in brands’ social media streams.

So what’s the problem?

Copyright is one major issue that faces the unauthorized use of content. At the moment of its creation, any piece of content is automatically copyrighted to the content creator, whether it is writing, photography, video, or code.

When brands and companies post others’ content, however, they are often leveraging that content in their marketing programs. In other words, they are using the content for commercial purposes.

As people become increasingly sensitive to intrusive ads, many brands are turning to user-generated content (UGC) as a way to appear more authentic.

However, when that content is used without permission, a UGC marketing plan can backfire and undo lots of hard work.

How to Avoid UGC Backfires

The best way to avoid this mistake is to always seek out users’ permissions. Giggle, another brand mentioned in the New York Times story, usually sought out users’ permissions when posting UGC to its social accounts. But, the one time they dropped the ball, it backfired.

Some brands claim that users who hashtag or tag a post are implicitly giving permission for brands to reuse that content. However, that argument is thin and may not hold up in a legal context.

According to Instagram’s global head of business and brand development, James Quarles, “there has to be explicit permission given.”

There is a simple solution to these problems.

Implement a system to seek out users’ permission every single time you plan to employ UGC. Never skip this step, since, as we saw with Giggle, a single instance can backfire and cause PR problems.

Have your staff seek out, obtain, and document that permission every single time, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.

One question that many businesses wrangle over is whether or not they will “profit” from the use of a UGC. While debates could go on for hours, the fact remains that any use of any content by a brand could be construed as commercial use.

It’s true that people who post to social networks do give those social networks some leverage over the content use. Any rights associated with the copying and redistribution of that content, however, is typically limited to a social network and its partners.

In 2013, a professional photographer sued a news wire who reused his photograph without permission. The news wire claimed that he’d given them permission to use it, simply by uploading the image to Twitter.

The news wire lost.

Legal troubles like these, as well as reputation damage and PR problems, can be bypassed if you obtain permission to use UGC.

Why You Shouldn’t Avoid UGC Completely

Some marketers may decide to prevent these PR problems by avoiding UGC altogether.

However, UGC carries some hefty potential for profits.

Brands are so enthralled by UGC because people are so enthralled by UGC, particularly younger people. Millennials spend more time with social media than traditional forms of media, making UGC that much more influential.

As big companies well know, people inherently trust their friends, relatives, and even strangers more than they do big brands. UGC is one of the best ways to bypass the traditional advertising that so many users find intrusive and annoying.

According to a survey by Crowdtap, Millenials spend almost a third of their media time with social media. When it comes to trust, though, conversations with friends, peer reviews, and social networking beat out traditional media formats. A significant portion of survey respondents also said that they used UGC to inform purchase decisions, for everything from cars to mobile phones to travel plans.


Clearly, social media engagement can be enhanced by using UGC, but only when it is used correctly. Always interact with your users, be sensitive towards their privacy, and seek out permission before reposting any of their content.