User-generated content has a huge potential to establish credibility and trust with a brand’s audience and customers, which is why it isn’t surprising that more and more brands are using it in their campaigns.

It seems easy enough to pull off, but in reality finding and using original consumer content is more complicated than you think. If you mess it up, you could potentially annoy your fans on social media or, worse, be stuck in a legal battle over rights management.

So if you’re thinking of tapping into user-generated content, know the right etiquette to avoid any regrettable consequences.

Get their consent

There are many ways to do so, but the right approach depends on how you will use the content. If you’re planning to use it for a future project, you’ll need to explicitly ask your fans for the rights to the photo or state in your submission guidelines how you intend to use their content.

As for one-off campaigns, you could use approval hashtags such as the one used by Benefit Cosmetics in their #Realsies campaign.

The unique hashtag implies that anyone using it gives Benefit Cosmetics permission to use their photo. Not only that, it also helps the brand easily sort through the resulting content. A lot of women actually participated in the campaign, which meant more sales and free promotion for the brand.

The same thing happened with Starbuck’s wildly successful #WhiteCupContest campaign. Not only did the brand receive tons of beautiful visual content for its Pinterest and Facebook pages, they also increased their social media reach and engagement.

Show your human side

If you want to feature a fan’s photo in your own social media page, comment on their post to ask permission using an account clearly associated with your brand. Using your personal account would make you seem shady or untrustworthy, and you don’t want these terms to be associated with your brand.

When making a rights request, keep a casual yet authentic tone to engage the person receiving it. If they ask a question, respond to them. Most followers would be happy to agree to lending their content so long as you tell them where their photos will appear.

If you are working with a huge volume of content and have to automate your requests, make sure to create a variety of default messages. This will make you appear human and limit the chances of your requests being classified as spam.

Remember that social media is for interacting with your fans and for building a community. People appreciate brands that actively reach out to their followers. If you can’t physically do that, at least make them think you are. Don’t be a robot.

Give credit where it’s due

When regramming or reposting a fan’s photo in your own pages, make sure to tag the original content creator or include the author’s handle in your caption. If you have many photos to post, compile them in a gallery or collage with a message thanking everyone who contributed.

Ultimately, it all boils down to respect. You want to earn your fans’ trust and confidence, so you treat their original works with the respect and recognition they deserve.

Beyond the branding and marketing benefits, using user-generated content is an opportunity to engage with your followers and build a deeper relationship with them. Do it right!