When Companies Get Positive About Photography on Social Media

When Companies Get Positive About Photography on Social Media

A short while ago, I wrote about a kerfluffle with White Castle’s social media team about a photo I took of their Impossible Slider. At issue was the way White Castle (and other large companies) treated people who asked for some form of compensation for their photos to be used on the company’s social pages.

Well, color me pleasantly surprised by White Castle’s response. In an age where companies sometimes respond negatively even after being called out, about a week after the article, White Castle’s Vice President of Marketing, Lynn Blashford, reached out to me on the phone to talk about what happened.

To recap: White Castle asked to use one of my photos on their social media, and when I pointed out that there was a fee to do so, they brusquely told me they weren’t interested anymore and moved on, which while not uncommon, is a poor practice. White Castle happened to draw the fire in the article, but it’s something that many companies do.

The uncommon part is where a company actually responds positively to criticism. Blashford and I talked about what it means to share an image on social media and how a company that seeks to use the image should react. She said the article caused some conversation on her team about it:

The instance that occurred with you caused us to pause and reconsider how we respond – by first providing more details around how we intend to use such content (not all are photos; some people also create songs, artwork, or fun GIFs), and secondly, of course our tone in the response should always be respectful and friendly. If we do have a misstep in tone, such as with our short response to you, then that is a moment of coaching for someone on our team.

She said that it shouldn't have been an uncommon practice to send gifts and coupons to users, and indeed a short while later in the mail, coupons for free sliders (both Impossible and otherwise) showed up, and even a nice note for my wife attached to a coupon for veggie sliders, which showed that Blashford wasn't paying lip service to the issue and was actually listening in our conversation when I mentioned my wife doesn't eat beef.

Coupons and a handwritten note from White Castle's Vice President of Marketing.

Where Does It Go From Here? 

Blashford and I discussed why social media holds such promise and peril for photographers:

Much of the difference arises in the fact that for most mediums, it is the brands that initiate work with paid professionals for specific assignments, while social is a vast community of content already created. Both the photographers and the brands could add clarity to their intentions. If a photographer wants to distinguish themselves and their work from the masses, they could be upfront about what their goal is when posting. Some fans do get called upon to become a paid advocate for the brand, and in those instances, the social platforms have put forth standards for transparency so that other viewers of the content understand it was sponsored in some way.

To that end, Blashford pointed to a new(ish) platform that White Castle and other brands are trying, Social Native. One of the things that make social media complicated is that there’s often native advertising mixed in with enthusiastic users simply sharing things. The idea behind Social Native, which was founded in 2015, is that it seeks to connect the two communities: aspiring photographers and brands who want to work with them.

“Social Native brings the gig economy to the creative industry. By paying talented consumers to create content for the brands they love, we're connecting the dots between content supply and demand, to create unparalleled cost efficiency, speed, and scale in the creative industry,” says Jackie Giordano, Content Marketing Coordinator at Social Native. “Creators have a new source of income, and brands are getting better content for a fraction of the cost previously possible.”

Food Blogger and Instagram Influencer Bruno Leandro used the platform early on and said it helped connect him with brands he wouldn't have been able to connect with otherwise. “I am very appreciative of Social Native for helping me break into that world. Since then, I have worked on many projects with Social Native and have been afforded the opportunity to work with many other brands and companies outside of Social Native,” Leandro wrote in an email. “Being able to work on sponsored content with such brands has given me the legitimacy and professionalism I wouldn't have otherwise.”

Social Native has different parts of its site for content seekers and creators.

Do you think models like Social Native are the way forward or are there better ways for photographers to monetize their social media? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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While Social Native my be a fine idea one has to wonder, why adopt and develop a new social platform? Wouldn't it be easier and less expensive to just offer/pay a few bucks to use content you come across on Instagram or Facebook, or wherever?

You make a good point, but judging from the number of small unprofessional photographers who are having their images used or attempted to be used, I don't think I fully agree with you. The ROI with spending time combing Instagram for images and reaching out to creators for permission to use their images for free or very little is far greater than adopting a whole new platform designed to actually pay creators.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great idea. I'm just not sure that a lot of business will see the worth.

Hi Daniel! At Social Native, there are a number of problems our content engine is solving for -- quantity, authenticity, and price. We believe these are all solved through automation and the power of the gig economy.

Hats off to Lynn Blashford. That's some top notch customer service skills right there. =)

They lost me at "content created at a fraction of the cost of traditional channels." Unfortunately my landlord doesn't accept exposure or burger coupons. I don't know what the solution is, but having a middle man between creators and brands definitely isn't it.

Hi Scott! To clarify, we’re comparing Social Native to traditional creative agencies, which have incredibly high costs. As a result, brands are often not able to get as creative or make as much content. With Social Native, on the other hand, they’re able to scale the production of content and work with their consumers.

I totally agree, companies should pay to use our images and all that, and I'm be the first to jump on the band wagon if something which I'd put a lot of effort and hard work into.

However, the exchange you posted seemed perfectly civil and straight forward, and it seems like you've created something out of nothing. The company asked if you'd be ok, you said only if you pay me, they said no and even included a thank you!!! Job done. If they emailed you first and said can we use your image for free, would you have written an essay, or just said, 'sorry, I don't work for free, it will cost you XXX, thank you'.

The didn't exactly look like a professional image, it could have been taken by anybody with nearly any camera in any lighting condition. They likely thought you were just someone who liked their product, took a quick throw-away shot before it wen't cold, thought it would get some engagement on your insta to strengthen your own brand and improve your engagement, so decided to ask if you fancied sharing it.

While there are some brilliant examples of people and companies being idiots about this, I don't think this was one of those occasions, sorry.

It shouldn't matter if the shot was "professional" or not. If a company liked the image well enough to want to use it on their social media, they should pay for it.