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.
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.”
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.