As creatives who use tools like social media to market our work, it’s not unusual to log into our favorite platform, like Instagram, to see a notification letting you know that someone has tagged you in a photo or mentioned you in a comment. “Hooray!” you think. “Maybe it’s a client or someone who’s talking about my work!” But as you go to view the notification, you notice it’s another creative who’s reposted your work. “How flattering!”
As you begin to read the caption of this kind re-poster, you begin to realize they’re sharing a sales pitch.
Using your photo.
And taking on a photo credit at the end.
All of a sudden, we go from “Hooray!” to “Aww, that kind of stinks” faster than you can double tap your phone screen whenever you see that perfectly styled Instagram shot of a cute donut and latte.
As someone who spends a decent amount of time creating engaging visual content to market my business on Instagram, I am truly honored every time someone reposts one of my images and gives me credit. It’s amazing to think that something I styled, shot, and edited could inspire someone else and would resonate with them enough to share it with their own followers! But when I see other creatives using my images, or the images of my friends, to sell their own products or services, it feels less than authentic.
When I create content for Instagram, I carefully consider how it’s reflecting my brand. From the emotion an image evokes, to the props I use in each shot, I’m always striving to represent the b is for bonnie brand with heart, authenticity, and warmth. So when another creative uses my images to market their work, without asking for my consent, it makes me wonder how they are using my brand imagery for their own benefit, and most of all, how does that use reflect on both of our brands?
If someone is using my imagery to market their product or service without my knowledge, it’s possible their audience may mistake that appearance of my name as an endorsement. And in most instances, whatever product or service that person is selling is totally fine! But as a business owner who is striving hard to build a credible, genuine, trustworthy reputation, I always want to be thoughtful when, where, and how my name is being used.
Let’s be clear, friends — there is absolutely nothing wrong with reposting another creative’s work on Instagram with proper photo credit! (And for reference, proper photo credit involves not only mentioning the content creator in your caption, but also tagging them in the image). But when we’re using other peoples’ images for your own profit, you are (unintentionally) robbing the content creator of a chance to profit from their own work, you are misleading your audience about the visuals you created, and you are missing out on an opportunity to create imagery of your own that truly represents your brand in the best light possible.
In most instances, I think this awkward situation pops up unintentionally when one creative may be unaware of the implications of using someone else’s imagery to promote their own work. Which is why I want us all to feel the freedom to have an open dialogue about this issue.
Yesterday, I logged into my Instagram account to see someone sharing one of my images to drive traffic to her latest service offering. And I knew it made me feel weird, so I posted a series of videos on my Instagram Story to see if anyone had expertise in this area. Was I overreacting? Should I feel weird about this or is it no big deal? Minutes after posting, my Instagram was flooded with messages from friends, fellow creatives, and followers who have faced similar situations. Each shared their insight, lamenting that this is becoming more and more common in our industry. Several told me they saw their images used to sell others’ work without their consent. And that stinks.
As a community of creatives who, at the end of the day, strive to uplift one another, we have to treat each other with kindness, grace, and respect. When you see an image from someone on Instagram that you absolutely love, comment and let them know you’d like to repost it! Chances are they will be thrilled that you asked and they’ll say yes. Then when you go to share, be sure to tag them properly so they receive credit for the hard work that went into creating that image in the first place. And, whatever you do, please be mindful of your intentions as you craft your caption. Are you sharing this image to highlight something that inspires you, or are you sharing this image to promote your own work?
I know that if we’re mindful of our etiquette on Instagram, we can intentionally cultivate a little online community of artists promoting other artists, creatives supporting one another, and boss ladies empowering each other to reach for their dreams. So, here’s to sharing what inspires us and uplifting those in our industry we admire and respect!