Repurposing user-generated content in marketing programs has been a practice since about a day after people started creating that content. Marketers quickly realized, all the way back in the early 2000s, that people reacted more positively to material generated by others like them than to staid, sometimes boring advertising material.

The latest iteration of this practice is Snapchat’s announcement it will allow media partners to aggregate and place ads against user posts on the platform, something meant to bolster the Discover section of the app and bring more eyeballs in.

What I find shockingly missing from the news is any sort of comment about how revenue might be shared with the people whose posts and other content is being aggregated.

In the old days there was an evolving conversation around the use of UGC. At first some reckless and carefree marketers would just grab a blog post or photo, yell “IT’S PUBLIC!!” at the top of their lungs and insert it or some version of it in their ad. The conventional wisdom, though, quickly changed and some standards were established, including that marketers at least had to contact the creator and get their permission. If the conversation included some sort of compensation, that was up to them.

An evolution occurred that turned this practice into what was first “blogger outreach,” where you contacted prominent bloggers in the hopes of getting review product into their hands, and then into what we now call “influencer marketing.”

Even in news media, which has tried various tactics to tap into the power of “citizen journalists,” the standard is at least that you secure authorization to use a photo or video in an official report. Unless there are details missing from the reporting on Snapchat’s new program, even that fundamental step is missing from this arrangement.

What the media partners Snapchat has lined up are getting is essentially free work. They get to use what others have produced at no expense or expenditure of resources to themselves. To be blunt, they will profit in one way or another off unpaid labor. That kind of situation was quickly seen to be problematic in the early 2000s and it’s certainly no better ~15 years later.

Snapchat and its media partners should make it clear that anyone whose content is used in an official Story will be paid something, even if it’s a small honorarium. Otherwise this looks like an exploitation of the public by companies who hope to leverage content produced by someone else because they themselves haven’t figured out how to consistently create compelling material themselves.

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