Amazon Adds User-Generated Photos continued its “entertainment as marketing” plan by adding a feature enabling users to upload images of “products in action,” which appear on product pages of its site. Users are also strongly encouraged to add captions to their images.

“Customer images are like visual reviews. By sharing your images, you can help other customers understand how products look and perform,” according to Amazon’s site. Amazon suggests sharing images that highlight a feature of the product, show the product in use, show how the product performs or give a sense of the size of the product. A digital camera enthusiast could submit pictures taken with the camera, for example. The new capability was first noted by Steve Rubel on his blog, where he writes about the interactions between consumer-generated media and brands.

“The power of images is huge. As a buyer, if I see a product that people are enthusiastic about, that’s going to do a lot for me,” said Rubel, VP of client services at PR firm CooperKatz. “Suddenly, this feedback is no longer buried in a little corner of the Internet, but it’s right there where customers buy the product.”

So far, the feature has been enabled on the electronics category, which includes audio and video, cameras, and computer products. It also works on parts of the apparel, sporting goods, musical instruments and beauty categories. The company expects to enable it on more categories once the beta test has ended. Once uploaded, images appear in the product’s image gallery, and a personal image gallery in each user’s profile.

“I think we’re going to see more and more of this, especially as camera phones proliferate. The whole ability to archive experiences with products is really going to change the whole brand equation,” said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of market intelligence firm Intelliseek, which tracks consumer-generated media. “It’s going to raise a whole new level of accountability.”

Blackshaw said that this is just the next step after message boards and blogs where consumers can take into their own hands the job that advertisers have always tried to do — articulate the core benefits of how a product is used and its value to the consumer.

The Internet — via message boards, consumer review sites like Epinions, and blogs — gives consumers control that was once the sole domain of the brand owner. While this can translate into another channel to spread messages extolling the benefits of a product, it can also lead to potential pitfalls for brands that don’t live up to consumer expectations.

“When there’s a gap between what a brand promises and what it delivers, they’re going to suffer,” Blackshaw said. “Purchase behavior is being driven by what people see when they’re researching products.”

As for Amazon’s own brand, Blackshaw believes the move further establishes the company as a community-based retailer that is in tune with its customers. “Amazon benefits by once again coming across as a company that is very much in touch with the way consumers express themselves. They’ll capture a disproportionate number of consumers that want to express themselves.”

According to guidelines posted on Amazon’s site, any customer in good standing can upload pictures.

Regarding unacceptable images, the site suggests, “Behave as if you were a guest at a friend’s dinner party: please treat the Amazon community with respect.” It will not allow photos with objectionable content, personally identifiable information, images of external Web sites, or unrelated images. Images must be uploaded to Amazon’s servers, rather than linked to on external sites.

Before uploading any images, a customer must first create a “Real Name” signature — the author’s real-world name, which must match the name on the customer’s credit card. Every review on Amazon’s site is subject to ratings by other customers, which leads to every customer gaining a reputation within the Amazon community. For customers who have not developed that reputation, Amazon uses the Real Name as a way to ensure the quality of content on the site.

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