If you’re a marketer just beginning to think about incorporating user-generated content (UGC) into your marketing programs, you might be feeling a little conflicted. On the one hand, you know that UGC is powerful stuff. Consumers tend to trust content created by other users more than they trust brand-created content. UGC feels more authentic. It can help improve a wide range of marketing metrics, from clickthroughs to time on site to revenue. And—bonus!—UGC is already being created for free by hundreds of millions of people every day.
But on the other hand, the fact that there’s a massive, always-on stream of fresh content out there doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically find exactly the UGC you want for your brand. How do you encourage your customers and fans to create the content you want?
1. Launch a meme-worthy product
Encouraging your fans to post relevant photos starts with giving them something snap-worthy. Keep it simple. Make it visually impactful and immediately recognizable.
— LaneyLiner (@LaneyLiner) December 18, 2015
Starbucks does a great job of this every holiday season. Its red cups are easily identifiable at a glance, and the #RedCup hashtag is simple and catchy enough that it’s easy for users to make their posts personal.
2. Give stuff away
It’s a universal truth: people love free stuff. Offering small prizes can be an extremely effective way to prompt fans to post content with your hashtag.
Cadbury’s #Joycabs campaign enticed participants with free chocolate bars. Cadbury wrapped 21 London cabs in its distinctive purple branding, then offered free chocolate to fans who posted a photo of themselves with the cab using hashtag #Joycabs. The company wisely used Stackla’s rights management tools to handle prize fulfillment, which enabled them to collect email addresses of the fans who participated so they can keep those relationships going.
3. Tap into the competitive spirit
People don’t just love free stuff—they also love recognition. If you’re a well-known brand with significant media reach, try using exposure as a prize. Featuring the best user content in a prominent campaign (for example, on a billboard, in a TV commercial, or just on a well-trafficked page of your website) can prompt a flood of entries from people vying for the top honors.
4. Make users the heroes of your campaign
If one of the goals of your campaign is to empower your audience to inspire each other, consider taking the spotlight off your brand entirely. Ask participants a juicy open-ended question, then treat the people who respond using your hashtag as the heroes of the campaign.
Michelle Obama’s #BetterMakeRoom campaign is an incredible example of this principle in action. The campaign aims to celebrate student stories and spotlight them in a manner usually reserved for sports stars and celebrities—including on a live digital billboard in New York’s Times Square. The campaign asked students to respond to a simple but thought-provoking question: How will they reach higher and make their educational dreams a reality?
The strategy has been exceptionally effective. In the first 24 hours alone, the campaign had more than 140M social media impressions, more than 6,000 commitment interactions made on the BetterMakeRoom.org site, and more than 5,000 interactions with online forums, blogs, and articles.
5. Enlist influencers to lead the way
Once you’ve designed a campaign you’re sure people will want to participate in, you still need to get the word out—and you’ll want a few anchor contributors on board to get the ball rolling with the kind of content you want to generate. Recruit a handful of top influencers for the social channels where you’ll be aggregating content and enlist their help in getting the campaign off the ground.
Australian OTA Helloworld used this strategy in its recent #helloworldRELAY. The company enlisted 80 prominent Instagrammers—many of whom are professional photographers—to post 12 photos in 12 hours from some of the most beautiful destinations around the world. These 80 anchor participants inspired more than 20,000 additional posts from fellow travelers on the day of the relay.
6. Get participants to nominate friends
Getting participants in your campaign to tag their friends and nominate them to participate next can create a powerful viral engine that both spreads your message and generates massive volumes of UGC. Just ask the team behind the ALS Association’s 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge (image via GIPHY).
7. Get personal
Coca-Cola is one of the world’s most ubiquitous, well-known brands. But when the company wanted to get people talking about Coca-Cola by sharing photos of their bottles via social media, they decided to get personal with the “Share a Coke” campaign. The company produced Coke bottles with names on the labels in the hopes of prompting people to find “their” bottle and take a photo—thereby increasing Coca-Cola’s exposure on Twitter.
The campaign initially launched in Australia in 2011 and soon expanded to regions across the world. The company attributes a 2% increase in U.S. sales to the campaign after more than a decade of declining revenues.
8. Make it bigger than your brand
Mission-driven brands and non-profit organizations can inspire their supporters to participate in social campaigns by asking people to reflect on why they’re behind the group’s efforts, then share those thoughts. This strategy serves two important purposes: it reminds existing supporters of their commitment, and then the content they post can be displayed in a social hub or live event display to motivate and inspire new supporters.
US non-profit Share Our Strength used this strategy as part of its annual fundraising drive for its No Kid Hungry programs, which are aimed at ending childhood hunger in America—and boosted donations more than 30% year over year.
9. Keep it simple
On a practical level, think about how to make it as easy as possible for your customers and fans to participate. For example, asking for tagged photos on Instagram or Twitter will generate a lot more participation than requesting complicated 5-minute videos.
Don’t forget to get permission to use the content your campaign generates! Design a rights management workflow into your process so participants know how you plan to use the content and give you their OK. You can even collect additional details, like email addresses, from them if you like.