5 Best User-Generated Content Ideas for Holiday Marketing

Learn how to leverage user-generated content (UGC) for your holiday marketing campaigns and increase brand awareness, engagement, and product reviews.

By Dana Kilroy ・7 min read
Campaign & Contest Ideas
Customer Data & Engagement

The holidays and user-generated content go together like Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie. Here's how to collect and use UGC this holiday.

The pumpkins aren't even carved yet, but for marketers it’s time to start thinking about what’s ahead: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and the New Year.Yep, holiday sales are in full swing -- just look at the displays crowding the aisles of your local big box stores. But if you’re feeling like you’re behind the 8 Butterball, I’ve got some good news: there’s plenty of time to get a user-generated content (UGC) campaign underway and collect some tweets, reviews, photos or videos from your customers and followers, and get them to help you with your holiday marketing.

With the holiday shopping season ramping up, now is the perfect time to launch a UGC campaign. Tapping into the UGC trend allows you to give a little -- like a prize or a discount -- and get a lot!"

Did you know people are twice as likely to share UGC as they are to share other types of content? Or that 85 percent of consumers find UGC to be more authentic than content promoted by a brand? (Source: AdWeek) What’s more, accounts that hold Instagram contests grow their followers 70 percent faster than accounts that don’t run contests (Source: Tailwindapp).Ready to build some momentum and meet your holiday marketing goals with a UGC campaign? Here are the best user-generated content ideas for holiday marketing.

Examples of successful UGC campaigns (and how you can create your own)

Goal: Increase brand awareness

Example: Office Depot/Office Max Elf Yourself

Office Depot’s Elf Yourself has become a holiday tradition unto itself. Get this: between 2012 and 2015, the app -- for which people upload a photo of themselves and it gets superimposed on dancing elves --  was downloaded more than 92 million times. In 2016, Office Depot released a new version, with three dances dubbed “Chrismukkah,” “Hip Hop Shop,” and “Secret Santa.” The 2017 version debuts November 1 (that's today!), and who knows what silliness will be unleashed. For Office Depot, Elf Yourself has been a powerful marketing effort, getting the brand in front of millions of people basically for free since people want to share their silly videos with their friends and family.

Elf Yourself Example

Create Your Own

Ask your followers to create an image of themselves using an Instagram Stories holiday filter and post the image to Instagram using your hashtag in the caption. Then you display the entries. In the example below, people are sharing images of their watches, but you can use your imagination to see what kinds of photos you could collect.If you want to get more out of the campaign than just brand awareness, you could offer a prize. You’d link to a form in your bio where people would share their email address with you in exchange for a chance to win your prize. The link-in-bio option would also give you an opportunity to use automated email messaging to send special offers throughout the coming year.

Instagram Hashtag Giveaway

Goal: Increase engagement

Example: Tahoe South

In the example below, Tahoe South, a travel and visitors’ bureau, posted a photo and asked people to respond to it with an emoji. The only “content” users are sharing is their emoji craft, but it’s a fun and simple engagement post literally any kind of business could run. You could show off one of your products in a photo or video, or even post an image that features a statistic or makes a statement about your company and then ask people to respond with a comment or an emoji.To make the campaign more useful, offer a prize for the most creative use of emoji, or just pick a winner randomly. Use the link in your bio to post terms and conditions and, if you’re offering a prize,  to collect email addresses.

Tahoesouth Example

Create Your Own

If you're offering a prize, make sure you detail how you'll choose a winner, any age restrictions you might have, and information about how the prize will be distributed. Use our Terms and Conditions template and link to it from you bio.

Terms and Conditions Template

Goal: Collect user-generated images/videos and email addresses

Example: Williams-Sonoma

Williams-Sonoma has tapped into the social media world’s love of food photography, and collected thousands of photos from bloggers, chefs and foodies who tag their photos with #mywilliamsonoma. Then, from Williams-Sonoma's Instagram bio, there’s a link to a gallery where you can view all the tagged images and videos.Williams-Sonoma is also betting you’re going to want to get some of their recipes and sale announcements by email, so they ask for an email address right at the top of the feed.

William Sonoma Example

Create your own

Use ShortStack's Interactive Instagram Gallery template so you can collect and display UGC and collect email addresses at the same time. You can use this kind of campaign to build email lists and then send your lists automated messages with special offers and announcements.

Instagram Interactive Gallery Template

Another idea: Let's say, you wanted to do a UGC recipe contest, you’d use ShortStack’s Recipe Contest template and collect recipes and email addresses. As a bonus, the template has a built-in voting component so entrants would be motivated to share their entries with their friends, giving your business even more visibility.

Recipe Contest Template

Goal: Collect user-generated images/video to use for marketing

Example: Two Notes Audio

Two Notes Audio is a company that makes audio-engineering equipment. They recently ran a hashtag contest where they asked people to show a photo of “You using your Torpedo hardware.” In just a few hours, Two Notes Audio had dozens of entries -- not bad for relatively small company -- and a nice collection of photos and videos showing their product in use.

Two Notes Audio Example

Create your own

A hashtag contest is so simple to run. All people have to do to enter is post a picture or video to Instagram (or Twitter) and use your branded hashtag in the caption, just like in the example above. People who post an image or video using your hashtag are automatically entered to win. (If you plan to use any of the content you collect on your website or for any of your marketing efforts, make sure you get permission, first.)

UGC Example

Goal: Collect product reviews

Example: Pestle & Mortar

Product reviews have been a UGC staple for years. Since as many as 70 percent of people rely on customer reviews to influence their purchases, it's a great idea to include reviews or comments from your customers in your marketing. Did you know 88 percent of people read reviews to determine the quality of a local business? (Source: the example below, Pestle & Mortar, a beauty brand, links to a review by tagging @blossom_bride and then linking to her review of their products. Brands should also be encouraging their customers to create and share reviews.

Pestle & Mortar Example

Create your own

Link your customers to a template that makes it really easy for them to review your product. You can share the link on your website, in your email signature, and on your social channels. Then, display individual reviews throughout your website (which is what we do) or you could simply show them off all at once on a landing page, using our Testimonials template.

Testimonial Template


Show your customers you appreciate them for taking the time to leave you a review. If people leave you a public negative review on Facebook or Twitter, ask them -- also in public -- to contact you directly so you can resolve the issue. This is a great way to build trust.

Best Practices for Hosting a UGC Contest

If you're planning to run a UGC contest for the holidays, here are some best practices to keep in mind:

Make it easy to participate

The easiest means of entry is by hashtag. Ask people to post a photo, video or other content with your hashtag in the caption. To make the UGC contest more useful for you, consider giving people an extra chance to win if they share their email address with you (collect email addresses via a form you link to from your bio).

Keep your contest simple

Nothing is more frustrating to a participant than having to jump through a ton of hoops to enter. If you're running a UGC video contest, consider letting people upload short videos straight from Instagram instead of requiring a highly produced video that requires time and equipment. The simpler your promotion is, the more submissions you're likely to get.

Make sure the prize you're offering is worth the effort required to enter

We've written extensively about the power of an effective prize, and you can read all about that here. Your prize should match the effort  it takes to enter. For instance, a sticker or a $5 gift card probably isn't a big enough prize, if you're asking people to make a two-minute video. A prize is all about creating perceived value of the prize itself, and of your brand and services.

Ask for entries you can use for future marketing campaigns

If you're collecting great stories or visuals, consider asking your participants if you can use their contribution in future marketing efforts. Images and videos that show people using your product are invaluable, and they help build authenticity with potential customers. The UGC you're collecting is gold. What better way to show off your brand than by letting your actual customers do the talking.

Follow the law

One of the questions we get asked most frequently has to do with legal issues. Legality can be daunting, especially for small business owners, but it's important that you cover your bases when running a promotion. While we don't offer official legal advice, this post about social media contest rules will help. If you're offering a prize, we always recommend running your contest through your legal channels.Now you know a bit about how to use UGC as part of your marketing plan, we hope you'll have fun creating UGC contests of your own. If you liked this post, don't forget to subscribe to our blog. And if you haven't already, set up your free ShortStack account so you can build UGC contests and other promotions.

Create your first contest now

Get Started Today. It’s free and we don’t need your credit card.

About the author

By Dana Kilroy ・7 min read

Dana Sullivan Kilroy is a communications professional with more than 20 years of experience delivering compelling content. Her work has appeared in national, award-winning publications and sites, including: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Fast Company, Inc.

Get productivity tips straight to your inbox

Thank you!
Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
We’ll email you 1-3 times per week—and never share your info.