5 Clever Ways to Collect User-Generated Content (UGC)

Discover the power of user-generated content (UGC) in marketing campaigns through famous examples like Starbucks, Aerie, and Coca Cola. Learn how to implement UGC strategies for your business.

By Jessica Miller-McNatt ・6 min read
Best Practices
Customer Data & Engagement
Social Media

The face of marketing is ever-evolving.Although ad agencies still churn out professionally polished ad campaigns, major brands have tapped into the power of handing over the marketing reigns to their customers and brand loyalists.How are they doing this? With thoughtfully executed campaigns aimed at collecting user-generated content which, simply put, is content (images, stories, tweets, videos, etc.) that isn’t created by ad execs, but instead by regular people like you and me.

You probably recognize these famous UGC campaigns

If you look for them, you’ll start to notice that UGC campaigns are everywhere. But, to give you some better context, you may remember (and may have even participated in) one of these ultra-famous initiatives from recognizable brands:Starbucks #RedCupArt contest. Starbucks’ seasonal cups were left with a plain red background. Customers were asked to decorate the cups and post their creation on social media with #RedCupArt. Artists of all skill levels took to the red cup canvases producing eye-popping masterpieces that would otherwise be thrown out as trash.Aerie’s ‘Aerie Real’ initiative. The American Eagle affiliate brand, Aerie, used user-generated content to show how real women (not models) wear their clothes. The campaign was used to promote body positivity and boosted their sales by 32%.Coca Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign. Coca Cola produced and shipped bottles and cans adorning first names (appropriate to region) all over the world. The UGC campaign that earned Coca-Cola more than 500,000 #shareacoke posts and 25 million additional social media followers may be one of the most recognizable UGC campaigns as well as one of the most successful.The marketing strategies that worked for companies as big as Aerie, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks may not translate to businesses of a smaller size or type. However, the collection and use of UGC has been proven as an effective strategy time and time again. You simply have to find the right method to use, which I hope to provide in this article. But first...

What can UGC do for your business?

In a sense, UGC is sort of like an online review. When consumers see an image, video, Tweet, or post of someone using your products or services, it sends a powerful message to potential new customers. The content (hopefully) says “I use this and I like it.” When real people are delivering this message, it’s as good as word of mouth marketing. In fact, 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Business2Community defines customer engagement as, “the connection between an enterprise and the customer forged through communications” and is directly linked to customer retention. If engagement is directly linked to retaining customers, participating in a UGC campaign is about as engaging as it gets. Imagine the time those artists spent drawing on Starbucks cups or how long a love-sick boy spent searching for the coke bottle with his girlfriend’s name on it. UGC can feel very personal to the creator. And when that level of engagement is tied into a specific brand, loyalty ensues.So, how can your business start an inbound flow of UGC? With a little creativity, the sky is the limit. But here’s a list of ideas to get your brainstorms brewing.

Create a photo or video contest

I’m kicking off this list off with what may seem like the obvious go-tos, but collecting photos and videos can be handled a few different ways - ways you may have never thought of. Also, hosting a photo or video contest is popular for good reason - because it’s simple, fun, and effective - so it’s definitely worth mentioning.Here’s a great example of a clever UGC photo contest asking users to post their “arsenal” of Chemical Guys’ products. This does a number of things to promote brand loyalty - by viewing these entries in a gallery, the UGC makes an impactful statement about how loyal Chemical Guys’ customers really are. It also gives others a sense of what products might be the most popular.

Built with ShortStack's Hashtag Contest templateView and Create Your OwnAs I mentioned, the method of entry collection can be versatile, so keep this in mind when setting up your campaign. If you’re only asking participants to post an image to Instagram with a branded hashtag, you may be leaving out those who don’t use Instagram.Instead, keep your method of entry flexible so everyone can participate. For example, build a landing page with an entry form. With good contest software, participants will be able to submit image or video files, links to Instagram posts, Twitter posts, or even TikTok posts. The entries can be displayed in a gallery within the landing page where voting can be enabled to make it a contest.

Ask for a personal story

As I mentioned previously, UGC can be very personal. Depending on your business, asking customers or clients to share their stories can do a great deal to inspire others. This approach works great for businesses that help customers or clients overcome some sort of obstacle or hardship in their life, for example, insurance companies, businesses in the health and wellness industry, or perhaps an animal shelter could ask for the personal story of a journey or life event.

Built with ShortStack's Story Contest templateView and Create Your Own

Ask for nominations

Any business can adopt a cause or even partner with a non-profit to run a giveaway for the sake of doing a little good for those who do good for others. In this time of COVID-19, it’s truly heartwarming to see the many campaigns designed to honor those on the front lines.For example, this TV station’s ‘Superheroes Wear Scrubs’ giveaway celebrated nurses week and asked for nominations of favorite nurse teams. Although the TV station isn’t directly affiliated with the healthcare industry, and their primary intention was to honor these essential workers, this type of UGC holds value for the business that collected it. It’s a tangible example of the good this business does for its community.

Built with ShortStack's Photo Contest templateView and Create Your Own

Ask for a before and after photo

A before and after set of photos or videos can tell a story all on their own. If you’re selling a product or service that promises results to customers or clients, a simple “this is me before” and “this is me after” is an incredibly compelling way to illustrate just how effective your products or services can be.Here’s an example of UGC from a user of Hers acne treatment. Anyone looking for clearer skin can plainly see that the product is effective. Why not try it for themselves? a landing page ideal for hosting a before and after contest with this template from ShortStack. Entries will be displayed in a thumbnail that can be toggled to reveal both before and after photos.

Run a TikTok contest

If you haven’t checked out TikTok and decide to download the app, fair warning: the next hour of your life will likely evaporate into thin air. It’s no surprise that the easy-to-digest 15 and 60-second video clips make for an addictive experience, so why not lean into the craze and build a TikTok contest revolving around your business?A traditional video contest has its drawbacks in how time-consuming it is to make a video, but TikTok is the perfect solution to this. The videos themselves are very short. And TikTok has gone the extra mile by providing music, filters, sound effects, and all of the editing tools you could need - right in the app. It’s not quite as easy as snapping a photo, but if you’re the type of person who works very hard to take a flawless Instagrammable photo, then the amount of effort that goes into a TikTok might be on par.In this example, Chipotle is collecting UGC from its most loyal fans by asking them to prove their fandom using the short-form TikTok medium. Entries are hashtagged with #chipotlesponsorme for easy collection and viewing. can also collect TikTok entries in an entry form to be displayed in a gallery on a landing page. If you were running a contest, this would allow you to enable voting.

Collecting UGC is only step one

When you’ve run your successful UGC campaign, and poured through all of the amazing content your customers submitted, it’s time to select some of the best entries to use for your future marketing.Fostering engagement through a UGC is just part of the perks of asking your customers to create content. Use the content in your next marketing campaign to double down on its exposure. But first! It is very, very important (and simple) to ask permission of the content creator. You’ve come so far in building brand positivity and customer loyalty. Don’t sour the moment by using someone’s content without asking them first.Once you get the hang of collecting UGC, you’ll no doubt want to use this powerful marketing method again and again.

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About the author

By Jessica Miller-McNatt ・6 min read

Jessica Miller-McNatt has been with ShortStack for over a decade and has served in every role from Marketing Team Lead to Customer Success. Her journey in martech continues to fuel her fascination for what drives growth. Jessica's favorite weekends are spent in the North Georgia mountains, chasing waterfalls and exploring with her family.

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