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.
There's a huge buzz surrounding the concept of user-generated content (UGC) these days. But in order to take advantage of the trend, you first have to understand what UCG is. User-generated content is essentially any kind of content -- photos, video, text, etc. -- that's created by a company's customers/users and then used by the business, generally for promotional purposes. Social media photo- or video-vote contests are just two examples of ways to collect UGC. One really well known example of UGC is Wikipedia. The majority of the site's content has been written and edited by its users.For businesses, one of the benefits of collecting UGC is that it provides the fresh, unique content search engines love. There are inherently user-generated brands, such as AirBnb and Couchsurfing -- which rely on users to post reviews -- and there are other brands that rely on user-generated content on a case-by-case basis to achieve brand goals, including Tourism Australia, Coca-Cola and Starbucks. With most user-generated content campaigns, incentives in the form of monetary rewards or social recognition are necessary.
Since rewards required, proper return on investment has to be expected. Working with UGC becomes cost effective when the time and resources spent on initial planning and outlining of the sharing framework are less than the combined positive effect the user-generated campaign has on brand perceptions. This happens following an ideal scenario, such as when user-generated efforts start spreading awareness in a snowball effect with visual, one of a kind content flowing effortlessly to users’ friend groups.The groups to receive interesting information will most likely have similar demographics -- such as age range, occupation, study location -- as the person who created the content. So, essentially, working with user-generated content means aiming at entire networks of consumers. For this simple reason, encouraging user-generated content creation is a win-win situation as long as extending your brand’s reach or solidifying existing brand images are ‘served’ correctly.
Practical DOs for growing your brand through UGC
You might have read ShortStack's recent best practices for building a user-generated campaign. Their recommendations are supported by these seven practices of how you can use UGC in your branding efforts.
1. Create a dedicated section or website-repository for UGC
It pays off to have a single go-to place for all user-generated content your consumers create. West Elm, retailer of home-decorating goods, with their still on-going #mywestelm campaign, termed their dedicated section on the main site ‘community inspirations’. The clever thing they did was grouping all their customers’ efforts under one umbrella – so-called inspirations. Retail outlets such as Nordstrom and Anthropologie also do something similar when they encourage their customers to send in their own photos, showing the customer in a piece of clothing or shoes.Another example is National Geographic, who with their #wanderlust initiative have contest entries fitted within the main site. Chances are, however, your brand is not nearly as big or global as Nat Geo. The smarter alternative is featuring UGC on a dedicated micro-site or a special section on Facebook. For example, this contest by Infinti Motors on Facebook. If your main social media channel is not fit for constant sharing of customers’ pictures, then you may create another one. It may be as simple as using Shortstack to build a simple landing page that will serve as a go-to repository.
2. Be always aware, always sharing
Luxury design brands, elite whiskey brands and cameras (such as GoPro) are examples of the kinds of businesses that first come to mind when speaking of those constantly on the lookout for the best of their users’ content. They maintain their interest in users’ content and usage of their products for clear economic reasons.Whiskey shown being served in a nice glass by a fireplace, and GoPro, with footage from somewhere deep underwater or high in the mountains, can hardly be captured day in and day out by the brand itself. Doing so would require enormous amounts of time and resources spent for a single picture or a brief footage. The idea here is that some brands are more predisposed to relying on UGC due to the very nature of their product. After all, customers find novel ways to showcase products in the situations where the product truly shines.It is a matter of paying close attention to what your brands' fans are already doing.
3. Create a customizable "side" product
Creating a customizable side product, such a customizable mobile phone case, if you’re selling mobile phones, means using your customers’ sense of personal uniqueness. What’s most important here is the customization involved. If it’s customizable, it is shareable. When something is being customized, a person feels that their artistic self, and everyone feels they have one, goes into the product they are creating. That’s why they’ll share it. Your brand’s job here is to provide enough customization features and appearance options for the customization to feel like a true artistic process. Infiniti Motors went as far as creating a standalone app to help users create more unique, artistic content. The Q30 Augmented Reality app allows users to layer a 3D model of the new Q30 model onto whatever pictures they take with their phone in creative locations. This makes content creation really simple and fun for users, arguably outweighing the implied cost of app development.
4. Send branded freebies to opinion leaders
With user-generated content, rewards are a must. Identify opinion leaders and send them unique freebies that they would want to share. Sometimes identifying opinion leaders may be as simple as analyzing your fan base on social media to see who has the most active profile, most followers and most likes to their posts.
5. Campaigning for collateral search visibility
Search visibility is known to improve following and an increased number of brand name mentions. The next time you create a campaign or an initiative, make sure enough brand name mentions are present and make sure that users will want to share your campaign with their friends. Creating a relevant quiz is one option. Take a look at the Guess the Writer quiz by Bid4papers. The idea is to concentrate all effort on the initial pitch. Then it is just patience and waiting for users to share the quiz over and over again, providing for the snowball effect and non-invasively targeting groups of people that would otherwise not want to even look at the quiz. Winners, of course, must be recognized through rewards.
6. Capitalize on contemporary social issues
Depending on what industry your brand is part of, there will likely be a number of surrounding ethical and social issues. Targeting these issues is certainly smart. Provide an incentive and a catchy tagline that combines the issue and your brand name in one word and wait for the magic to happen. The only other prerequisite is constant opportunity-scanning in reference to ongoing social issues and events. The best example of controlled brand growth through UGC reliant on contemporary social issues is Tom's Shoes. When you buy pair of Tom's, you also give a pair of shoes to someone who needs a pair. Buying a pair of Toms and sharing an image of your new pair on social media with friends will not feel like bragging, but instead will feel like contributing to charity.
7. Sell a solution, not a product
Marketing theory has seen a major turnaround in the past few decades. Products started being seen not as collections of characteristics but rather as collections of functions. Even in terms of a fashion brand that seemingly sells straightforward clothing, you’re still selling a solution, just a stylish one. A lifestyle choice, a fashion solution, whatever you call it, targets a specific issue and does indeed solve a problem. For some people, it is a big deal. Consider the #thesweatlife campaign done in collaboration with Olapic. The campaign objective was to collect images of their customers personifying the active lifestyle. Another great example to see is #standupforsomething by Dr. Martens, a campaign that is both inspirational and expression motivating. Are you ready to build your own UGC campaign?
About the Author: Mike Hanski creates content strategies and writes for various online businesses. When not writing about digital marketing and education, he enjoys reading Sci-Fi and trekking.
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