User-generated content (UGC) is a huge benefit to any business. It shows you — and potential customers — that customers are engaging with your company. Regardless of the services or products you offer, having your customers help advertise for you can make your company’s marketing easier and more effective.
The trick is getting UGC in the first place. You need to make it clear to your customers that you want to hear from them, but you don’t want to come across as exploitative. As a result, you need to be careful about how you acquire the content. Plus, after you have it, you need to figure out the best way to use it.
Fortunately, there are tried-and-true methods for both of those issues — you just need to follow the right steps.
Before you make any decisions, you have to strategize. Strategizing requires you to consider the results you need, the content you want, and how you’ll use it.
Your main focus should be your overall goals. The goals for a UGC campaign are fairly standard across the board, regardless of how your company chooses to carry out a campaign.
- Increase audience interaction
- Increase brand awareness
- Earn greater social media engagement
- Acquire new site content
- Improve reputation
In addition, you need to decide the type of content that you want to receive. Depending on your goals, content can be as simple as quick customer reviews or as involved as user-made art. All of these options are great because they can be used in a variety of ways for your marketing strategy.
- Testimonials about your company
- Reviews of your products
- Case studies including your brand
- Art related to your company, logo, or products
- Photos of customers with your products
- Action shots of your products in use
- Videos showing product interaction or use
As with the previous examples, there are a number of different ways you can approach the actual use of UGC, and many of them are not exclusive. In fact, if you want to achieve the maximum visibility of your UGC, you should use it in multiple ways simultaneously.
- Housing it on your homepage
- Creating a separate UGC page on your site
- Posting it on social media
- Promoting it on physical products
- Using it in ads
In addition to everything else, you need to determine some general factors of your UGC campaign. These basic questions will start you on the right foot.
- How will users submit material?
- What rules should we set for material submissions?
- When does the campaign start?
- When does the campaign end?
When you’re hashing out this section of your strategy, it’s important to detail exactly how user submissions will work. Basically, it needs to be as easy as possible. Users are doing this for free, and if it takes too much time to submit their creations, they’re not going to do it. Keeping it simple will do wonders for participation.
No matter how you spin it, UGC can be a huge benefit to your company. And now that you’ve laid out the specifics of what you want, it’s time to start your campaign.
Content can come to you from a number of different channels and through different processes. You can foster a community around your brand, create friendly competitions, or simply ask your customers to make something.
Still, before you ask, your users need to know what you’re planning. Even if you just want their content for the fun of it, they have to be in the loop.
Building an audience around your product that functions as a positive community can do wonders for your brand awareness and brand association. UGC contributes to a community by showing that your customer base is open, creative, and participating with your brand.
When you join them, you can make your company more accessible and personable, both of which are excellent ways to keep your customers close.
You can build a community and encourage its participants with something as simple as a hashtag. Users can submit photos, videos, short anecdotes, and more. In fact, some of the most effective community-building initiatives have centered around hashtags.
Others, unfortunately, haven’t gone so well. If you choose to build a community with open-ended possibilities, check out why some hashtags work and some don’t. There’s a lot of potential with those initiatives, and that potential can be good or bad depending on how you execute your strategy.
Everybody loves some friendly competition. Setting up a prize (or a prize pool, if you want) for the best UGC provides a tangible incentive for your users. That way, their content doesn’t just get a place on a page next to hundreds of other submissions — they can actually earn something for their creativity.
In terms of rewards, you can offer pretty much anything. Free product, popular gadgets, cash, and even promotion on your website are all popular rewards for UGC contests. Just make sure that you have all of the legal paperwork sorted so you can seamlessly follow through with everything you plan.
One of the most popular UGC competitions was Starbucks’ white cup contest. The company encouraged its customers to decorate plain white cups and submit the results to Starbucks. The winner had her design turned into a limited edition cup — quite the incentive for drawing on a drink container.
Although, if your customer base isn’t receptive to competition, you can try another tactic for UGC.
Ask for it
Creative types are all about self-expression, and tapping into that potential can yield some great results. This kind of appeal catches the attention of die-hard artists who create something for a chance to get their name in the limelight or, sometimes, just for fun. While it may seem counter-intuitive to ask for something without offering anything, sometimes that’s all you need to do.
Three, a British mobile service provider, used UGC to promote the fact that they had removed roaming charges. Their #holidayspam hashtag encouraged users around the world to share their vacation photos from their phones online since they didn’t have to worry about roaming charges. There wasn’t an incentive for the winner, but the campaign wound up becoming so successful that Three is continuing the campaign in 2015.
Now that you have a way to get user creations, you need to make sure people actually know about it.
Promoting a UGC campaign is fairly easy, thanks to social media. Your Facebook and Twitter accounts should already have an audience that wants to hear from you, and telling them exactly what they can do to interact with your brand will naturally appeal to them more than a television ad that’s seen by people who don’t know your brand.
Plus, promoting via social media means you can go into greater detail about UGC criteria, rules, rewards, and more. You’re not restrained by time — you can either list what you want or link to a page that explains it. Either way, it beats a 30 second advertisement.
You can also promote your UGC campaign on your homepage to raise awareness and encourage participation. Your website is the center of your online presence, so people who don’t follow you on social media may rely on your homepage for news about your company.
Last, if you’re promoting a contest, you can use contest directories to attract talent that may not know your brand, but still wants to provide quality submissions. This option may not be the best to use if your focus is customer-brand relationship, but it can help drive up the quality of submissions while promoting healthy competition.
However, now that everyone knows about your UGC initiative, you can’t just sit back and let the submissions roll. You need to maintain an active, quality-control role over your new content.
Monitoring UGC online is essential. No matter what you choose to do on the Internet, when the opportunity for UGC arises, there are bound to be a few jokers and pranksters who want to hijack your promotion and turn it into something comical or — worse — offensive.
You can deal with this in a number of different ways. You can offer closed submission guidelines to users, though that makes it more restrictive and annoying for users to submit their content.
You can also maintain a positive, appropriate rapport online to make sure customers know that you’re distancing yourself from anything inappropriate, even before it happens.
Last, when you’re faced with inappropriate material, you can delete it, disregard it, or simply ignore it, depending on which option lines up best with your UGC campaign.
If you’re asking for UGC through social media, sometimes it’s actually easier to just delete and ignore inappropriate submissions and carry on with your campaign as though nothing happened. People who disrupt these kinds of campaigns are often seeking attention, and when you deny it to them, they’ve failed.
Plus, if someone’s tweeting or posting tasteless material over social media, they’re saying a lot more about themselves than they are about your brand. You can usually let them tire themselves out, and the decent users will force the occasional rude one to the background.
Adhere to your deadline
Once you have all the submissions you want — or the deadline for submissions has passed — it’s time to post the best content you received. Sometimes, like with community-building, this can be an ongoing process where you simply encourage more participation and interaction over time. Other times, as with contests, this can include showing off the best submissions on your website, social profiles, product packaging, and other outlets.
When you highlight UGC, you improve the relatability of your company by speaking directly to your users. Mention them by name (or their social handle) when you post their content, and give them the credit they’ve earned for their outstanding work.
If you host a contest, tell everyone via your social media channels and website who won and showcase what they made. It’s also courteous to thank all of the people who participated by acknowledging that there were tons of good submissions. When you’re announcing a victor, you definitely want to celebrate the winner’s accomplishment, but you can celebrate the contest as a whole to be more inclusive.
Now that you have plenty of UGC, you can use it however you see fit. Redoing your logo, product packaging, website, social media photos, and more are all viable options. You can even include content with new purchases or conversions on your site. Add new life to landing pages, promote a certain image of your brand, and more — the sky’s the limit.
And it hardly cost you a thing.
Have you ever worked with UGC before? What did you do, and how did it work out? Let me know in the comments!