Posted by Kristine Jacobson

cmg89Just as the Internet has brought brands and customers closer together, it has also blurred the lines between personal and promotional content. For Internet users, this can sometimes be annoying, especially when it means seeing ads peppered across social media.  

However, social media has also given users a chance to champion the brands that they actually like. And according to studies, this user generated content (UGC) is 85% more effective than sponsored advertising. Just as consumers trust word-of-mouth more than a TV commercial, they trust their friends’ social activity more than they trust programmatic. 

What is UGC? 

UGC is any content related to your brand – including reviews, videos, pictures, blog posts and memes – generated by satisfied or otherwise enthusiastic customers. Familiar every day examples include: 

  • Instagram pictures of coffee from a nearby shop 
  • Running jokes about a company shared across social media sites 
  • Images of clothing uploaded to Amazon by reviewers 

Ideally, UGC will be positive in naturebut it doesn’t have to be. Users trust other users precisely because – even as brand advocates – users are people, not marketers. 

The Human Element 

To prove the point, users of the popular language app Duolingo recently turned its mascot – a friendly owl – into a meme, poking fun of the app’s insistent (and sometimes gloomy) reminders to study. 

The company responded on Twitter by playing along, posting an image of its ubiquitous owl in an ominous pose, suggesting that it would stalk users until they took their Spanish lessons.  

According to Duolingo CMO Cammie Dunaway, the joke – though seemingly negative on the surface – provided excellent publicity for the company: “We love and embrace the Duolingo memes. They've grown organically because so many people have this shared experience of using Duolingo and getting our practice reminders.” 

Why UGC is Effective 

At its best, UGC provides a level of organic exposure that paid strategies just can’t rival. Return is quantified less in terms of profit, and more in terms of: 

  • Increased engagement – users become enthusiastic about interacting with a company online and sharing its content. 
  • Reduced cost of advertising – brands will find they need less adspend. 
  • Visual search opportunities – while visual search is still in its infancy, UGC furnishes platforms like Instagram with content that prospects can search to find your products. 

While it may seem that UGC is completely spontaneous, that’s not quite true. There are many ways to nudge users in the direction of becoming brand advocates and sharing your products on social media. 

Seven Ways to Encourage UGC 

  1. Social Media Engagement

Nothing works better to encourage user engagement than being engaged yourself. Today, brands that regularly interact with their customers online make the biggest impact. 

Assign a member of your team to gauge conversations on your social media profiles, respond to comments and address feedback. When users notice that you respond, they will be more likely to respond themselves. 

  1. Creative Content

Users will be more inclined to generate their own content when you set the mood with good branding. Gearing content towards UGC means thinking less from the mindset of selling a product, and more from the mindset of social currency and brand recognition. 

Fiji Water hits all the right notes and gleans engagement from its audience by associating its water with a lifestyle activity that many can relate to: walking a dog. Since this post was made, users have indeed shared pictures of Fiji Water with their dogs to the company’s Facebook page. 

  1. Boost Organic UGC

Depending on the size and nature of your business, there’s a decent chance that UGC already exists for your brand. Find this content by searching for your brand online, and across social platforms like Twitter, Reddit, Instagram and Facebook. 

Afterwards, you may boost UGC by: 

  • Sharing links to good product reviews 
  • Asking permission to include their pictures on your website 
  • Giving “shout-outs” using tags on platforms that have this function 

Users are excited when a brand notices their advocacy, and this incentivizes other users to do likewise. 

  1. Promotions and Events

Interesting promotions and events offer users a chance to capture their experiences and share them across the web. Examples include Chick-fil-A’s ‘Cow Appreciation Day,’ and Coca-Cola’s extraordinarily successful #shareacoke campaign. 

Holidays and special occasions are a good time to release limited time products; Starbucks uses this to their advantage with seasonal drinks that always result in increased business and social media buzz. 

  1. Use Influencers

Influencers occupy a space in-between blatantly promotional content and UGC. With a small audience, they can be used to plant a seed that generates interest in your products and inspires others. 

When seeking out influencers for UGC, focus on micro-influencers who possess a knack for style. With minimal production values and a small, devoted audience in your product niche, their content will be highly similar to organic UGC. 

  1. Host Contests

Hosting a contest on social media is cliché for a reason: it works time and time again. People like free stuff, and they enjoy competing for it. The point of a UGC contest is not, however, to win shares or engagement – it’s to get users creating content featuring your brand. 

Coca-Cola recently offered $10,000 for “best new drink flavor,” getting many fans to brainstorm creations for the company. While most businesses can’t go quite that far, there are plenty of ideas that work on a smaller scale: ask users to share photos, participate in a challenge, or submit a suggestion.  

  1. Learn How to Hashtag

The majority of viral UGC campaigns involve hashtags, which makes the content more visible and allows users to see what other people are doing. Promoting a hashtag can be challenging, however. Here are a few tips: 

  • Use CTAs: on Facebook, you can create a pinned post with your hashtag campaign. On Instagram, you can include the hashtag in your account description. 
  • In a brick-and-mortar store, include your hashtag on signage and product labels that briefly explain the campaign 
  • Inform subscribers of campaigns via email and other media. Don’t be afraid to explicitly ask for engagement: sometimes, that’s the best way to get it 

Thinking Like a User 

Social media marketing is exactly what it says on the box: social media and marketing. Average users don’t think like corporations, and most examples of failed UGC campaigns involve companies that were awkward or tone-deaf. 

When strategizing your brand and engagement initiatives, learn how to switch between the marketer hat and the average-person-on-Facebook hat. If you don’t know what’s fun, someone on your team will: seek feedback, and design campaigns around a user-mindset. 

Conveyance Marketing Group is a team of bright, innovative and talented veteran marketers dedicated to big ideas, fresh insights and measurable results. We pride ourselves on taking challenging marketing issues and turning them into opportunities for our clients, on pointing brands in the right direction, and on getting our customers noticed both online and off. From branding to websites to digital marketing, and public relations, we handle all your marketing communication needs! Web Design and Development | Brand Strategy | Inbound Marketing | Social Media | SEO | PR

Kristine Jacobson

Kristine Jacobson

Kristine Jacobson has more than 25 years of marketing and communications experience with notable corporate leaders as well as emerging market contenders. She offers expert marketing strategy with a touch of creative flair. Her extensive knowledge of strategic marketing, marketing plan execution, and branding illuminate the big picture without losing sight of the details.