Let’s face it, our lives are noisy. Between the alerts on our phones for emails, texts, calls, and notifications for social media, even if it’s not audible, it’s loud. There’s a lot vying for our attention, and that’s obvious nowhere more so than in advertising. So what’s a business to do to be heard above all the chatter and get noticed?

User Generated Content, or UGC, could be the answer.

What Is UGC?

UGC is any piece of content created by a person unaffiliated with your brand that’s shared on any of their networks.

In the social media age, people love to share bits and pieces of their lives. It provides an outlet, a way to update friends and family of the goings on in their lives, and the feedback gives validation they seek among their peers. Should their content contain the newest flavor of coffee with their opinion on its taste, or the books they bought that they can’t wait to dive into, or the concert they’re about to attend, they’re using your brand in their posts in authentic ways other network users inherently trust.

People trust their peers when it comes to product endorsements because the posters have little to nothing to gain by sharing.

Currently, photos and videos are the most popular visual content, and businesses with a physical product can take great advantage of this medium through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms, because that’s where the audience is, where the engagement is at its greatest. If your customers post a photo of themselves wearing your clothing while out for a night on the town, and they get a lot of compliments about how they look, people will be naturally curious about your clothes and where they can find them.

UGC Takes Many Forms

The difficulty in getting UGC is, however, that it’s user generated. The onus for sharing is on your customer base, and isn’t something you can easily initiate. There are tried and true ways of soliciting UGC that work:

Typically, customers are more likely to rate your product or service right after their exposure to your customer service, such as at the time of purchase, or when they receive the item in the mail. By providing an easy way for your customers to navigate to their purchases on your website, or by asking them to rate their purchasing experience right after the transaction takes place, you’re giving the opportunity to speak about your brand immediately, while their experience is still fresh. Auto-generated emails in the days following a purchase to ask them if the transaction satisfied their needs, with a quick link to the review page, are also effective.

The best part is when people are talking about your products or your brand, your SEO rankings improve, because the content is considered authentic.

Launching a UGC Campaign

So you’ve decided to run your own UGC campaign to build your brand and contribute to the content necessary to keep your brand relevant and in the social consciousness. What next?

Consider the type of campaign you want to run. Some of the most successful campaigns give users incentive to participate. In 2014, Starbucks launched their White Cup Contest, where they asked coffee drinkers to doodle on their white cups and submit photos of their creations. The winning cup would be featured as a new, limited edition reusable plastic Starbucks cup. In just 3 weeks, they received more than 4,000 entries.

Tourism Queensland offered a 6-month caretaker job that paid $150,000 AUD, asking entrants to apply with the reasons why they’d be the best person for the job. The contest succeeded in raising awareness of Queensland as a vacation destination, elevating Queensland’s international profile, and showcased the Great Barrier Reef in all its glory. The campaign generated an estimated $430 million in global public relations value.

By giving users an incentive, these campaigns reaped far more in rewards than the cost of the grand prize. In some cases, just having users’ generated content featured in future ad campaigns is enough, such as Burberry’s The Art of the Trench campaign, or Target’s Acceptance campaign, which asked aspiring college students to film themselves opening their acceptance letters to colleges. The best videos were used in a commercial to raise awareness for the company’s pledge to donate $500 million to education.

Make Entries Possible

There are, however, points to keep in mind when creating a UGC campaign:

  • Match your audience. If your target market doesn’t have access or know-how to use the technology required to participate, your campaign won’t have a lot of teeth.
  • Consider the best type of entries to accept. If you want to place the entries on billboards, then asking for videos isn’t as effective as asking for photos.
  • Be as hoop-free as possible. Requiring restrictive or excessive hoops for entrants to jump through will leave them tired of your brand or worse, irritated, before they turn their back on the campaign participation instructions.
  • The more you ask, the more you should offer. If the entry requires more effort on the users’ parts, then you have to make it worth it. You’ll feel cheated if you’re offering a substantial cash prize and you get flimsy content, and users will feel cheated if they put time and effort into great content for a measly 10% discount with a $20 total limit.
  • Legalities, legalities, legalities. Before you do anything, check with legal counsel about two issues: the rights you’ll have over the content submitted, and giveaway restrictions. You need to verify your giveaway is in compliance with the laws governing your state or the mediums through which you run your contest.

The best part is the versatility of the content users will submit. It can be used across virtually every medium, and on every platform.

The more content users generate for you, the more brand advocacy your company benefits from, increasing trust in your company and your products or services.

People share bits and pieces of their lives every day.

Becoming part of that casual conversation is now seen as more genuine and valid than any other form of advertising. Not only that, but it’s a step away from sales pitchy campaigns and ad buys on social media, which in turn elevates your voice above all the noise.