The internet has become a very social place over the past couple of decades. From the early days of whirring dial-up and getting all your news from your ISP’s homepage, we’ve somehow found ourselves in a world of forums, blogs and ubiquitous social media.

For most of us, it’s been a welcome change – and the instant communication and life-sharing fun of Twitter and Facebook is now so integral to many of us, that an internet without blogging and social media is practically unthinkable.

Luckily for the budding digital marketer and business owner alike, there are many ways to engage with your audience and make use of the social internet, without appearing stuffy or overly corporate.

The latest in a long line of social marketing methods, and the one currently giving some big brands a lot of success, is ‘user generated content’ – or UGC for short.

Put simply, UGC is a way of getting your customers, and the public, involved in your marketing – whether it’s by submitting pictures to a public gallery, sharing home videos of your product in action, or even just sharing relevant stories and anecdotes with other would-be customers.

Making use of your audience isn’t a new idea, however. Businesses have been relying on customer reviews and testimonials to drive sales both online and offline for years.

According to a report by Nielsen in 2012, one of the world’s leading market research companies, 70% of us will trust a customer review more than nearly any other ad form, rising to 92% for reviews from family and friends.

UGC is, at its core, simply an extension of this idea. By showing would-be customers examples of how others love your brand or your product, they can be convinced to believe that they might have similar experiences.

To better show you how UGC campaigns work, here are four successful ones from recent years:

 

Starbucks – White Cup Contest

Starbucks’ idea was simple – give customers a plain white coffee cup, ask them to draw their own designs onto it, and submit pictures of the finished product – with the winning design being printed onto limited edition cups.

In just three weeks across the US and Canada, nearly 4,000 people entered the competition – giving Starbucks an enormous bank of user-submitted images to use in their marketing, and creating a lot of social and news buzz during and after the competition.

All for the price of a few paper cups.

 

Coca Cola – Share a Coke

One that practically everyone will have heard of – the “Share a Coke” campaign launched in Australia in 2011, and soon spread to the UK, US and other regions.

Another simple idea, much like the Starbucks campaign, Coca Cola relied on viral UGC to do their marketing for them. After an initial set-up and distribution of bottles, social networks were soon plastered with drinker-submitted pictures, with everyone keen to find and share their own name on a bottle, massively boosting brand exposure.

Coca-Cola saw a 2% increase in sales in the US during the campaign – worth a huge amount to a company that had seen more than a decade of declining revenues previously.

 

NatGeo IGNational Geographic – #WanderlustContest

National Geographic challenged its audience to “capture glimpses of the unforgettable people, places, and experiences that have impacted [their] life”, and share them with the competition hashtag for a chance to win a photographic expedition to Yosemite National Park.

A personal favourite of mine, the #WanderlustContest campaign perfectly balanced Instagram, the NatGeo brand, and advertising, without at any point feeling corporate. Despite being sponsored by Honda, the campaign followed a soft-sell, brand awareness strategy, which is much better suited to social campaigns and so-called ‘millennials’, than traditional hard-sell advertising.

While on the surface the campaign was a ‘standard’ share-to-win competition, it exploited the social media platform that best suited National Geographic’s brand, and made use of the already massive group of amateur photographers online.

 

Bikesure – Iconic Mopeds of the 70s

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include an example that we produced here at To The End. Clearly, we don’t have the budget of mega-brands like Coca Cola and Starbucks, but our smaller-scale work for insurance broker Bikesure still ably demonstrates the brand engagement that UGC can bring.

Bikesure, the motorbike arm of broker Adrian Flux, has a long history of finding cover for all sorts of motorbikes and scooters, and has built up a sizeable following on Facebook and Twitter interested in vintage motorcycles and bike nostalgia.

To appeal to this section of the fanbase, we produced a short slideshow of our pick of the top mopeds from the 70s and 80s, which was shared extensively on Facebook.

The response and outpouring of memories that we received from Bikesure’s audience was so big that we decided to use their stories and pictures to produce a follow-up slideshow – using their home photography rather than our own illustrations.

Although we didn’t start the project with UGC in mind, it proved to be a great example of how social brands can utilise their audience. Rather than ignoring the comments we received on Facebook, we used their experiences to produce even more content, virtually guaranteed to be shared and talked about by those involved.

 

As you can see from the examples above, UGC campaigns don’t need to be complicated – in fact, it’s often the simpler ideas that succeed. And even well established ideas such as competitions and giveaways can be reimagined and used to encourage user generate content.

The results of the brands I’ve listed above aren’t unique to them either, and have been replicated time and again in recent years.

Results like these only go to show in today’s social, always-connected world, there are few better ways to build trust amongst your audience than to work with them, and to get them involved in your marketing, rather than just marketing at them.

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