One of the marketing tactics that has seen a lot of use recently is the user-generated content strategy. User-generated content has been behind some of the best marketing campaigns of the last decade. But there is a lot to understand about this way of getting in front of customers. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about a user-generated content campaign and how you use one to promote your business.
What is User-Generated Content?
You first need to know exactly what user-generated content is. User-generated content, often abbreviated UGC, is content that is created by the very people that you are targeting with your ad campaign. Imagine if you wanted to advertise to a certain group of people and their circle of friends. Now, imagine that the first group wrote the ads and showed them to those very same friends. That’s sort of an example of what kind of power user-generated content has.
The History of User-Generated Content
The history of user-generated content starts with the newspaper. Letters to the editor has been a popular feature in many newspapers and magazines, with the first starting in the eighteenth century. There are numerous other examples of historical user-generated content, such as the London Philological Society seeking public contributions for the Oxford English Dictionary in 1857. But it wasn’t until the internet started becoming popular that the modern form of user-generated content was created. Today, user-generated content refers to content that actually helps to advertise the product or service, and while that is true to a certain extent with historical examples, it is a much different ballgame today.
It was the mid-90’s to the mid-2000’s that saw user-generated content start to grow at an expanding rate. First, the bulletin boards on the web began to grow, causing websites to get more search index entries and become bigger thanks to that content. IMDB was another website that was way ahead of the curve. The BBC may have started the first multi-media UGC campaign in 2005. The perfect example of user-generated content is Wikipedia, which began in 2001. In later years, it was things like iReport, launched by CNN in 2006 to allow users to participate in the news that served as the basis for the modern UCG movement that would happen in the following decade and today is used to build trust and get visibility.
Importance of User-Generated Content
Why is user-generated content so important? The reason that companies use user-generated content in order to achieve their marketing goals is simply due to the fact that UCG encourages customer participation and helps make purchase decisions like nothing else out there. When people are participating actively in a campaign, they automatically share with their friends and family and they promote the business or product without even realizing that they are being targeted in an advertising campaign. What they are doing is having fun. From the company’s perspective, user-generated content cost them nothing to produce and creates market saturation and conversion like very few other marketing tactics. From the perspective of the customer, they are participating in something fun and feel as if they are part of something. In addition, consumers trust social media more than blog posts, web advertising or anything else out there.
Examples of Well-Known User-Generated Content UGC Campaigns
Let’s take a look at some of the most well-known user-generated content campaigns that have been used in the last few years. One of the campaigns aside a great deal of success in recent years is one that target department store conceived, requesting that people send in videos of themselves opening up their college acceptance letters and then contributing millions of dollars to scholarships and educational foundations, culminating in them using those videos in a new commercial that got real results.
The Heineken beer company was another innovator when it comes to the world of user-generated content. Heineken start of the UCG campaign with recycling as the main thing. They asked users to send in their own ideas on how they could improve beer packaging and make it more environmentally friendly. Ultimately, customers submitted hundreds of ideas and the Heineken Company got lots of free advertising.
Perhaps the most famous example of user-generated content came in the form of an icy cold shower – literally. The ALS ice bucket challenge may not have been created by the organization themselves, but it certainly used user-generated content to its full potential, spreading like wildfire and garnering millions of dollars in donations towards Lou Gehrig's disease treatment and research. Social platforms like the Facebook page and Twitter account were used to spread this.
Another company that has its finger on the pulse of user-generated content is Starbucks. In 2014, Starbucks launched their white cup contest, where they asked people to draw on their Starbucks cup and then submit their entries. They received almost 4000 entries and they chose one that became the design for Starbucks limited edition mug. Users were excited to show off their artistic talent and even the entries were created by users but didn’t win were viewed by many people.
Finally, the Queensland Islands decided to promote tourism by holding a contest for a caretaker job on a beautiful island resort that paid a huge amount of money. The winner would get to serve as caretaker for six months, which basically was like a vacation except that they were getting paid for it. Users submitted videos to show that they were right for the job and tourism in Queensland saw an increase in revenue as a result.
Expert Tips: Using User-Generated Content to its Full Potential
Let's take a look at some expert advice regarding user-generated content that you can use to make your campaign as effective as possible.
- Make sure that you are using various tracking methods throughout the campaign, because tracking afterward is going to be a struggle. There are lots of software solutions and analytics tools that will allow you to track throughout the campaign. This also has the advantage of allowing you to adjust on the fly.
- Make sure you choose your hashtag carefully. If your campaign is uber successful, this hashtag could easily be trending and you wanted to be associated with your business while still walking the fine line of being memorable and easy to use.
- Make sure the people have a reason to participate. If your reason for them to participate is boring, or if they have no real incentive to become part of your contest, then your UCG campaign is going to fail.
- If you're using email as an entry method, or even if you are not, consider requiring email verification before the user is able to submit their entry. Not only will this ensure that you are getting real responses, it will also allow you to build an email list that you can use down the road.
- That being said, if you can you should allow submissions and as many different formats as possible. People want to use their imagination and they want to be creative. Give them that opportunity
- Choose a timeline and stick to it. Make sure that you know when your contest is going to start, when your contest is going to end and all of the key stopping points along the way.
User-generated content is a tool that is used to get customers to participate in your marketing, usually by offering some sort of contest or by incentivizing their participation in some other way. A UCG campaign is so effective because customers themselves are spreading the message, and they are excited about it. There are lots of ways that you can use a user-generated content campaign, but keep the expert tips in mind when you do.