5 User-Generated Content Campaigns That You’ll Want to Imitate

Is your social media strategy starting to feel a bit stale? Do you feel like you are running out of content to post? More importantly, are you having difficulty connecting with your audience?

We’ve got a solution. User-generated content (referred to in the marketing world as simply “UGC”) is any type of content that is created for a brand by its fans—and then often promoted on social media platforms.

In other words, it’s a win-win for all parties involved. The brand gets free content and promotion, while the users get their content promoted (by the brand) and oftentimes the chance of receiving an award at the end.

Plus, consumers trust peer recommendations more than any other type of advertising, so your audience is more likely to trust your brand if the content is user-generated.

But it’s not always as easy as it seems. Carrying out a successful UGC campaign requires a thorough understanding of your audience and a well thought-out strategy.

Stumped on ideas? To get your creative juices flowing, I’ve compiled a list of five UGC campaigns that killed it, each of which relied on a unique strategy to drive success.

1. Starbucks: White Cup Contest

As one of the largest coffee chains in the world, it’s no surprise that Starbucks knows how to launch a good campaign.

In April 2014, Starbucks turned to their fans to get their next cup design, asking customers to draw on Starbucks cups, take pictures of the cups, and then post those pictures to social media with the hashtag #WhiteCupContest. The winning entry would become a limited edition Starbucks cup.

Result: Nearly 4,000 submissions in the first three weeks. And the 21-year old woman who ended up winning the contest says that she now has her own business with nearly 27,000 followers (as of August 7, 2015).

Key Takeaway: Find a way to make a profit from user-generated content, by turning it into something that you can sell or repurpose at the end of the campaign.

2. National Geographic: Wanderlust Contest

In June of 2015, National Geographic began their “Wanderlust Contest,” which encouraged users to post photos with the #WanderlustContest hashtag, for the chance to win a National Geographic photo expedition to Yosemite National Park.

The photos were (and still are) featured on their website, available in slideshow format. Upon clicking on the photo, viewers can not only like, comment on or share the photo, but they can also say what they like about it. Beneath the photo caption and description is the question: “What makes this photo great?” And visitors can click on one or all of the following: Composition, Lighting, Creativity, Story.

Result: The #WanderlustContest hashtag generates a whopping 57,705 posts to date.

Key Takeaway: Don’t limit UGC to just social media. Expand to other platforms. Capitalize on the fact that visitors will spend 90% more time on a website if that site has UGC content, and use your site as another platform to showcase the work of your users.

3. Loews Hotels: Travel For Real

In 2015, Loews Hotels had the brilliant idea to launch a campaign (which is still going on) that completely defied the norm. With their caption, “Because nobody tells our story better than you,” Loews Hotels created a campaign that encouraged its guests to share their experiences at Loews Hotels using the hashtag #TravelForReal. The resulting photos were then used not only for Loews’ social media, but for their website and even their print advertising, as well.

All images used were original, with no retouching whatsoever. Photos include everything from the Loews Hollywood hotel at sunset to a table with a bottle of champagne and the words spelled out, “Will you marry me?”

With the snap of a photo and the use of one hashtag, Loews’ guests became the models for the luxury hotel’s multi-platform advertising. The goal was to get authentic content and to show what it is really like to stay at Loews Hotels.

As the chief creative officer in charge of the campaign, Doug Spitzer, explains, “anyone considering staying at Loews can be sure that what they are seeing is real, not the creation of a talented pro. There are no tricks, wide angle, Photoshopped shots—like people rightfully complain about on social media. ‘Travel for Real’ is the real deal, through the eyes, and lenses, of our guests who loved the time they had at Loews.”

Result: The campaign was wildly successful, having received over 35,000 images as of June 25, 2015.

Key Takeaway: Who do you think that most people can relate to more: A model or a real-life person? Based on the success of this campaign, I’m going to go with the latter.

However you do it, find a way to relate to people. The more authentic and relatable you are, the more people will be able to identify with your brand and therefore the more valuable it will become to them.

4. Marc Jacobs: Cast Me Marc

In 2014, Marc Jacobs announced that they were casting models in an unconventional way. Rather than going through a modeling agency, they decided to cast their models via an ad campaign on Twitter and Instagram. Anyone who wanted to be considered could submit photos with the hashtag #CastMeMarc.

Result: 15,000 photos were submitted for the campaign within 24 hours and 70,000 by the end of the contest. Plus, Marc Jacobs started a new trend. Since the campaign was launched, other brands, like Banana Republic, Barney’s, J Crew and Cole Haan, now use social media as a recruitment tool, as well.

The campaign was so successful that the “Cast Me Marc” campaign is now being used to recruit Marc Jacobs’ next beauty vlogger.

Who needs modeling agencies or job recruiters when you’ve got social media and user-generated content?

Key Takeaway: Pay attention to and take advantage of current trends (in this case, it was selfies on social media) as you create your UGC campaign. Don’t be afraid to do something in an unconventional way, even if it is different from what you’ve always done before.

5. Lay’s: Do Us a Flavor

In 2006, Lay’s was looking for new flavors for their chips. So who did they turn to? None other than their loyal fans. Lay’s asked people to submit ideas for a new chip flavor, with the winner to receive $1 million.

In 2012, they leveraged video to make the campaign even more interesting. They went to Twitter to find the most riveting tweets related to the brand and then came up with responses to those tweets through humorous video clips.

Result: Starting in 2012, social media and the use of video allowed the campaign to really take off. That year, they received 3.8 million suggestions and sales increased by 12%.

Key Takeaway: Start a conversation and engage with your audience. And get creative with how you do that. For instance, instead of responding to a Tweet with a Tweet, you could respond with a video, like Lay’s did.

So How Can YOU Create a Successful UGC Campaign?

Marketing is all about experimenting and taking the road not taken. Oftentimes, that’s where success lies. So when it comes to your UGC campaign, think outside the box. Defy convention. Go where no other brand has gone before. Don’t be afraid to take risks.

Take your campaign off of social media. Promote it on your website, and if it’s relevant, consider using the content in your digital and print advertising, as well.

And in order to increase engagement, reward your customers. In exchange for their content, offer them a prize that will provide some sort of value to them. For a larger reward, make sure that you are getting something in return, like content that you can repurpose in future marketing campaigns.

Think about how you can connect with your audience. Glorify them, and show them how much you appreciate them (and their content).

Once you do that, your brand will become one that people trust. And that, folks, is the key to success.