How to draw user-generated content from your fans

Your audience can help share, spread and shape your message, but authenticity is paramount. Here’s how to elicit purposeful, personalized pieces.

How to get user-generated content

Your audience aren’t just content consumers—they are also crucial content creators for your communications strategy.

Not only can promotions and contests on social media help raise awareness about your organization, but they can offer a profoundly different kind of conversation from the usual one-way messaging from brands to their publics.

One campaign highlighting the opportunities offered by user-generated content comes from YouTube and Mustache, part of Cognizant Interactive. The campaign, called “You Are the Champions,” asked users worldwide to participate in in a group video set to some of Queen’s biggest hits. 

John Limotte, founder and CEO for Mustache, explains that the teams “all saw an opportunity to create something truly global and life affirming.” 

“Celebrating Queen’s enduring legacy across all walks of life, but also tapping into a new generation of fans that has discovered and embraced the band. As internet natives, Gen Z in particular represents this unique, exciting culture of creativity and self-expression that was perfect for this campaign, and perfect for a band like Queen.”

The campaign resulted in an array of videos, each with a different angle. Some shared dance moves; others focused on performance.

Limotte concedes that putting the disparate videos together was labor-intensive. 

“Execution was a process to be sure, with very different review criteria for each video,” he says. “For ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ where audio quality was paramount, we searched for both the very best vocal/instrumental performances, and the most unique, memorable talent (like the fella who plays the song with water glasses). For ‘A Kind of Magic,’ it was all about sourcing moments that flowed well into one another and showcased compelling visual artistry.” 

When deciding which user submission to highlight, it’s important to have an overall plan for your content and to set priorities when selecting snippets or clips to share on your channel.

Limotte says the team looked for “energy,” “diversity” and “people with outsized personality.”

Alternatives abound

If you don’t have great content like the catalog of Queen to work with, you can also get users to join the online conversation with a contest or challenge, a la the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Swisse Wellness, an Australian vitamin and wellness brand, looked to drive the conversation about its products in the U.S. with an ’80s-themed exercise challenge on Instagram.

Kacy Rivers, Swisse’s senior marketing manager for North America, says: “As Swisse Wellness continues to grow in the U.S., we’re constantly looking for new ways to build brand awareness and engage with our target audience. Our ’80s-themed exercise #30DayChallenge and sweepstakes, created in collaboration with our ambassador, Luke Milton, is inspired by our mission to help millions of people live healthier and happier.”

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THIS MONTH, join us for our #30DayChallenge — featuring celebrity fitness guru and @revengebody trainer, Luke Milton! All month long, we’ll be sharing fun fitness tips, daily giveaways, and other exciting, #campy content — including a chance to win our #GRANDPRIZE: a year's worth of Swisse products, a custom Swisse Wellness Prize Pack, and $500 towards the gym membership or fitness class of your choice! Ready to #FallIntoFitness with us? Here’s how to enter: TO ENTER: 1. Like this video. 💜 2. Follow @swisseusa and @milts1. 👣 3. Share videos of you crushing the #30DayChallenge daily workouts. 🏋️ 4. Tag a workout buddy! 👯 Giveaway winners will be announced daily — including our grand prize winner on October 31st, 2019. You must be 18 or older to enter. Entries are valid in the US only. All giveaways end at 11:59 pm EST on October 31st, 2019. Good luck — and be sure to follow us, as well as our tags #30DayChallenge and #FallIntoFitness to see if you’ve won!

A post shared by Swisse Wellness (@swisseusa) on

For Swisse, the target channel was Instagram instead of YouTube.

“We specifically picked Instagram as the main channel because of its visual and engaging nature,” says Rivers. It’s also where the brand’s audience already hangs out.

“Our most engaged audience is on Instagram today,” she continues. “It made sense to use this channel to host the #30DayChallenge, because we expected this audience to be excited about participating, and to be most likely to share the content with their personal social networks.”

Measurement matters

How do you know whether your efforts to engage with user-generated content are going according to plan?

Some of it is tangible, such as monitoring mentions, comments and impressions. However, some of what can define success is much more subjective. For the team at Mustache, it was crucial that the videos felt authentic to the Queen fanbase, and such authenticity is hard to put a number value on.

“Media attention is always nice and validating,” says Limotte, “and those early results have been great, which is certainly a testament to the power of fan-sourced content done well … but for me, the success barometer here is less tangible and metric driven. It’s more of an eye test.”

Another way of describing it, he says, is to call it “a vibe.” To know if you nailed the feel of the campaign, you have to ask the right questions. “Did we capture the spirit of the band and its fans, and did the content put some joy out into the world?” says Limotte. “That’s a much more personal and subjective matter, but I feel comfortable saying yes.”

Differing purposes

For Swisse, the campaign is much more about driving awareness and tying results to important business objectives.

“The #30DayChallenge campaign’s main goal is to build brand awareness and increase engagement on Swisse’s U.S. social channels,” explains Rivers. “While Swisse is a global brand and an established leader in the wellness space in other countries, our current North American team has only been building the brand in the U.S. since 2017.”

Swisse has worked with user-generated content before and used that experience to guide its current campaign.

“Last year in January we launched a Celebrate Life Every Day (#CLED) consumer promotion which encouraged people to kick off the new year with gusto,” says Rivers. “In return for sharing how they were committed to celebrating life in 2018, entrants earned a chance to win a weekend wellness retreat.”

She said the company learned how important positive messaging can be when taking on this kind of promotion.

“One of the key takeaways from our #CLED sweepstakes was simply seeing how many of our community members were willing to share their daily happiness journey with us,” she says. “From simple things like making sure they always woke to greet the sunrise or ending the day with a conversation with a loved one, or always finding time to do something kind for another person—it was truly inspiring to hear the little daily things our community members do to celebrate life every day.”

‘UGC is tough’

Though there are benefits to getting content from your audience, Limotte warns that getting buy-in from your community can be difficult.

“UGC is tough,” he says. “It’s easy (and justifiable) to be intimidated by an approach that relies on fan participation to sink or swim. Seemingly great ideas can be dead on arrival if they don’t strike a chord with the intended audience, and the worst sort of fan-sourced activation can feel grafted onto a brand or trending topic in a deeply artificial way.” 

With user-generated content, it is more important than ever to make sure you have an authentic message and voice. “The authenticity bar is higher on this sort of campaign than probably any other,” Limotte says.

Rivers says it’s crucial to know your audience inside and out.

“The biggest piece of advice we could give is to take the time to get to know your community,” she says. “We know that for the people in our community health and happiness isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. It’s why we’ve chosen to focus our Instagram challenge on daily achievements, not on quick fixes or instantaneous results.”

Limotte argues you should do whatever it takes to “get outside your own bubble.”

“Set aside the campaign goals, the client mandates, the data insights, etc., and boil it down,” he says. “Does this feel true and fun and real? Would someone participate, incentive-free? Would you? Would your friends? UGC is a powerful marketing tool, but one that should be wielded selectively.” 

He concludes: “If the answer is ‘no’ to any of the above, don’t do it.”

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