In the simplest of terms, user-generated content (UGC) is any content that is contributed by unpaid persons. It comes in the form of photos, videos, blog posts, tweets, interviews, etc.  The only difference between regular content marketing and UGC is the voice behind the content.  With UGC, it's typically the customer who's doing the advertising.  This is great for businesses who don't have a large marketing budget, or for anyone who's burnt out from trying to mass produce content on their own.

There's another major bonus to using UGC- consumers tend to respond more to their own voices than to businesses and paid marketing campaigns.  Think about it: who would you trust more, your neighbor touting the benefits of a product or an actor in a TV commercial who you know was paid to discuss how great something is?  According to Crowdtap, user-generated content is 35% more memorable and 50% more trusted than other types of media content.

According to, UGC is most successful when tied to the Internet, and especially to social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest.  These sites allow content to spread like wildfire, which is one of the keys to an effective UGC campaign.

A few of the best UGC campaigns

Coca-Cola's "Share a Coke" campaign is probably one of the most memorable UGC's out there.  Coke essentially printed people's names on their bottles and then passed them out in various cities, encouraging people to share "their Coke" photos on social media.  The campaign then blew up when people took it upon themselves to share meaningful stories, write messages, and otherwise connect using the personalized Coke bottles.  Coke was then able to enjoy a 2% increase in sales after years of suffering losses in revenue.

The athletic brand "Outdoor Voices" challenged its patrons to post photos of themselves wearing the brand's clothes while also participating in adventurous activities, like canoeing and mountain climbing.  This campaign is successful because it focuses on people, not just on a product being sold.  People like to post on social media, and they definitely like to share fun photos of themselves being adventurous, so it works!

The budgeting app "Mint" encouraged Instagram users to enter a contest called "My Mint Moment", asking them to post photos of how they were able to turn their financial goals and dreams into reality.  They offered a $1000 prize to the winner, and users were able to enter as many times as they wanted...generating a whole lot of UGC at no additional cost to the app!

Tools and strategies to drive UGC

All you have to do is search the Internet to find tons of examples of successful UGC campaigns.  But what makes them so effective?  There are a wide variety of tools and strategies you can use to help make UGC an effective marketing strategy for your small business.

Host a contest on social media

Consumers love to post to social media, especially photos, and developing a contest is just one way to encourage them to do so.  Offering some type of prize at the end is just the cherry on top.  As a bonus, you can also use a contest to help generate leads for your business.  Shortstack and Wishpond are two great examples of contest software you can use that allows you to create landing pages and widgets in order to expand your contest throughout multiple social media platforms.

Develop a catchy hashtag

Nothing spreads as quickly on social media as a catchy hashtag, so make sure to come up with one for your UGC campaign!  Chances are it will spread like wildfire, attracting more consumers to your campaign and generating tons of content for your business.  "MyMintMoment" uses great alliteration to remind users to tag Mint when posting to Instagram.  If you're struggling to come up with an engaging hashtag, Hashtagify is a great resource to use. 

Evaluate what type of content your users are already sharing organically.

Before you develop a UGC campaign, make sure you audit your consumers to see what they're already sharing.  This should give you a good starting-off point.  You can search by location or by hashtags.  Once you've done your research, make sure to include a strong call-to-action.  Your patrons need to know what exactly you want them to do.  Put CTAs in areas on your website or blog where your users are most likely to come in contact with your content.

Give your customers recognition on your website.

Post their photos, reviews, comments, and more on your site.  People love to be recognized and to feel like they're adding value to a brand.  They're much more likely to produce content if they can see what the end result is.  Not to mention, this will engage new customers which will in turn drive more UGC.  Fans want to be engaged in your brand, so open the door and give them the opportunity to do so.  You won't regret it.

The demand for content is only increasing, so give your business (and yourself) a break and let your customers generate content to help you reach your goals.  With the right campaign, you could have great results without having to spend hours glued to your computer.   What's not to like about that?