Friday, June 17th, 2016 | 14 min read
In a world where 92 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations over advertising content, user-generated content (UGC) is playing a leading role in the evolution of marketing.
Given consumers’ desire for authenticity, there’s a reason UGC is catching on: 50 percent of millennials say that peer-created content is more memorable, compared to the 37 percent who say non-user generated content makes a more lasting impression.
Granted, there are examples across the web of large companies who enlist famous faces to boost their successful campaigns.
But with tighter budgets and less manpower, startups must rely in part on UGC, leaning on loyal followers and authentic content to attract attention and drive positive results. The social media channels of the four startups below resemble a community more than a marketing effort thanks to smart UGC strategies that center on follower interaction, eye-catching user images, hilarious content, and a growing base of ambassadors.
Freshly Picked, maker of leather moccasins for kids, knows its audience well. The company’s user-generated content focuses on what parents care about most: their kids.
On the company’s social media channels, you’ll find the hashtag #FPmccmemories paired with a customer’s favorite Freshly Picked memory and a photograph. Sure to tug at your heartstrings, the #FPmccmemories campaign reflects a sense of real connection between consumers.
Every mom can empathize with a parent who is trying to provide the best life for their kid. Once a potential customer relates to someone who is already using the product, they are more likely to purchase the item in the hopes that it will be a solution for their needs as well.
Freshly Picked wisely spotlights consumer stories that are relatable and sincere. The resulting feeling of solidarity between parents is a more effective tool than a conventional sales pitch that comes straight from the company.
Freshly Picked has tapped into the new pastime of choice for parents: uploading pictures of their babies. If a photo features a pair of Freshly Picked shoes, then users can attach the hashtag #foreverystep or submit their photos to be featured on the company’s website. Freshly Picked then links the actual product featured in the user-generated photo so that it can be purchased easily. This method saves money on traditional advertising costs, yes, but it also allows the shopper to imagine the young recipient of the product enjoying it.
Create camaraderie between consumers by sharing meaningful, relatable UGC that focuses more on the customer than the brand. Utilize a hashtag like Freshly Picked’s #FPmccmemories that enables the UGC to be shared, and is unique enough that it’s unlikely to get hijacked by unrelated posts.
If you haven’t heard of theSkimm, then it’s time to subscribe. The daily news email has 3.5 million daily readers and recently raised $8 million in series B funding led by 21st Century Fox.
Amusing headlines, witty news analysis, and a strong base known as Skimm’bassadors have helped the 4-year-old company thrive.
The Skimm’bassador program encourages Skimm users to promote the brand in exchange for benefits, creating a sense of community and providing incentives to get involved. Every potential Skimm’bassador has to sign up at least 10 people using a personalized link before they can be accepted to the program.
— Erica Kay Sweeney (@ericakays) April 21, 2016
The more people the representative signs up, the more swag and benefits they receive. Skimm’bassadors share images of themselves with the free products, friends subscribe using the personal link, and the cycle continues.
With only 80 representatives in the summer of 2014, the program has grown to more than 13,000 nationwide brand reps as of June 1. It’s not all tote bags and umbrellas—Skimm’bassadors enjoy direct contact with the company’s headquarters, the ability to provide feedback, first access to job listings, and the chance to be part of a community.
A photo posted by theSkimm (@theskimm) on
While the representatives spend most of their time promoting the product online, Skimm & Sip events unite the ambassadors in the real world. To promote its new app, Skimm Ahead, Skimm’bassadors gathered in cities across the country on launch day to celebrate.
— Chelsey Nelson (@chelseynelson) May 20, 2016
These images of Skimm’bassadors—from Houston to Seattle—connecting and celebrating while supporting a product they love is organic, authentic advertising for the newsletter.
The Skimm’bassador program demonstrates that when you dedicate time and resources to an ambassador program, you can reap great rewards. If the program continues to grow as it has over the past two years, theSkimm will be a force to reckon with thanks to its grassroots representatives.
Allow your ambassador program to become a part of your company by providing incentives that are more than material. Give your ambassadors a voice in the company, and they will become more invested and dedicated to promoting the brand that they feel a part of. Consider how to take your community offline through events that unite your followers in the real world and facilitate spontaneous content creation.
Friendly dog faces greet those who visit the social media channels of Seattle-based startup, Rover.
The company, which pairs people in need of pet sitting and in-home kennel services with local sitters, knows that its followers love dogs. What better way to deliver what people want while staying on brand than to feature images of actual Rover customers?
Rover’s UGC strategy is similar to theSkimm’s in that individuals with a connection to the brand produce the content. But instead of ambassadors, the AirBnB for dogs features photos of the four-legged clients snapped by sitters.
A photo posted by Rover (@roverdotcom) on
Scroll through Rover’s Instagram and you’ll notice the hashtag #roversitterpic accompanies images of canine customers playing and hanging out with their sitters. For traveling dog owners who may be worried about leaving their precious pup at home, Rover’s Instagram shows nothing but happy, healthy dogs enjoying their staycation.
A photo posted by Rover (@roverdotcom) on
Not only does Rover give followers what they want—cute photos of dogs—it also encourages potential clients to sign up for the service with the hope that their favorite canine will be featured online.
The #roversitterpic hashtag is also used by Rover sitters on Instagram and other platforms. By having a hashtag that anyone involved with Rover can use, the company makes it easy for potential customers to find brand-friendly images that promote the company’s services at minimal cost.
— Aubrey Lorraine (@inwardexplorer) May 16, 2016
It’s always good advertising to show a satisfied customer, especially if that customer is furry, four-legged, and lovable.
You may not be able to build an entire campaign around puppies, but you can easily highlight a main interest that unites your followers. Rover keeps it simple and on brand with good quality images of a likeable subject. Find a theme for your UGC campaign that is easy to photograph and appealing to your followers, and you’ll have top-notch content in no time.
Yik Yak hit the jackpot when it comes to funny online content. The app for college students to anonymously share news and gossip has evolved into a digital stand-up routine chock full of one-liners.
The app’s young users would rather commiserate or chuckle with fellow college students than see the typical company updates on social.
The company seems to realize this as the majority of Yik Yak’s social media features screenshots of amusing “yaks” from actual users.
“Can we count swimming in debt as cardio?” — The University of Manchester via regretfully
— Yik Yak (@YikYakApp) June 8, 2016
The company takes the user-generated content and repurposes it as social media fodder. Not only does this encourage non-users to download the app to read more hilarious observations and random musings, it also encourages users to write amusing yaks in the hopes of being featured.
Yik Yak gets in on the action by including captions that complement the jokes. A company with a sense of humor that doesn’t take itself too seriously is much more likeable, especially when its target audience is young.
A photo posted by Yik Yak (@yikyakapp) on
Because yaks have an upvote and downvote feature, the company can easily determine what content its users are enjoying.
Let your UGC do the legwork and share your followers’ content without adding unnecessarily long captions or commentary, if possible. This follower-focused approach will encourage users to write and share their own finished products with the hope of spotting their name on your company’s social media accounts. Your audience will enjoy seeing the original creations of fellow users, and you will produce quality UGC that demonstrates your products and capabilities. It’s a win-win situation.
In addition to the measures discussed above, newer companies with relatively small budgets can take some first steps towards inspiring UGC among their users.
First, focus on engaging and gaining followers. Promote your brand on social media with distinctive advertising and consider a giveaway that relies on UGC submissions. Employ a hashtag for sharing and make sure that you comment on posts where it appears and reshare when possible. Through consistent engagement and quality campaigns, you can slowly build up your own band of UGC creators.
Startups may have smaller budgets and fewer resources, but the four discussed above took these steps and have harnessed the trend of consumers trusting peers over professionals.
When loyal fans can produce intriguing and fun content, it’s a no-brainer to encourage UGC. Thanks to their focus on building a sense of community, these startups have established themselves as not just a brand, but also an authentic place for people with similar interests to connect.