Wednesday, June 8th, 2016 | 8 min read
In 2006, Facebook was two years old, YouTube was still a novelty, and Snapchat was…well, if you were talking about Snapchat in 2006, you might’ve been from the future.
At the time, email was pretty much the only way to spark a viral online campaign. That’s why OfficeMax launched Elf Yourself, a program that let people star in their own silly, interactive holiday ecards. Ten years later, the program is still running and has collectively generated over half a billion shares.
Elf Yourself stands as one of the most impressive user-generated content (UGC) campaigns of the digital age. But imagine if it launched at a time when Facebook had over one billion users, Instagram had over 400 million users, Twitter had over 300 million users, and all of these platforms were available at your fingertips for free?
Thankfully for marketers, that time is now. And you could be taking advantage of those numbers.
With UGC campaigns, not only do brands hand over the baton to customers and say, “I want to hear what you think,” but they also provide opportunities for people to share their product experiences with the world. This can be incredibly beneficial to brands, considering 70% of consumers trust peer recommendations over professional written content. UGC campaigns are also cost-effective, since your customers are essentially generating tons of content on behalf of your company. All you have to do is get the message out there and let users know how to share their stories.
UGC strategies can be as simple as encouraging people to leave reviews on your website, like Airbnb does, or as complex as orchestrating a contest across several social networks. For instance, National Geographic’s Wanderlust contest invited users to “capture glimpses of the unforgettable people, places, and experiences that have impacted their lives” and share their images or videos on Instagram with the hashtag #WanderlustContest. Participants had a chance to win a trip to Yosemite National Park for a National Geographic Photo Expedition.
On top of those examples, here are three brilliant UGC campaigns marketers can learn from.
YouTube star and New York Times best-selling author Grace Helbig is creating a new novella this year. But unlike her previous books, she’s writing this one with her fans. And it’s all brought to you by AT&T.
Every Thursday on her YouTube channel, Helbig announces prompts for the next chapter of her book, Freak Week. Viewers have a few days to submit their chapters on Wattpad using the hashtag #WritingWithGrace. The winning chapter (and some fun honorable mentions) are announced in the following week’s video.
As a grand finale, Helbig and friends will do a live reading of the novella at this year’s VidCon. And, oh right, the branding! It’s all a part of AT&T’s Hello Lab initiative, in which the company partners with 10 social influencers to create unique content.
The campaign is just wrapping up, and by looking at the hashtag on Wattpad, you can see that over 500 people have submitted stories for the contest. While that may not seem like a lot, remember that these users aren’t just clicking a button to share a post. They’re taking hours out of their days to engage with this content and churn out their own creations. That’s a massive commitment for a consumer, and a big win for the brands involved: Helbig engages with her loyal fans; fans have a chance to contribute to a celebrity’s book; Wattpad signs new users and generates new stories; and AT&T is associated with a project that allows people to use their imagination and create amazing stories.
Less than a year after video-sharing app Vine burst onto the scene, Lowe’s found a way to create one of the most groundbreaking campaigns on the platform—and refresh its 70-year-old brand in the process.
The company used Vine’s six-second video format to share quick, stop-motion DIY tips and tricks for home improvement. For instance, you might want advice on using walnuts to remove scratches on wood or using a hairdryer to peel a stubborn sticker. While the videos were largely shared on Vine and Twitter, Lowe’s also created its own page on Pinterest (a haven for DIY enthusiasts) to showcase the designs.
In true UGC spirit, Lowe’s also invited consumers to share their own home improvement tips by tweeting with the hashtag #FanFixInSix. Select tips were used to create new, inspiring Vine videos for the campaign.
Hailed as a first-of-its-kind campaign, Fix in Six generated 15 million earned impressions, and it’s still going strong today. In fact, last year, Lowe’s targeted Manhattan consumers by placing some of these videos in its New York City window displays.
With Fix in Six, Lowe’s demonstrated how marketers can successfully experiment with new mediums and figure out how to tailor their content to unique platforms. By inviting users to contribute their own tips, the brand also ensures that its mission to help people is carried on from user to user.
In April 2014, Starbucks turned its iconic white cup into a blank canvas for customers to create their own art. Consumers were invited to doodle on their cups and submit their original designs on social media with the hashtag #WhiteCupContest. The winner, Brita Lynn Thompson, had her design printed on a limited edition Starbucks reusable plastic cup.
— Starbucks News (@Starbucksnews) June 19, 2014
Starbucks reaped the rewards of the contest, too. Through this UGC campaign, the brand generated 4,000 submissions in just three weeks. And since all submissions had to be posted on social media, Starbucks likely generated a significant amount of impressions. Given the grand prize, the company also drew attention to its sturdy, reusable cups, which are part of its initiative to promote sustainability. Most importantly, however, this contest was a way for Starbucks to tell customers that their visions, art, and voices are important, and that the brand is listening.
Before you start charting your strategy, it’s important to point out the risks of launching UGC campaigns. You’ll be handing over a megaphone to your customers and letting them say whatever they want. Sometimes this ends well; others, not so much. For instance, when SeaWorld launched its #AskSeaWorld Q&A on Twitter, animal rights activists took over the hashtag to fire questions like, “Why are your parking lots bigger than your Orca tanks?” The social media blunder coincided with a 40% drop in the company’s stock price.
Still, trying to control what your audience says is a poor idea. Customers will always demand to be heard, and they’ll point fingers at your brand for censoring them. The solution is to prepare for having an open conversation, and of course, ensure your product and experience is so high-quality that buyers won’t have anything bad to say!
The brands above did this brilliantly, and you can, too.