How to Use User-Generated Content In Your 2019 Comms PlansA few weeks ago, the wonderful (and crazy—you don’t have to work with her every day!) Laura Petrolino created the Communicator’s Ultimate User-Generated Content Guide–and I want to talk a bit about that today.

So what is user-generated content?

Simply, it’s content—from blog posts to Twitter conversations—that people who aren’t directly in your brand and business create.

People want to share stories and experiences with one another online.

Our job, if we’re doing it right, is to give them something good to talk about.

So let’s talk about goals.

The most important part of any communications plan is to have clear goals, and it’s especially important to get this right if you’re going to integrate a user-generated content campaign into your plan.

Before You Begin…

At every stage, when creating and executing your plan, here are some questions you need to answer:

  1. How will this campaign get you closer to the goals and objectives of your larger PR plan?
  2. What are the objectives of this individual campaign?
  3. How will you measure success?
  4. Is the user-generated campaign going to work in a consistent and cohesive manner with your other campaigns across all four media types?

If at any point the user-generated campaign you hope to execute doesn’t match your existing brand and strategies when you ask yourself these questions, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and tweak.

When designing a user-generated campaign, the goal is to keep it focused, strategic, and measurable.

Once you’ve spent a bit of time thinking about your goals, where do we start for real?

Getting Started

Well, where are the users?

They’re on social media…so social media is the best place to start.

If you hang out here often, you probably have a good sense of where your people are—and that’s where you’ll start.

The best thing about user-generated content campaigns is that there are limitless possibilities.

The worst thing about user-generated content campaigns is that there are limitless possibilities.

Just the sheer number of choices can often paralyze campaign designers.

That’s why you MUST anchor your campaigns in your goals.

So let’s start small—with calls for engagement.

You’ve probably participated in these kinds of campaigns before, maybe without realizing it, in the comments sections of Facebook posts or in the mentions of a Tweet.

They’re small asks, such as:

  • Share a photo of… and don’t forget to tag us or use this special hashtag!
  • Tag a friend you think needs to see this in the comments!
  • Create a silly or funny caption for this photo!

A Quick Note on Hashtags

A quick reminder about hashtags: when you’re designing these campaigns, don’t forget to plan your hashtags in advance.

You want something short, easy to remember, and not already being used for something else.  

A clear hashtag is important for legal reasons in the case of a contest or repurposing content.

They’ll also be crucial for measuring participation, reach, and engagement.

They will help people find your brand and your campaign.

They help you find your micro-influencers.

And they set the tone for your brand—this last detail is super important.

Your hashtag and your brand should be clearly linked in some way.

That way, when people see others post using the hashtag, they can connect it back to you with little difficulty.

Back to User-Generated Content

Now back to user-generated content.

To give you some perspective about what this looks like in practice, I reached out to the Spin Sucks Community thinks about user-generated comments for brands.

(See what I did there? Yep! I brought in user-generated content into this podcast!)

Paula Kiger had quite a few examples.

She said:

Rent the Runway comes to mind. When I was a Gwynnie Bee subscriber, I would wear the stuff and tag them. They’d pick up those types of things and run them on their own social accounts.

She also said Prana and Disney come to mind.

Of course, Disney gets major user-generated content from all of us.

It’s a small world, after all.

And the aforementioned crazy Laura Petrolino said:

Sephora does an AWESOME job at user-generated content.

And, when speaking about Instagram Stories, she said:

I see (and participate with) a lot of brands who do this well on IG. Especially now with IG stories and being able to reshare stories you are tagged in. What happens is a really nice self-fueling cycle. User posts story about brand product and tags brand. Brand reshares. User loves ego boost of having a bigger brand reshare and continues to post more and more. Other users benefit from re-life user feedback and use brand, and start to post.  Rinse, repeat.

User-Generated Content Comes from Relationships

In its purest form, user-generated content campaigns are about building a conversation.

Simple, right? Too simple?

Don’t worry, we have many more examples, some of them much more involved than others.

Some other user-generated campaigns can look like:

  • Choosing a customer each month to do a “day in the life” video or interview, focused on how they use your product or service in their daily life, both in expected and unexpected ways.
  • Video testimonials submissions.
  • Asking your audience to create jingles for your brand, a strategy employed by SafeAuto insurance.
  • An invitation to join a customer-only LinkedIn or Facebook Group or online forum (hosted on a website or through various applications such as Slack or Discord);
  • Ask your customers to submit photos or videos of them interacting with your brand or product in some way, such as the famous GoPro videos.
  • And one of my favorites, a remix on the calls for engagement in the comments of a post… Create a community “Question of the Week” posted on your most popular social network. Then, once the conversations ebbs a little, you can then turn the answers into a blog post and start the discussion on your website all over again.

Are you getting excited yet?

I find that this one of the great parts of user-generated content campaigns — they really tap into the creativity of the internet, and that kind of energy is infectious.

Don’t Ignore the Micro-Influencers

When you try out these calls for engagement, pay very close attention to who is participating.

Note who engages with you most and in a way that seems to capture your message and resonate with other users.

You’ll want to remember those people: they’re your micro-influencers, and eventually as you refine your user-generated content campaign strategies, you’re going to nurture them further.

While not Kardashian, a micro-influencer holds credibility and trust with your target audience.

When these micro-influencers participate in your user-generated content campaigns, they’re providing an implied endorsement of your brand.   

This means that if you want your campaigns to be successful, you need to keep micro-influencers happy and on your side.

The goal here is to build a deeper relationship with them than with the average person in your audience.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to reach out to them personally to thank them or offer them something special for their participation.

You should engage with their posts, not only the ones that they post about your brand.

And you should ask their permission to reshare something they’ve posted about you.

Or the Paid Influencers

Christopher S. Penn has participated in user-generated content as a paid influencer.

He said the experience has been excellent.

I’ve had a handler, clear guidelines, disclosure rules, and generally speaking, the content I’ve been asked to create is relevant to our audiences. In return, not only do we participate in sharing and amplifying, but we have formal monthly reporting requirements. I send a 25 page slide deck every month to my client.

Feeling nervous yet?

The thing to remember here is that your brand is already being talked about.

People are social creatures, and they want to be involved with the organizations they do business with.

Through reviews, feedback, discussion, it is is a mistake not to capture the buzz and energy being generated by users.

It does mean that consumers and their surrounding communities are going to become part of your organization, your brand, and your message.

But that’s OK!

It’s going to happen, whether or not you’re there to actively facilitate the conversation.

So don’t be passive.

Get on the offensive, embrace the community and your micro-influencers, and start working with the ‘new members’ of your team!

And now it’s your turn.

What do you think the BEST user-generated content campaign would be? Which brands would you participate for? What would you want in return?

Join us in the free Spin Sucks community or comment below to share your answer!

If you’d like more information on user-generated content, listen to this week’s Spin Sucks podcast episode!

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich