Laura Petrolino

How to Create Successful User-Generated Content Campaigns

By: Laura Petrolino | November 13, 2017 | 

How to Create Successful User-Generated Content CampaignsUser-generated content campaigns are happening all around you. Every single day. Every single second.

Many forms of user-generated content are so much a part of our daily existence; we don’t even really acknowledge them as UGC examples anymore.

For example:

But Wait….There’s More…

No doubt creating user-generated content is a way of life for many of us. It’s both a habit and a responsibility in our daily lives.

As well as the daily lives of a large portion of the world’s population.

About 40 percent of the global population uses social media.

Which is an incredible statistic itself, but becomes mind-boggling when you realize those numbers break down to show there are 3.028 billion active social media users in the world and only 3.819 people with internet access.

Take a minute and think about that while you look at this break down of users and activities from a recent collaborative report done by HootSuite and We Are Social and published by Next Web.

Mind. Blown.


Now pick up the pieces of your exploding brain and let’s look at how we can leverage all these fabulously interactive consumers.

Consumers who use social media and are already talking about our brand and those of our competitors.

Let’s look at how to create successful user-generated campaigns for your organization.

  • Today we talk about how to set the playing field, create your campaign, and find micro-influencers.
  • Next week we review how to execute it with the PESO model and what to measure.
  • Week three we dig into the fun stuff: legal and technical issues. Woo hoo!

Let’s Talk About Goals, Baby

Salt-N-Pepper want to help make sure you don’t fall victim to one of the biggest mistakes marketers make when integrating a user-generated content campaign into their PR plan.

Not have clear goals and objectives for the campaign.

As with any other tactic, a user-generated content campaign must be part of PR strategy with clear goals and objectives.

So yay! You want to launch a user-generated content campaign. Great idea.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • How will this get you closer to the goals and objectives of your larger PR plan?
  • What are the objectives of this individual campaign?
  • How will you measure success?
  • Does this work in a consistent and cohesive manner with other campaigns you have in motion or planned across all four media types?

Your answers to these questions help you make sure your campaign is focused, strategic, and measurable.

They’ll also help you create a campaign which aligns with your brand voice and message.

If the user-generated content campaign you hope to execute doesn’t align when you apply these questions to it, you need to tweak.

Set the Stage for Your User-Generated Content Campaign

Your idea passed the PR plan smell test! Congrats!

Now it’s time to flesh out the details.

Shared media will a primary channel for your user-generated content campaign, so it’s a good place to start.

This is true even if you decide to host it on an owned property and have people submit content to a website or blog.

So the first question is, what social platforms should be part of your user-generated content campaign?

While some campaigns can certainly be pushed across all networks, if you are just starting out with user-generated content and/or don’t have a huge budget and comms staff to execute, you want to focus your power on the social network that will be most effective.

Take a look at your Google Analytics and see what social network refers the most engaged traffic to your site.

This is important.

You don’t just want a network that refers a lot of traffic, you want to see engaged traffic.

So they should be staying on your site for long enough to read articles and visiting a few pages.

That network should be where you host or focus the distribution of your user-generated content campaign.

Design Your Campaign

Here is where we go back to goals and objectives. These will help you design how our campaign works.

The great thing about user-generated content campaigns is they can take endless forms.

The bad thing is they can take endless forms.

You MUST anchor your campaign design around your goals and objectives.

UGC Examples Everywhere

Remember, user-generated content doesn’t have to be a full-scale brand ambassador program.

It can be simple, small, “calls for engagement.”

User-generated content marketing can be performed across multiple digital platforms in a variety of different ways.

Some examples might include:

  • Video or photo of them interacting with your brand or product in some way, such as this awesome bed-jumping campaign by, or of course the famous GoPro videos.
  • Video or photo about a related topic or theme for your brand, like this example from The Guardian.
  • Choose a customer each month to do a “day in a life” video or interview, focused on how they use your product/service in their daily life (both in expected and unexpected ways).
  • Video testimonial.
  • Video jingle they create about your brand, such as SafeAuto Insurance.
  • Twitter contests, such as The Qatar Air Tweet-a-Meet.
  • A post-sale/visit survey or feedback form.
  • An email thank you with a link to your active review sites (Yelp, Amazon, Google). This may or may not include an incentive to do so.
  • An invitation to join a customer-only LinkedIn or Facebook Group, Twitter Chat, or online forum.
  • A community “Question of the Week” posted on your most popular social network.
  • (Extra credit: turn the answers into a blog post at the end of the week and start the discussion on your own website all over again.)

You can find more good UGC examples here, here, here, or here. Or just watch and learn from some of your favorite brands.

Prep the Playing Field

Before you launch into a large scale energy and resource demanding UGC campaign, you need to do some smaller tests.

This will help you get a feel for what type of content people most enjoy sharing and engaging with, as well as help you identify micro-influencers to further nurture (more on that later).

Start with small asks:

  • Share a photo of…. and tag your brand hand
  • Tag a friend that needs……
  • Caption this…

After each, you need to measure participation and engagement.

You’ll start to see trends you can use in the development of your larger campaign.

You also want to start noting who engages with you most and in a way that seems to both capture your message and resonate with other users.

How to Find Micro-Influencers

These people are your micro-influencers.

A large amount of the value from user-generated content comes from the power of micro-influencers.

Once you design your user-generated content campaign you need to look for and nurture your micro-influencers.

Micro-influencers are influencers for your brand, who may not have large followings or be big names.

What they do have is more important.

They hold credibility and trust among your target audience.

These could be your target consumer’s peers, friends, or simply influencers they’ve met and trust in the space.

When they participate in your user-generated content campaign or engage with your content, they also provide an implied (or sometimes direct) endorsement of your brand.

For your campaign to be successful, you need them on your side.

Active and engaged.

A goal for each of your tests and campaigns should be to identify micro-influencers.

Engage and Nurture Micro-Influencers

Once you do you want to continue to engage with them in larger and large ways.

Move them through your funnel.

  • Think about retargeting them with a special offer or opportunity
  • Reach out to them personally to thank them and/or offer them something special
  • Engage with their posts (not just the ones about your brand)
  • Reshare (with permission) something they’ve posted about you

The goal is to continue to build a deeper relationship with them.

Choose the Right Hashtag

While types of campaigns might vary, one thing that remains consistent across all user-generated content campaigns is the use of a hashtag.

A hashtag is important for:

  • Legal reasons, especially in the case of a contest or repurposing content.
  • Measurement
  • Threading together a story
  • Helping people find you and your campaign
  • Helping you find micro-influencers
  • Campaign continuity
  • Campaign branding

I go into a lot of details on dos and don’ts of hashtag marketing <— here.

One thing you want to make certain is your chosen hashtag clearly identifies your brand in some way.

That way when people see others post the hashtag on a posted piece of user-generated content, they can connect it back to you with little difficulty.

User-Generated Content is Already Part of Your Business

Feeling nervous?

User-generated content takes a special role in every business operating today.

No matter if your organization intentionally operates as a “social business” or not, user-generated content will affect you substantially.

Whether through reviews, feedback, collaboration, discussion, or one of a million other creative user-generated content ideas, it is a mistake not to use user-generated content as part of your PR plan

This means your consumers and surrounding community ARE going to be a part of your organization (and the message you distribute). It doesn’t matter whether you actively facilitate it or not.

Like most things in communications, the best choice is to be on the offensive side of the coin and embrace and employ these new “team members.”

The Puppy in the Room

When you raise a puppy (or child, but I only have experience with puppies) you quickly realize if you don’t give the adorable little monsters something to keep them busy (thank you peanut butter-filled KONGs), they will find something… and often it is not what you might have chosen, or approve (such as a head of cauliflower or Kenneth Cole shoes).

Customers are like puppies.

They want to be active and involved with the organizations they do business with and purchase from.

If you don’t give them a way to direct this engaged energy, they will find a way. A way which may or may not be beneficial for your goals.

Give that customer a KONG.

User-generated Content IS Right for Your Organization

There are endless ways, big and small, simple and more elaborate for every brand to embrace the power of user-generated content.

Next week we will dive into the details of campaign execution using the PESO model.

So don’t feel stressed if you aren’t confident about how to execute your campaign yet.

For this week, focus on the steps above and post your questions below or in our Slack Group.

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

  • I’m VERY afraid of your video that’s coming out later. LOL It’s amazing how simple i t is to get customers involved, eh? Funny how we tend to ‘shy away from simple’, somehow thinking that BIG and COMPLICATED equals BETTER and MORE EFFECTIVE!! No so at all. Great post, LP! #stillworriedaboutvideo

  • EmilyNKantner

    Now I’m picturing what kind of puppy each customer would be…

  • And was this sleep with or without the air mattress?

    We did a little of this with some of our customers and it was very simple and very well received. Unfortunately, our IT guy was the creative one and he’s no longer with us and I’m much too lazy to pull this off. In fact, I was somewhat challenged helping you with the video but after 27 takes I was able to pull it off. It was fun and thanks for asking me to play because I’m all about the fun….

  • bdorman264 The Florida Crazies were STRONG in that video! 🙂

  • belllindsay #EmbraceTheVideo

  • Great post, Laura (and packs a double punch when paired with the “famous” video!!). As a consumer, I am all about creating user generated content, as you said — with or without guidance/requests from the vendor. Since I work with a lot of causes that have limited budget and limited staff resources, the main thing I will say I want when being asked to create UGC is to make it easy — give me bullet points, be clear about what hashtag you want me to use as well as timelines — it’s frustrating to create something just to learn the target time has passed or the submission window – even if it is a 15 second video it’s still my time and heart (and, of course, flowing green ink 🙂 ).

  • DickCarlson

    I tried the “writing things down on paper while sleeping” thing with the same result.  So I put my little digital voice recorder on the nightstand.  Had a great idea, recorded the whole thing, and it was just “blah blah blah” and made absolutely no sense at all.

  • and just as a side comment … are “side notes” gone? (b/c this post was kind of begging for some parenthetical commentary) 🙂

  • Laura Petrolino

    nine out of ten gorillas give this post two thumbs up!

  • Laura Petrolino

    nine out of ten gorillas give this post two thumbs up!

  • while swing dancing!

  • I remember my first editing, and then later, my first publishing positions were at small town weeklies.

    At those papers, we’d print maybe 36-40 pages a week, perhaps more. Of those pages, maybe 6 or 8 were generated by staff – reporters, sports reporters, etc. Everything else was generated by the readers (users).

    It worked for a simple reason: People just like you and me are relaying information that we might be interested in. Amazingly simple and amazingly effective, but so many marketers today are making it far more complicated than it need be.

  • biggreenpen @laurapetrolino I noticed that, too!

  • This is making my head swirl with ideas…note to self – puppies, engagement & SpinKONG! 😉

  • Who the (insert Spin Sucks approved word here) is the 10th gorilla? 😉

  • lizreusswig HAHAHAHA! OMG! SpinKONG! We really should see about a KONG sponsorship for this!

  • ClayMorgan That is such a fantastic example of UGC in action (that people probably don’t think of)

  • biggreenpen That’s a really good point. Make it easy for both sides of the equation!

  • LauraPetrolino lizreusswig I can think of some awesome spokesDOG candidates…

  • lizreusswig biggreenpen it looks like they’ve been gone all week. belllindsay is that on our end or LiveFyre?

  • biggreenpen bdorman264 Too bad @LauraPetrolino bailed on us, be we did have to represent, right?

  • LauraPetrolino lizreusswig biggreenpen belllindsay FINALLY something that is not an IE9 issue (not that I have those anymore, I just need to trot out the old joke occasionally) 😉

  • biggreenpen bdorman264 I can totally teach you how to do the video montage thing if you are interested Bill! It’s super easy with iMovie! What did you have your customers contribute? I think this is a great example that ANY industry can take advantage of UGC. 

    And thank you for being a star! I hope the paparazzi aren’t too pesky for you!

  • bdorman264 biggreenpen YEAH … it’s a heavier load to bear without her but we are managing #SIGH

  • bdorman264 biggreenpen I’ll come back and visit this winter and we can do a Florida reunion video. We need to get AmyMccTobin in on it too!

  • biggreenpen bdorman264 HAHAHAHA! Soooo melodramatic…I like it! 🙂

  • EmilyNKantner HAHAHAHA! I love it Emily! That’s actually a good idea. It’s like the canine version of buyer personas!

  • belllindsay Don’t fear your stardom Lindsay! It was bound to happen eventually.

  • LauraPetrolino bdorman264 biggreenpen AmyMccTobin I am the DIRECTOR!!!!

  • AmyMccTobin LauraPetrolino bdorman264 biggreenpen AmyMccTobin Exactly! We are nothing without you!

  • LauraPetrolino lizreusswig biggreenpen That’s our end, yes. 🙂

  • LauraPetrolino AmyMccTobin bdorman264 biggreenpen AmyMccTobin DO. NOT. TEASE. ME. about the Florida reunion. At Legoland, right?

  • JoshuaJLight

    You should post all of the comments 🙂

  • patmrhoads

    Am I the only one that read the line “Give that customer a LONG”, and pictured people in business attire curled on the floor holding a kong and trying to lick peanut butter (the kong filling of choice in our house) out of it? Yes, that’s just my weird brain. Hmm, figures.

    On a more serious note, I myself use the “Question of the week” on my nonprofit’s Facebook page, and have had some great success with that. The challenge with that one is finding an engaging, and predominantly relevant question or topic to ask about every week of the year. We throw in a few non-related questions now and the to keep it fun, but I feel like I need to keep the conversations more or less focused on the reason people engage with our page to begin with (it’s a nonprofit in the foster care and adoption field). Anyone have any additional thoughts or ideas on how to keep the content fresh and relevant? I will say that we have occasionally thrown in a “what would you like to see asked here?”, basically using UGC to help us generate UGC.

  • patmrhoads UGC on UGC on UGC, I like it!

    When we’ve utilized the Question of the Week technique before, a few things help:

    -Get your team together and spend 30 minutes just brainstorming questions. Often the collaboration of hearing other people’s thoughts is really effective.
    -Think about what are common questions, concerns, myths that come up in the adoption and foster care field. 
    -What surprises most people? What don’t they expect?
    -What are some of the most difficult things to deal with?
    -What are “day in the life” questions that your community might have, or want to share?
    -What are the issues where your community need the most support, both emotional and educational. 
    -How about parenting questions, specifically questions that foster parents could only get from other’s that have gone through it?
    -What have you learned from being in this field?
    -Why questions? What motivates you? Why did you decide this? Why are you feeling this way? Why do you struggle with this? 

    Stuff like that….

    Also, don’t be afraid to ask the same question worded differently. Sometimes choosing different framing can provide a whole wealth of new answers.

  • JoshuaJLight I should! I’ll go back and find it and post them up. Some of them were totally awesome and clever.

  • You might want to re-read your blog post. I may have taken some editorial liberties.

  • patmrhoads LMAO!!

  • LauraPetrolino JoshuaJLight NO!

  • DickCarlson You can write while you sleep??

  • bdorman264 Bwahahaha!

  • ginidietrich oh dear…..reading now!

  • ginidietrich HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! OMG! I’m totally dying! #firstworldcauliflowerproblems! 

    Man, my dog is such a special chap! It’s still just disgustingly mind-boggling why he is so obsessed with cruciferous vegetables!!!

  • patmrhoads

    Of course, NOW I notice that I typo-ed LONG where it’s supposed to say KONG. Duh.

  • patmrhoads HAHA! Well, since you are a Peanut Butter KONG household we will let it slide, since obviously you have shown your exceptional intelligence in other ways 😉

  • patmrhoads

    LauraPetrolino I’ve used some of those ideas before, but some of them I hadn’t thought of. So a big thanks for the additional food for thought!

  • LauraPetrolino We insure a couple of local ‘attractions,’ Historic Bok Sanctuary & Tower and Fantasy of Flight and it was more of a behind the scenes loss control visit but got some great shots and put it into a video. Once the customer saw it, they loved it and let us publish it on our networks. 

    The Tower is not open to the public and not many get to go inside and we had some shots of that and the view from the top. 

    If you look at Our Video page, one of the YouTube’s is of the Tower:

  • JoshuaJLight

    ginidietrich LauraPetrolino JoshuaJLight haha.  Looks like I’m causing all kinds of problems 🙂

  • LauraPetrolino LOL!!

  • These are great ideas!! Peanut butter kongs soothe the not-so-savage beast. I also write things down on paper next to my bed in the middle of the night.

  • Gini Dietrich

    Oh dear.

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  • paulakiger

    I love how this post has been up for six minutes and has 51 comments already. #OnFire LOL

    • My awesome can’t be stopped (I also drastically gave this post from three years ago a facelift. Like a Michael Jackson level facelift)

      • paulakiger

        UGC is so in this year.

  • There are oftentimes I wish we had a flashy product so people would be all gung ho about taking photos for us. Alas.

  • Yes, yes, yes to UGC!

  • Very nice and informative post. Thanks for sharing.