User Generated Content Best Practices

We review USG best practices and how adding USG to your social media strategy can lead to more followers and engagement. 

What if we told you we knew the secret to growing your social media following and finding amazing photos at no cost? Meet our friend User Generated Content or UGC for short.

By now you probably know that the best social media strategies engage users 80% of the time with content that informs, entertains and interacts. A great way to fill your social media calendar with posts that foster conversation and meaningful interaction is by leveraging UGC.

Sounds promising, but what is it? UGC is content created by your fans and followers that you share and repost on your own social media channels.

For example, do you remember those Facebook videos of people dumping buckets of ice water on their heads? In 2014, the ALS Foundation launched one of the most successful UGC campaigns to bring greater awareness to their organization. They simply asked followers to share a video of themselves accepting the #IceBucketChallenge and challenge friends and family by tagging them in the post. The campaign went viral, earning $100 million in donations and millions of new donors.

Another example of a successful UGC campaign is REI’s Instagram. All of their posts show real people living life outdoors, and the majority of them are from REI followers. Filling their feed with UGC gives the outdoor company the authenticity that people crave (85% of consumers believe user-content is more influential than branded). REI has built a community that’s 1.9 million strong by connecting with and celebrating their fans.

By now you’re probably thinking…user generated content sounds great, but how do I apply it to my company’s social media strategy? Let’s dive into how you can successfully execute this. First, you need to ask the question…


  Is user generated content right for my brand?  

UGC works best for brands that sell products, services and/or experiences that people would want to share on their social media accounts. If sharing UGC feels forced for your brand, then there are plenty of other social strategies you can pursue to interact with your followers. Examples include: polling, responding to comments, collecting opinions, asking for feedback, etc. The key here is to make sure the content you share is truly authentic and fits with your brand’s values.


If you feel like UGC is a good fit, here’s how to get started:

  How to create a library of user generated content  

Building a library of user content can take time and persistence, especially if you haven’t shown a lot of love to your social community. That said, collecting UGC isn’t rocket science, and you don’t have to have 87.3 million followers like National Geographic.

  1. Search for yourself

If people are wearing a brand while doing an activity, 99% of the time they will include a brand-related hashtag in their post about it. Take this inspiring Instagram post from @skuzmic20, who used not one, but four Nike-related hashtags. (Three points if you can name them all.) Hashtags are a great way to find UGC. Instagram and Twitter are hashtag heavy channels, so use their search bars to explore hashtags related to your brand and the people using them.

  1. Location, location, location

Because the world isn’t already suffering enough from FOMO and YOLO, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook allow users to tag their location in a post. This is another great tool for finding UGC. Just look below at all those delicious posts with pictures that were taken at Suarez Bakery on Park Road in Charlotte. All that sweet, chocolatey UGC. (Maybe we should just forget this blog and all head over there now?)

  1. Shared values

If you’ve found very little user generated content after searching hashtags and locations, don’t throw in the towel. Use it to dab the sweat from your brow, and then fashion it into some pom-poms, because it’s time to start cheerleading your fans. Get them excited to share their stories by rallying them around a shared cause.

For example, Aerie aggregated hundreds of thousands of photo submissions after inviting fans to celebrate body-positivity with their #AerieReal social media campaign. People also like sharing the simple joys, like Starbucks’ #MacchiatoMondays. Whichever campaign angle you take, make it easy for users to participate by creating a unique, brand-relevant hashtag.

  1. Sweeten the Deal

We know from experience that right contest or challenge can also generate UGC. In 2016, we used a challenge to help the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon generate buzz for the rebranded race and build a team of brand ambassadors.

To kickoff the application for the ambassador program, we posed the following question on the Charlotte Marathon’s social media accounts: “How will you make the Charlotte Marathon your own?” and challenged interested runners to post a selfie with their answers. There were an overwhelming number of responses, and…drum roll please… the campaign was used again (and grew!) in 2017 and 2018.


  Best practices for user generated content  

There are a few UGC best practices you want to follow before adding it to your social media strategy.

First, always ask permission before sharing someone else’s content. You can do this with a comment like, “We love this photo. With your permission, we’d like to share it with our followers. If you agree, please reply with ‘Yes!’” Giving the user credit for their photo is a nice touch and also lets your other followers know you’re looking for UGC.

If you ask fans to share their content with you, don’t leave them hanging! You should like and comment on their posts to let followers know you’re really listening, even if you decide not to share their content on your feed. This isn’t speed dating. You want to set long-term relationship goals with your fans to earn their engagement and UGC.

Finally, only select UGC that supports your social media strategy. If you’ve been mentioned in a photo that doesn’t match your brand identity, simply thank the user for being a loyal customer and for sharing their positive experience.


  Adding UGC to Your Social Media Strategy  

Now you know all the UGC best practices and how to make it work within your social media strategy. Want to keep the conversation going? We love social media and want to talk more about how we can help your strategy. Drop us a line!

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