You want your marketing to be as effective as possible, don’t you?

Of course you do.

And the best way to connect with your target customers is by crafting your message in their language.

The problem is, businesses aren’t very good at it! But do you know who is?

That’s right – the customers themselves!

They can come up with better messaging than a team of seasoned experts with 200 years of marketing experience combined – just because they are the target market.

Now, what if you could harness this superpower and use it to promote your product or service? Thanks to a little something called “user-generated content,” you can!

And that’s exactly what today’s post is about. But first, let’s clear something up… what’s this “user-generated content” we are talking about?

What exactly IS user-generated content?

At the risk of playing Captain Obvious, here’s our definition: user-generated content is anything your customers create about your brand, your product, or your service.

It can take many, many forms:

  • Social media posts
  • Stories of customer experience
  • Reviews of your product or service
  • Contest submissions
  • Fan-made creative work of any kind

In short, anything a customer expresses about your brand in public, positive or negative, can qualify as user-generated content.

From a marketing standpoint, a hilarious conversation someone has with your company account on Twitter is just as valuable as an expensive advert you made to raise brand awareness – more so, in fact!

Both can be used to promote your business. But the former is authentic, spontaneous, and engaging. Thanks to those qualities, it can outperform anything you carefully engineered to impress… without even trying.

And that’s what makes user-generated content so powerful.

Do you think you could use some of that “secret sauce” in your marketing?

Well, you’re in luck! To benefit from user-generated content, you need just two components: a way to capture it when it shows up… and a way to encourage your customers to create it.

How to create a system for capturing user-generated content

Before you try and cultivate user-generated content intentionally, you want to eavesdrop on the conversation that’s already happening.

Customers are talking about your brand. As in, right now.

  • They interact with your support staff and share what they think about you.
  • They post about their experiences on social media.
  • They vent – or gush – about your product or service on forums.
  • They leave reviews on Amazon, Yelp, and other platforms.
  • They blog about their positive (and negative) experiences with your company.
  • They might even be inspired enough to make something creative about your brand: videos, comic strips, memes, fan art, remixes, you name it.

Without a way to capture all this content, you won’t even know that this conversation is taking place. So, to start with, you should put a system in place that solves this problem.

We recommend focusing on 3 main channels:

1. Your customer support

When a customer contacts your support team, they will often volunteer feedback, express an opinion, or bring up a concern. From time to time, this input will contain gems that you will definitely want to keep, and use to promote your business:

  • An unsolicited raving testimonial of your product or service.
  • A compelling exchange where a customer starts out grumpy and end up thrilled.
  • A message from a customer who chose your brand over a competitor.
  • Even something as simple as season’s greetings from a grateful customer.

Things like these things demonstrate the quality of the relationship your customers have with your business. They are much more powerful than something you create on purpose.

So, how do you capture user-generated content at customer support level? You need to do just two things right…

First, always encourage your customers to reach out to you. Keep your lines of communication open. That means no hiding behind “donotreply” email addresses, contact forms buried so deep on your that you have to go spelunking for them, or form-letter responses designed to make customers go away.

Second, train your customer support team to capture and gather any positive statements from customers. Anything good they have to say about your brand, your product or service, or something else related to your business, should be captured and catalogued for later.

2. Your social media presence

When customers need to speak out about something, positive or negative, they take to social media. If you’re lucky, they will engage your company account directly.

But if you’re unlucky, they will do it elsewhere: in communities, public conversations with friends and colleagues, on their own private page, and so on.

So stay on top of the social media conversation about your brand, you want to do – you guessed it! – two things.

Use social media monitoring tools. Monitoring software can be used not only to safeguard your reputation, but also to track down great examples of user-generated content.

If your customers talk about you on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms, you want to know about it. Luckily, there are literally dozens of tools available, and you can pick and choose whichever ones will work for you best.

Maintain a proactive presence on all channels that your customers use on a regular basis. According to J.D. Power, 67% of customers will use your company social media account to ask questions, give feedback, or bring up issues.

If you make a habit of engaging customers on those channels and responding to what they have to say, it increases the odds that they will include you in the conversation to begin with.

3. “Online chatter” about your brand

Just how awesome would it be if a customer wrote a love letter to your product or service – like this tutorial-slash-gushing review?

And how much more amazing would it be if you immediately found out about it, and reposted the review on your company blog – like what happened with the example above?

To capture user-generated content like that effectively, you want to go beyond direct interactions with customers and social media monitoring, and “cast your net” wider.

The easiest way to do that is by setting up a Google alert with the name of your company. Any time a new piece of content appears online that name-drops your brand, you will get an email about it.

It’s by far the simplest solution, and if you’re not using it, you should.

So, now that you have a system in place to monitor and capture user-generated content – how do you make sure that you have plenty of it to promote your brand?

We’re glad you asked!

Four simple ways to encourage user-generated content

Below, we’re going to look at 4 strategies to encourage your customers to send their content your way. We’ll also illustrate each strategy with a real-life example.

1. Run a contests or a giveaway

We have written before that giveaways and contests are an excellent tactic for growing your business. But they can also give you exciting marketing content to work with.

The “secret” to pulling it off is nothing special:

  • Incentivize your customers with awesome prizes – preferably the kind of prizes that only your ideal customers would want.
  • Give them specific instructions about what kind of content you’d like to see, and clearly explain the win conditions.
  • Brace yourself for a flood of user-generated content!

When it comes to this particular tactic, one of our favorite examples is the Messy Desk Contest by Shoeboxed. For starters, it was incredibly simple – to qualify for the contest, all their customers needed was a messy desk. And who doesn’t have one?

Next, the contest was also perfectly aligned with the Shoeboxed brand mission: helping business owners eliminate the hassle of accounting and receipt tracking.

And lastly, the nature of the contest was playful and inherently shareable, which resulted in a ton of entries, where people proudly showing off the abject nightmare of their messy workplaces!

2. Host a challenge

Unlike a giveaway or a contest, a challenge doesn’t have to feature any prizes or other incentives (although they help). What it needs to do, however, is push your customers towards something. It could be:

  • Overcoming a problem they are struggling with – like any popular fitness- or diet-based challenge.
  • Simply doing something unpleasant, hard, scary, or all of the above… but not too much. Think of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or the Mannequin Challenge – neither were particularly tough, but both were fun, and that’s why they went viral.

Challenges are also a great way to attract highly motivated, driven prospects to your business. People who are willing to push themselves towards a goal, investing time and energy in achieving it, will make great customers!

3. Partner with an influencer

Do you have a high-profile customer? They could be an artist, a celebrity, an athlete, an entrepreneur, or just a well-connected person with an engaged audience.

If they were to create content about your brand, it would have a ripple effect, engaging their followers and raising awareness about your product or service. Finding those influencers and partnering with them could provide you with user-generated content that packs an even bigger punch.

Here’s a great example we absolutely love: this collaboration campaign between Ace & Everett (they make socks) and Humza Deas (he takes amazing photographs of NYC).

Together with Humza, Ace & Everett invented a clever way to feature their product in his art – and his 185,000+ followers received the message! They made a conscious choice not to include any promotional links or calls to action with the photos, and the result was some of the most authentic, beautiful sock-based content you’ll ever see.

4. Just ask (duh!)

Finally, sometimes it’s enough just to give your customers something fun and interesting to do. Ask them to…

  • Post something specific on social media – like Lululemon’s #sweatlife campaign…
  • Share stories and opinions about your brand. For example, when a potential customer asks you a question on social media… and your current customers jump in to sing you praises…
  • Give a gift of your product to someone else and spread the word…

…and more.

Granted, this tactic isn’t always as effective as the other three. After all, there is no reward associated with it – and no constraints that would compel people to act.

But it can provide you with user-generated content without too much effort. And that’s what really counts!

You’re flush with user-generated content… now what?

So… you have set up a system to gather user-generated content. You have applied a few tactics to encourage your customers to create more of it. And now that you have some high-quality samples to work with – what do you do with them?

The answer is, “What don’t you do with them!” Here are just a few ways you could use the content created by your customers:

  • Add it to your blog posts and emails.
  • Use it in your advertising.
  • Combine and remix it to create brand-new content.

In short, you can apply user-generated content in exactly the same way as your “regular” marketing materials. But because it came from your customers, it will result in better ROI and stronger engagement with your target market. Enjoy!


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