Have you ever considered handing over the job of content marketing to your customers? Believe it or not, we think you should.

Obviously, you shouldn’t fire your whole marketing team and crowdsource your entire content strategy. However, the occasional user-generated content marketing campaign allows participants to create their own corner in your brand strategy, often with highly desirable results for participants and companies alike.

But Wait – Does Anyone Actually Participate in These Campaigns?

Some marketing commentators claim user-generated content marketing is “dead.” In their view, audiences can’t be prevailed upon to create videos, images, or other materials, simply to hand them over to a company for its own use in a marketing campaign. The content participants submit (according to these marketing commentators) isn’t worth using anyway – so why bother?

These opinions are often based on a faulty premise, which is that the companies carrying out the campaigns went about it in a manner conducive to favorable results. While user-generated content campaigns have the potential to become extremely successful, those implementing them must understand what motivates people to participate, such as:

  • Incentive. Audiences are happy to expend some effort, as long as the potential rewards are compelling. A free t-shirt or $20 gift card is not going to cut it. An all-expenses-paid vacation, a chance to appear on television, or a year’s supply of your product might.
  • Inspiration. We get it. Not every company has a “cool” or “sexy” product, and it can be difficult to imagine how your own content could make it seem that way – much less someone else’s! However, user-generated content campaigns don’t have to focus directly on ball bearings manufacturing or HVAC servicing. Instead, think of a concept, like “relaxation” or “innovation,” and let participants run with it.
  • Visibility. Although high-value prizes are an attractive component of user-generated content campaigns, participants also want to know their creations will get attention. Communicate early on which websites and social media outlets will feature user-generated entries – and then follow through on your promise.

What Does an Effective User-Generated Content Campaign Accomplish?

When companies call on customers to create and upload original content on social media sites, it achieves a wide range of objectives, the most compelling of which include:

1. They get customers to interact with brands on a deeper level. To understand what a company wants in an entry, participants must often conduct research into a brand, product, or industry. This not only increases traffic to business websites, it also imbues participants with a greater depth of knowledge about the company.

Furthermore, the relationship goes both ways. Participants’ finished products give brands a greater understanding of what “gets them going” on a creative and intellectual level. Companies can then pour that insight back into their future outreach efforts.

2. They generate a diverse array of quality content. Of course, not every user-generated entry is going to be a winner (that’s why the goal is to glean as many entrants as possible). However, they won’t all be losers, either. Brands will then have continued access to the quality creations, which are theirs to populate websites, social media, and television advertisements.

3. They cultivate a sense of ownership among participants. One of the most rewarding components of a user-generated content campaign is giving the creative reins to your target audience. When people pour their ideas and work into something, it becomes “theirs,” even if a brand has the “legal rights” to it. Participants in these campaigns often consider themselves stakeholders in a brand, strengthening their interest in seeing it thrive and grow in popularity.

Companies Leveraging User-Generated Content to Their Advantage

The number of business entities achieving success with user-generated content campaigns demonstrates that the practice is alive and doing quite well. From our favorite caffeinated beverages to the hippest chanteurs, examples of brands collaborating with audiences on their content include:

  • Starbucks White Cup Contest. In April, the ubiquitous espresso-slinging chain launched its White Cup Contest, challenging participants to upload photos of their best works of art. The “blank slate” they provided? The iconic white Starbucks cup, of course!

The talented entrants shared photos of their creations on the Starbucks Pinterest page. The winning entry will form the template for a run of customized reusable plastic cups, designed to resemble the classic paper containers.

Starbucks owes the success of this campaign to its inspiration: the tendency of their customers to doodle on cups. By taking an activity people already enjoy and coupling it with something else they enjoy (sharing photos on Pinterest), the brand demonstrates it’s “in the know” regarding its customers habits and pleasures.

Starbucks cup

  • Coca-Cola’s “This is AHH”. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to appear on TV? Okay, not everyone would, but a significant number of people are more than ready to experience their fifteen minutes of fame. So when Coca-Cola encouraged consumers to submit videos interpreting the “Ahh!” feeling they get when partaking in the fizzy beverage, audiences didn’t disappoint:

The hilarious resulting 30-second ad has gained over 600 thousand views on YouTube, as well as made the rounds on network television. Although it took time and resources to edit and finish the final product, it cost significantly less than if Coca-Cola’s producers had filmed the commercial themselves. Such is the beauty of user-generated content.

  • Beck’s “Song Reader” album. A slightly more sophisticated and subtle example of effective content marketing is Beck’s recent “Song Reader” project. The musician did something even more innovative than usual with this album, releasing it in sheet music form only and encouraging fans to share their interpretations online.

Here is one user-generated iteration of Beck’s composition “Sorry:”

Beck’s approach is bold in its simple and magnanimous nature. Fellow musicians appreciate being included in his creation, while listeners benefit from countless renditions of these songs. For authenticity and absence of cynicism, it would be difficult for any content marketer to surpass “Song Reader.”

Should you wish to emulate one of these user-generated content campaigns, achieving similar levels of success presents no mystery. Let your audience guide your vision and the results will fascinate and amaze.

Have you enlisted your customers to inspire and inform your content marketing strategy?