Why user generated content is changing content marketing

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According to the Content Marketing Institute, 70% of B2C companies are looking to leverage user generated content campaigns this year. Creating opportunities for content to be created by our audiences rather than by ourselves is often a daunting ambition. However, user generated content is becoming an increasingly powerful tool for marketers to have in their content marketing plan. So what is user generated content (UGC) and how can marketers create successful campaigns?  

What is user generated content?

In a nutshell, user generated content does exactly what is says on the tin: branded content that is created by your user base.

Curating UGC is not a new concept. However, the transition on social media from traditional one-way broadcasting to two-way engagement means that brands need to find new ways to interact with their engaged audiences.  

Benefits of user generated content

There are numerous benefits of UGC, firstly it’s awesome for brand awareness. If a user creates content for your brand and shares it with you via social media, they are advocating for your product or service in view of their followers, friends and family.

If someone you admire and respect has posted content to a company’s page you have no reason not to think positively about that business. 70% of consumers place peer recommendations above professionally written copy. So cut the sales talk and focus on actual conversations and participation.

So as well as being excellent for brand awareness it is also effectively an online advocacy and referral programme. Extending brands reach through engagement, not broadcasting.

User generated content campaign examples

Innocent smoothies

Everyone’s favourite irreverent Smoothie brand, Innocent really know how to nail and scale their content marketing campaigns.

One of their most successful UGC initiatives is their Big Knit campaign, whereby knitters across the land produce knitted hats for Smoothies to raise money for Age UK.


This annual campaign transitions offline as well as online by the user generating a physical item, rather than an image or wording. The contributors shared images of their creations across their social media channels, resulting in huge levels of engagement. As well as raising a bunch of dosh and awareness for Age UK, by donating 25p for each hatted-smoothie sold.

They’ve now generated enough content from this campaign for to have its very own website, where they’ve posted news of videos, follow-ups and corporate partnerships for year-round awareness.   

What can we learn from this campaign?

Emotive storytelling can reap big rewards for brands, but make sure it’s genuine and for the greater good, not just for your campaign goals.


Love or loath the caffeine-sweetened juggernaut, Starbucks know their coconuts when it comes to UGC.

Back in 2014, they launched the White Cup Contest inviting people to decorate one of their cups with customised artwork and then submit a photo of it on Twitter using the hashtag #WhiteCupContest.

The winning design, by 20-year old Brita Lyn Thompson, was then announced by Twitter and rolled out as a limited edition cup design in their stores. The accompanying marketing material quotes that ‘by using and reusing this cup, you’ll not only help decrease waste, you’ll save 10c on any handcrafted beverage every time you bring it in’. Therefore becoming a corporate social responsibility message as well as being a funky looking viable product.   


The campaign has even created a ‘Cup Art’ movement on Twitter with users still talking about the initiative two years on. The doodle revolution is here.

What can we learn from this campaign?

If you have a physical consumer product, think about how it could be incorporated into a user generated content campaign. Even if you don’t have a product-driven business model, you can still get your users involved in photo or colouring contests related to your discipline.

What can we learn from this campaign?

  • Be bold and creative with your idea, but make sure you’ve got the ability to follow through with your promise and make sure your website has the bandwidth if it goes viral.

Tourism Queensland


An oldie but a goody from a services-led organisation. Tourism Queensland posted an ad for what they called ‘the best job in the world’. The post? A caretaker on Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef. The job paid $150,000 AUD.

All applicants had to do is submit a 60-second video to their website to explain why they were the perfect candidate for the job. The website received 4 million hits on day 1 and 34,684 video applications from over 200 countries. These applicants were then shortlisted down to 10, who were sent out to Queensland for interviews.

Not only did the campaign achieve phenomenal levels of engagement and traditional media coverage, including on the primetime BBC News, it also generated a massive amount of awareness for this small part of Australia as a holiday option.

This YouTube video explains the process that led to this PR phenomenon.

What can we learn from this campaign?

Be bold and creative with your idea, but make sure you’ve got the ability to follow through with your promise (and make sure your website has the bandwidth if it goes viral!)

Top tips for creating successful user generated content campaigns 


There are our top tips for creating successful UGC campaigns.

  • Know your audience. Have a look at your Twitter Analytics to see what your audience’s interests, age and demographics are. This will help you determine the type of user generated content they may be interested in. E.g. younger followers will be less interested in sending in written content but may be interested in an Instagram content.
  • Make the barrier to entry relatively low. Allow users to submit content via social media rather than on your website. Don’t request any additional contact information at this stage. The reason why Innocent Smoothies can get away with postal entries is because it’s an established brand with a charitable tie-in.
  • Ensure you have Terms and Conditions and are explicit about usage. Especially if you’re giving away a prize, or if you’re intending to use the content sent to you in future marketing material. E.g. following a photo contest.
  • Set out clear goals and expectations. What does good look like in terms of number of entries, engagement rate and shares? Set out your expectations aligned to the overall goal at the start. Then use this as a benchmark as part of lessons learned for future campaigns.
  • Always say thank you and curate personalised responses. If you’re asking / expecting your users to contribute to your brand and produce content for you in their own time then you need to set aside enough time to thank them. This two way advocacy will help ensure they feel like their contribution has been valuable to you and encourage participation in future campaigns. They may even be interested in being official brand ambassadors, so reward them if you can.

Even if you don’t have an official UGC campaign running, ensure you create opportunities for users to comment on your products or services online and share their experiences. Find out what customers are saying about you already on independent review sites and on social media platforms and then use this as a discovery tool for your future campaigns.

Your customers are an extension of your content marketing team

Don’t underestimate the power of UGC to build your brand awareness online. When done well UGC can increase brand awareness, brand loyalty, following and referrals. Brands from start-ups up to enterprise level can harness UGC in some capacity. People are incorporating brands into their social media stories already, it’s time brands got more involved. Have you added it to your content marketing plan yet? 

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