Today, thanks to the rise of social platforms and mobile devices, the practice of creating and sharing real-time content is becoming more ingrained in our daily lives. With this growing consumer trend, brands are looking to user-generated content (UGC) as a source of authentic and evergreen media. And for good reason: this type of earned media is 84% more effective in improving consumer engagement, according to Nielsen. Furthermore, ads featuring user-generated content have a 55% higher ad recall and generate 3.4 times more clicks. In our own research, we found that 78% of millennials said they would rather see photos of real customers over professional photos created by the brand.

With this in mind, more brands than ever are encouraging consumers to share UGC – from featuring real customers on retail sites to photo galleries at live events. However, announcing a campaign and launching a branded hashtag is just the first step to generating UGC. One of the biggest issues is that brands often still see UGC as a temporary campaign – something to test once or twice or to only do when content is needed. However, by now it’s clear that UGC is not a campaign and that the brands with active communities are the ones that earn that elusive and lucrative millennial brand loyalty. So outside of standard ads and social promotion, what are ways brands can really amp up customer participation? Check out our 5 tips below!

1. Work with influencers
This is the most high-level tactic on this list. Working with an influencer will allow you to reach hundreds of thousands to millions of highly-engaged people. They often have audiences who trust them more than they trust celebrities, and some are even bigger names than your traditional celebrity. The key here is to take the time to really vet the influencer – subscriber or follower counts alone are not enough. Look at how their community responds to them in terms of engagement.

2. Tap into micro-influencers
Micro-influencers are people with anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of followers. These creators might have smaller audiences, but they often will have even higher engagement rates than people with millions of followers. Work with these creators to begin to fill the pool with high-quality content to kick off a campaign on the right foot. For example, book publishers will often send out advance copies of books to influential readers or book-focused Instagrammers for free to drive hype ahead of release. Platforms like Influenster are also doing this for makeup brands like Covergirl and YSL.

3. Use every customer touchpoint
Your social platforms are not the only ways you can reach your consumers. More than likely, you also have some physical touchpoints too, right? Hotel? Add the hashtag and instructions to room keys so your guests always have the information with them. Retailer? Add the hashtag to mirrors in the dressing rooms or print it on to bags and receipts – even clothing tags if you have control over that!

4. Empower employees
As social media and UGC become less of a “nice to have” and more of a “must have,” think about how your own employees can support these efforts. This could be as simple as prepping employees with information about the hashtag, the campaign, or the types of content your seeking. For example, if a group of friends asks a sales associate to snap a group photo of them as they’re picking out new dresses, that employee can at the very least mention tagging the brand and using the hashtag. You can even take it a step further and encourage your staff to also be on-site photographers. For example, using something like the Capture App, an employee at a hotel can snap photos of guests or events, get permission on the spot to use the photos, and then share them back to the corporate team to use.

5. Reward participation
Nobody wants to feel like they’re shouting into the void. If you go through all the trouble to generate a ton of UGC, you need to do something not only with the content, but with the people engaging with you. This could be something as simple as just liking their photo or a quick comment. If the photo is particularly great, ask them for permission to reshare it and then do that (giving them credit, of course).

About The Author

Monica is a book hoarder and gets overexcited about community-driven marketing. She lives in New York City and dreams of a day when a landlord will let her have a cat.