Let’s begin with storytime. If you’re anything like me, you didn’t get a chance to have a formal marketing education. Back when I was in school, our parents expected us to become lawyers, bankers, or doctors. Since I’m writing these lines, of course, I didn’t take any of those paths. (My parents still have no clue what my job actually consists of, but they were incredibly supportive and I can’t thank them enough.)

However, since I never had the opportunity to learn any marketing skills at school, every day I go out of my way to find and read books, blogs, and newsletters so that I can keep up. During my teens and in my early adulthood, I spent a ridiculous amount of time on social media – not always posting, but figuring out how they all run and what types of content there are. 

So, why did UGC catch my attention? Well, first of all, it has that appeal of authenticity. Nothing is shoved down your throat, it isn’t aggressive, and people actually have fun with it. UGC is a great way to engage customers of all ages. It taps into our inherent need; the need to participate, the need to be seen. And we love our 5 minutes of fame (or in the case of Instagram Stories –  24 hours).

Sounds interesting? Well, read on to learn more about UGC and see a few of the most popular UGC campaigns that engaged millions of people worldwide – some of them even still ongoing!


How to Define User-Generated Content?

User-generated content (or consumer-generated content) is any brand-specific content posted on social media by customers. It can be an Instagram photo, TikTok video, or Google review – you name it.

Worst coffee comment on blackboard in front of a cafe

Or a TripAdvisor comment.

Thanks to Instagram and TikTok evolving, now the whole idea around influencer marketing is simply publishing content that in some way promotes a certain product or service. Even though influencers are profiting from signing sponsorships with brands, the user-generated content is at its core organically posted content. 

What better way to market your product than to repost non-paid content from an excited fan? That kind of authenticity is hard to come by. This digital word-of-mouth is something you should consider since according to the Nielsen Consumer Trust Index, an astounding 92% of consumers trust organic UGC more than they believe traditional advertising messaging. Also, Hypetrain recently posted on LinkedIn its latest findings that ads featuring UGC content generate 5x greater click-through-rates. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, because whom are you going to trust? Your friend who suggested you an awesome restaurant or a sponsored ad from the said restaurant?

There are instances when particular products sold out thanks to viral TikTok videos; the latest case was with Clinique’s Black Honey lip tint. Putting aside the potential viral factor, companies should turn to UGC since it costs them $0. That’s right – hop on social media, create a unique hashtag and ask people to share their experiences through carefully curated images or videos, and watch amazing content pour in!


Tips and Tricks for Running a Great UGC Campaign

Starting your very own UGC campaign isn’t simple as just slapping together a visual and a hashtag. Devising a plan of action is key when it comes to enticing people to create cool and original content.

Here are some of the crucial steps that you should incorporate into your campaign.

1. Decide on the Content Type

Do you want highly curated images? Authentic and unpolished reels? Do you want funny content? These are all the questions you should ask yourself. Decide whether you want to shape your campaign as a new TikTok trend, as a contest, or just a simple nudge of your customers to share their thoughts and experiences.

2. Create a Unique Hashtag

Besides the practical factor of finding content related to your product or service easier, a unique hashtag will help you stand out. Short and sweet is always the best way to go, but this also depends on your target audience, the focus of your campaign, and so much more.

3. Always Ask for Permission to Share UGC

Yes, your audience is sharing photos and videos of your product, but you MUST ask for permission to share their content. This is important online etiquette and it’s also a professional approach.

4. Credit the Original Creator

This is also a step that goes without saying, but crediting the original creator is not only decent and respectful – it shows that you appreciate your customers and their creativity and willingness to give you a shoutout and share their positive opinion of your brand,

5. Install a Reward System

Another great idea to motivate your customers to get involved is to come up with a reward system. There were instances where people shared content that directly impacted sales. Brands reached out to these folks, sent them free products, or even said thank you in monetary means.  


How Famous Brands Approach UGC Campaigns

Now that we covered the basics, let’s turn to real pros and see what they’ve been up to.

Starbucks: White Cup Contest

Back in 2014, the coffee giant turned to its signature takeaway cups. They are mostly known for bearing often misspelled customers’ names, but this time the company decided to change the narrative of their iconic white cup.Inspired by photos their customers were already posting on social media, Starbucks decided to launch #WhiteCupContest. They invited people to doodle away on their paper white cups and share their works of art online. The response was immense; over 4,000 entries in just 3 weeks!

You can see the winning cup below, drawn by Brita Lynn Thompson, which was then turned into a limited series of plastic reusable cups:

Starbucks cup

And here are some other contestants’ cups:

starbucks ugc campaign space cup

White Cup Contest cup depicting space; Image source: Storybox.io

starbucks ugc planet

White Cup Contest cup depicting planet Earth; Image source: Storybox.io

Coca-Cola: Share a Coke

First started in Australia in 2011, the Share a Coke campaign turned into a global event. The idea was so simple – by switching the famous Coca-Cola logo for a name on a bottle, the company instilled in the consumers the wish to find a bottle with their name. And then share it online, of course!

The campaign was active in over 80 countries and lasted for more than 7 years. The scope of names was expanded to include nicknames, song lyrics, and destinations. Besides winning numerous awards, Coca-Cola sold millions of bottles and cans branded in other peoples’ names!

Take a look at one of their campaign videos.

Crocs: CrocTok

The power of TikTok is undeniable at this point, and that’s something marketers at Crocs tapped into. Formerly known as “ugly, but comfortable” and least loved shoe on the internet, Crocs found their audience and amassed millions and millions of fans and views on TikTok.

Their quirky design and customizable decoration got extremely popular and social media users started sharing their Crocs collections through hashtag #CrocTok. And the rest is history.

croctok example

@_valex3 on TikTok

Apple: Shot on iPhone

In March 2015, Apple launched a simple enough campaign promoting iPhone 6 camera capabilities. What started as an outdoor campaign soon found its home online where it stayed until today.

This campaign turned into a worldwide challenge with users continuing to post their most awe-inspiring photos shot on iPhone. Can it get simpler than that?

Currently, there are over 26 million photos shared just on Instagram and the number is only growing. Each time a new iPhone hits the market, the challenge is revived. Apple’s marketing team cracked the code as the rest of the mentioned companies; tap into your customers’ creativity and share it with the world.


“A Drop of Freedom” (lily) by Daniel Olah (@danesduet). Shot on iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Canva: Canva Design Challenge

Okay, so you may be wondering now: this is all great, but how to create a UGC campaign revolving around a digital product? This is where Canva takes the stage.

Their weekly design challenge is as simple as it sounds – each week Canva’s newsletter subscribers will receive a new theme for the design challenge. They can create their design and share it with the online community on Instagram and/or Twitter using the hashtag #CanvaDesignChallenge. The ones selected by the Canva team will receive a prize package!

Canva community design inspiration

Canva design challenge featured Panda themed designs


Instead of a Conclusion

The main takeaway is to think of your product or service in an unexpected way. Let’s be honest, most of these campaigns are fairly straightforward – you are using and reshaping a product in a new way. Another important aspect is that all of these campaigns (except the Share a Coke one) tapped into customers’ imagination and creative spark. 

Allowing your customers the freedom to reinvent your product can give you ideas on how to advertise it better. Feeling the pulse of your online community, tuning into the kind of content they are sharing, and embracing their lingo; those are all key steps you need to take to communicate with them.


Some Final Words

Approaching advertising in today’s digital climate may seem daunting. There is a lot to cover, no doubt, but focusing your efforts and attention on everything will only lead to exhaustion and not desired results. Even if you pour all your energy and enthusiasm into garnering traction for your UGC campaign, without an analytical approach and previous assessment, your efforts may be in vain.

Figuring out what is the perfect fit for your brand is the first step, and that’s where we come in. 

Will Marlow Agency is data-driven, which means that before we come up with marketing campaigns, we dive into analytics and find the best custom solution for you. Need a hand when it comes to marketing? Get in touch with us today!

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Nina Bovan is a Content Specialist at Will Marlow Agency. Creating content according to clients’ wishes is her main forte, but always with a dash of sass.

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