A stylish picture of sneakers that a user posted on Instagram is not only creative social self-expression; it’s organic user-generated content (UGC). A Facebook friend who shares a picture of himself sipping a Starbucks Frappuccino and uses the hashtag #Sipface isn’t just posting a silly selfie, he’s participating in a Starbucks content marketing campaign.

User-generated content is digital word-of-mouth marketing. It’s authentic peer-to-peer recommendation and two-way messaging. A brand’s user-generated campaign can garner real reviews, strengthen relationships with consumers, and invite loyalists to be part of a brand’s creative marketing and branding process.

Instagram photos and Facebook hashtags related to your brand engage users and even drive sales. Seventeen percent of users bought merchandise because of a friend’s post about it on social media, according to Forrester. Here’s how you can optimize your social presence online by leveraging user-generated content on these 4 major visual networks:

1. Facebook: Big Perks


T-Mobile wants to break up relationships. The mobile carrier offered discounts to anyone who was willing to publicly end a relationship with their current non-T-Mobile carrier. To get the ball rolling, T-Mobile celebrated “Happy Un-Valentine’s Day” on its Facebook page and promoted its breakup campaign by posting memes to its company page with quips such as, “Let’s Kiss And Break Up… With AT&T” and “Let ‘Em Down Easy And Sprint Like Hell.” Participants devised a breakup letter with their old carrier and included the hashtag #BreakUpLetter as part of their status update to announce that the breakup is Facebook official.

Find a way to offer incentives and perks to collect UGC in your campaigns. T-Mobile endorsed contract freedom and saw an opportunity to celebrate fans that openly wanted to trade in their devices. The goal of the campaign was to start fresh by offering something to the community, maybe a brand new iPhone. For brands starting a new campaign, the question is clear; “what’s in it for the user?”

2. Instagram: Fan Celebration


Instagram is a place where fans reveal how they interact with brands and their products in the real world. Innovative retailers like REI and Lululemon capitalized on the power of Instagram hashtags to identify the users and photos most relevant to their brand. REI, for example, invited followers to share favorite outdoor photos to celebrate the outdoors using the hashtag #REI1440project. Similarly, Lululemon asked loyalists to share images of how they work out in Lululemon gear accompanied by the hashtag #TheSweatLife. The athletic clothing brand tagged the campaign “your perspiration is our inspiration” and used crowdsourced pictures to illustrate how fans are living a strong and fit lifestyle.

Hashtag campaigns can create a loyal sense of community and brand commitment. Devoted fans start to feel a sense of co-ownership of the brand’s message as well as invaluable purchase validation. At the very least, featuring user photos on your company site or Instagram account gives a fan his or her 15 minutes of fame. For example, Urban Outfitters leveraged Curalate to put their user-generated content to work, right on their homepage. Not only are these images leading to more click throughs to purchase, but Urban is also celebrating and showing appreciation for their fans. Your community is already bragging about using your products, why not give them a platform so that their voice can be heard.

3. Pinterest: Content Curation


One of Kate Spade’s most popular Pinterest campaigns was a giveaway for a custom Vespa designed and decorated by artist Florence Broadhurst. Entrants were asked to create a “Ride Colorfully” Pinterest board inspired by beautiful destinations for riding the new Kate Spade Vespa. Here user-generated content comes in the form of content curation. In effect, Kate Spade recruited their fans as content curators, and leverage their customized Pinterest boards to better determine how and where their consumers envision themselves riding the unique Vespa.

Build a fun and interactive experience for your community and loyalists will always join in. Winning a fashionable motor scooter was an incredible giveaway, but even just curating a Pinterest board of stunning places to explore on a Vespa became an incentive in and of itself. Some users went as far as to share over 90 pins, completely on their own accord. For Kate Spade, identifying these brand champions became a massive added benefit to the “Ride Colorfully” experience.

4. Tumblr: Building New Communities

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Tumblr is unique in that it’s a blogging platform and social network all in one. Users share all types of content, from photos and text to GIFs and videos. The visual network is quickly becoming a top repository for housing and sharing content from across the web. Retail giant Gap launched a mobile campaign on Tumblr inviting fans to share images inspired by Gap’s signature blue color. Entitled “What’s Blue to You”, the campaign offered users a way to engage with the brand in new and unique ways that goes beyond apparel.

Brands have only recently started to adopt Tumblr on a larger scale. With this in mind, know that users aren’t accustomed to being marketed to like they are on Facebook and Twitter. Think of UGC as the roots of your brand presence on Tumblr, start by leveraging and learning from what get’s the community excited, then see how you can tailor the message to this unique audience.

As brands continue to develop strategies for reaching consumers on social, there’s no mistake that user-generated content will play an extensive role. Instead of just being a unique addition to a marketing campaign, soon enough, the foundations of media and social marketing will be built on UGC.