Want to know the secret to higher-quality content that generates more engagement without spending an extra dime? Tap staff members to be social ambassadors.

A recent study by OfferPop shows that 85 percent of social media users find visual user-generated content (UGC) more influential than brand photos or videos. Meanwhile, only 65 percent of brands believe UGC is more influential than their own photos and videos. That’s a big gap, which leaves a lot of room for missed opportunities.

Rather than solely rely on collaborations with influencers, some forward-thinking brands are upping their social media game by tapping their in-store staff to generate social media content. It’s pretty brilliant, honestly — I mean, who knows the brand better than the boots on the ground selling it every day? By putting social media content into the hands of in-store employees, brands are unlocking a wealth of quality content. The reward is in the recognition alone — a simple photo credit is enough incentive for employees to post to a brand’s hashtag like crazy. Maybe that employee will get a handful of new followers just for having their image in front of so many eyeballs. Maybe the bragging rights alone will make them happy.

Regardless, more and more brands — especially in fashion, beauty and fitness — are tapping in-store employees for UGC, setting the tone for the brand on social media and creating an example for others to follow. The photos are usually beautiful, interesting, on-brand and maintain that ever-powerful element of authenticity. The best part? Once the employees break the ice, consumers follow suit, using the same photo formats and eagerly posting to the hashtag or tagging brands in their photos for a chance to be featured as well. Hello content goldmine.

These three brands are doing it right:

SoulCycle

Highlighting staff and activities at different locations (always tagged in the location section) to promote their culture of a fun and fit lifestyle.

jumping into the long weekend! #summerofSOUL 📷: @ajillity_

A post shared by SoulCycle (@soulcycle) on

Turning instructors into influencers by helping them build up a strong, engaged social following.

how much #soulstyle is too much #soulstyle? (asking for a friend) 📸: @lisaboccuzzi

A post shared by SoulCycle (@soulcycle) on

American Apparel

The popular brand uses #AAEmployees to find staff-generated content showcasing its clothes in an everyday, real-world manner that still falls in line with the “American Apparel look.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BJrToGwgQCV/?hl=en&taken-by=americanapparelusa

These #AAEmployees pics serve as content inspo for everyday consumers to go out and shoot their own oh-so-American-Apparel photos and tag the brand for a possible feature.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BJRiv3dAGt5/?hl=en&taken-by=americanapparelusa

MAC Cosmetics

The beauty brand highlights senior makeup artists by reposting photos of their looks (and always being sure to tag and/or mention the artist’s social handle in the caption.)

These amazing looks not only show the mad skills of the artists, but also the versatility of the products, from a classic red lip to Halloween-ready neon. Also notice the #MACArtistChallenge hashtag to drive more UGC content.

By tapping into in-store staff — people who have been trained by the company and know the brand inside and out — businesses have unlocked a whole new world of user-generated content. It’s free, readily-available, and gives staff a sense of pride in the company as well as ownership in the branding. Plus, employee photos always carry a level of real-world authenticity that’s missing in social media campaigns designed at the corporate level (and even in influencer collaborations). Even better, staff-generated content sets an example for everyone else to follow for a chance to have their photos featured on the brand’s account. Can you say #winning?

Want to learn more about American Apparel’s UGC strategy, which involves tapping into its fan base to repurpose amazing content? Read our free case study “American Apparel Wants Your Selfie, Here’s Why.”