Time Inc. is widely recognized as one of the largest media conglomerates in the world, with over 90 iconic brands sheltered under its corporate umbrella. It is also one of the most influential. A few interesting tidbits:

  • Each month, nearly half of U.S. adults engage with a Time Inc. brand.
  • More than 130 million people globally will connect to a Time Inc. brand this month alone.
  • Time Inc. brands are responsible for coining the terms “socialite” and “guesstimate,” impacting not only what we read but also the words we use every day.

Growing an organization of this size takes smart people with even smarter ideas – ones who are willing to experiment, to analyze their data regularly, and to develop insights along the way.

Emily Hughes is one of those people.

As Associate Marketing Manager of Audience Development at Time Inc., Emily understands that her brand (yes, all 90 of its constituents) is nothing without its fans. By developing an ongoing strategy around user-generated content to get those fans more involved, she has been able to use Time Inc.’s social channels as a means of connecting, communicating, and developing deep relationships with their readers.

In the following Q&A, we chat with Emily about one of Time Inc.’s most effective social strategies to date: a UGC-oriented campaign that spans multiple brands, departments and platforms.

drive traffic with user-generated content

1. If you had to describe Time Inc.’s social strategy in three words, what would they be?

Engaging. Innovative. Fun.

2. How does Time Inc. think about user-generated content, and how has your approach to UGC evolved over time?

Time Inc. always strives to put its audience first and has experimented with UGC for some time. These experiments used to take shape as smaller, one-off campaigns, and have evolved into large-scale initiatives, often involving multiple brands, multiple departments (ad sales, editorial, audience development, etc.), and both digital and print-based platforms.

For Food & Wine (F&W) and Travel + Leisure (T+L) in particular, UGC has become a core component of our entire digital strategy. Each week, we feature UGC across all of our social platforms, on the sites, and even in our magazines.

We love being social on social media and having an ongoing conversation with our audiences through rich content and collaborative themes.

3. Tell us about your #howiholiday campaign. What was the inspiration behind it?

how to get more user-generated content

We recently wrapped up #howiholiday, a UGC campaign on Instagram hosted by Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure involving eight of their Time Inc. sister brands (All YouCoastal LivingCooking LightHealthInStyleMy RecipesReal Simple and Southern Living). Throughout December, brands and audiences shared festive photos of their holiday travels, meals, attire, décor and celebrations using the hashtag.

The exceptional UGC content was regrammed by Time Inc. brands, showcased in F&W and T+L Pinterest boards, and featured on foodandwine.com and travelandleisure.com.

user-generated content ideas

This campaign was a result of the success of two prior UGC campaigns at Time Inc.: #howisummer and #thisisfall, both similar concepts as #howiholiday, just with different seasonal content and participating brands.

4. What are the most important KPIs across your social channels, and how did your team define success over the course of the campaign?

We are a traffic-minded business, so our primary KPIs on social media are total pageviews and total visits to the site from social media. Social visits make up a significant portion of our inbound traffic; in 2014, visits from social to the site grew 212% YOY for T+L and 332% YOY for F&W. Following traffic, we focus on audience engagement and follower growth. Obviously Instagram is an exception, as it’s not primarily a traffic-driving platform; for this, we closely monitor engagement and follower growth.

For #howisummer, #thisisfall and #howiholiday, the key success metric was number of photos submitted using the hashtag. For the three campaigns combined, we saw 56,700+ photos submitted.

user-generated content on Instagram

We also looked at boosts in engagement and follower growth on our accounts during the campaigns. Food & Wine averaged a 42% increase in follower growth across the three campaigns and a 186% increase in engagement, while T+L observed a 37% increase in follower growth and a 124% boost in engagement.

user-generated content from bloggers

Some successes, however, were unexpected. We were amazed by the high quality content coming in from our fans; the photos were incredible. The campaigns also helped surface talented influencers who love our brands. For example, F&W immediately enlisted a blogger responsible for an immensely popular lobster roll photo; he is now a contributor on FWx, a millennial-focused vertical of F&W.

5. What did you learn from the campaign, and how have you applied these key takeaways across your brand?

It became abundantly clear that partnering with our sister brands at Time Inc. was a smart move. The collaboration brought audiences with varied perspectives and interests, and gave life to the hashtag more rapidly than one brand could do on its own.

how brands use UGC

We also learned that UGC campaigns are mutually beneficial and easy to maintain. We were able to showcase amazing photos from our talented followers, while simultaneously witnessing increases in our key social KPIs.

We are definitely eager to find additional opportunities across social and digital channels to collaborate with our audiences and other brands.

6. What three tips would you give to social teams who are looking to develop stronger relationships with their customers?

1. Be social on social media. Social media is revolutionary because it provides a channel for two-way dialogue between brands and their audiences. Brands need to take advantage of that in authentic ways—like through UGC campaigns—to develop stronger relationships with their customers.

2. Think multi-brand and multi-platform. How can you expand the reach of your campaign? How can you get in front of more audience members and feature their content in more creative ways? By cross-promoting the campaign and finding partners to collaborate with, you’re only enhancing the overall initiative for everyone involved.

3. Trust that your customers have great visual content and are eager to engage with your brand. The more consistently you engage (especially through UGC campaigns), the stronger those relationships become.

7. If you had to give one piece of advice to a brand that’s looking to get more out of their social strategy, what would it be?

Focused, data-driven social media strategies are always more successful without having to sacrifice creativity or engagement.

Set clear goals and monitor data surrounding everything that you do.

Be on the lookout for the next collaborative UGC campaign from Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, and their Time Inc. sister brands: #bringonspring – it launches in March! Follow @foodandwine and @travelandleisure on Instagram to stay in the know.