Diet Coke. Mentos. Whoosh. It was June of 2006, and my family had decided to jump on the bandwagon of that summer’s Internet craze. We stood an open two-liter bottle of Diet Coke up on the ground in our backyard, dropped a single Mentos candy inside, and leaped backward as a geyser shot toward the sky. The second time we tried it, we recorded the experiment on video.
Countless similar videos popped up on YouTube and other video channels that summer, including on Coca-Cola’s website. The inspiration behind this content curation craze? EepyBird’s “Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments,” an early example of how user-generated content (UGC) gone viral can do wonders for a brand. According to Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising by Juliann Silvuka, Mentos claims to have gained more than $10 million worth of free advertising thanks to EepyBird.
User-generated content is, as the name implies, content created by any consumer of a brand. It could be a product review, participation in a Twitter hashtag campaign, a photo contest on Instagram, a Tumblr conversation, a guest blog post, a comment on your blog post … you name it, and a consumer just might decide to join in. This doesn’t mean you should feature your mom’s “Nice job!” comment, of course (sorry, Mom). Nor does it mean you should hire people to write or record fake testimonials.
What it does mean is letting your consumers be themselves: be genuine and have a little fun. A 2012 study by Nielsen notes that earned media, primarily in the form of recommendations from friends and family, is the most trusted form of advertising. No surprise there. What’s the second most trusted form of advertising? The online consumer review. That’s a step removed from a personal recommendation, but still presumably genuine. A content curation strategy (or two) that successfully taps into one or both works as an indirect form of advertising that builds on and builds up consumer trust.
There are lots of great examples of successful UGC campaigns, such as Estee Lauder’s worldwide Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, which in 2014 encouraged women to share their stories of battling and surviving cancer. The creators behind this campaign didn’t ask women to talk about cosmetics. Instead, they provided a platform for women to connect with and empower each other. They turned the focus to their customers rather than keeping the spotlight on themselves—a key tenant of getting UGC to work for your brand.
Not all UGC campaigns need to get that heartfelt, however. Content creation strategies that work for another brand may not work for yours, but they still share certain things in common.
Here’s what to consider before starting your next UGC campaign.
“We are the community that surrounds us,” Shane Peterman, public relations manager for ThinkGeek, told Bazaarvoice in 2011, noting that the company’s employees are just as geeky as the consumers they interact with. “I think far too many companies try to focus on building a community or following around their particular brand, almost putting themselves on a pedestal above the community, and that’s totally not us.”
Which social media channels do they frequent? Are they likely to read and respond to calls to action in email newsletters? What would drive someone to create UGC for you? Would they do it for a prize? Or to simply get the opportunity to show off? In the case of ThinkGeek, consumers back in 2011 had the opportunity to upload Customer Action Shots featuring ThinkGeek products to the company’s website, a campaign that still runs today. ThinkGeek decides on a winner every month, awards that person a $100 gift certificate, and features them in an email newsletter. Customers also compete in monthly “Techie Haiku” contests and can comment on products via Facebook.
What are your customers saying about you? What motives them? Listen to your customers and respond. You’ll probably get some great UGC ideas simply from this interaction. Don’t limit yourself to one channel, either. Multiple ongoing campaigns on various platforms demonstrate your interest in your community.
DAVIDsTEA, another of my favorite brands, has built consumer loyalty by “stepping outside the comfort zone for businesses on social media,” Youri Hollier, the company’s social media manager, told Business 2 Community. That means varying the types of content, such as recipes and photos, shared by both the company and its consumers across multiple platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). The company also holds contests, such as this summer’s #TeaTravels photo competition on Instagram. On top of that, DAVIDsTea’s Twitter response rate falls between 95 and 99 percent—audience engagement at its best.
This isn’t just a repeat of point three. No one wants hashtag campaigns or blog commentary to spiral out of control. Be sure to put a plan in place that will professionally handle any negative feedback.
The better UGC looks or sounds, the more it will appeal to other consumers. This starts with directing your audience to provide quality content. Offering a prize for a photo that centers on a specific theme, for example, gives consumers the message that they’ll be less likely to win if they submit something off the cuff. And they probably want to win.
Most importantly, have fun! Your audience will notice if you aren’t. But if you are, they just might be inspired to join in and spread your message.
Now, it’s time for me to go buy some tea and a geeky T-shirt.
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