User Generated Content Marketing Tactics

According to Neilsen in its 2015 Global Trust in Advertising report, 83 percent of global respondents say that they completely or somewhat trust the recommendations of friends and family. 66 percent indicate that they trust consumer opinions posted online. According to venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, “Web content increasingly is dominated by user-generated content as Pinterest pin creation is up 75 percent, Twitch video broadcasts are up 83 percent, Wattpad stories are up 140 percent, and Airbnb reviews are up 140 percent year-over-year” ( In an equally telling statistic, “seventy percent of consumers place peer recommendations and reviews above professionally written content” (Reevo). What’s more, “Brand engagements rise by 28 percent when consumers are exposed to both professional content and user-generated product video (comScore).”

User-generated content (UGC) is becoming a must-have staple of effective marketers best practices repertoire. The use of UGC is basically an acknowledgement that regardless of how compelling a company weaves its narrative, its prospects and customers become measurably more convinced when they learn of a company’s merits from an unbiased, unaffiliated third party. However, while the third party has no bias or corporate affiliation, this is not to say that they are disinterested. Quite to the contrary, much if not most, UGC is generated by individuals who feel strongly enough to write some type of a review and then openly share it. Therein lies the value for the consumer and marketer alike. UGC is emotive and derived by a passionate connection with a product or service. As such, it’s unvarnished and candid; completely unscripted.

Since UGC is a 180 degrees departure from polished, “professional” content, it may seem to be totally at odds with paid marketing, public relations and corporate communications. But actually this is not the case. UGC is the great complement to a comprehensive strategic marketing program. Ideally, it authenticates and validates the claims made in the marketing program. And perhaps the best part for marketers is that UGC translates to someone else (i.e., current customers and brand loyalists) doing the heavy lifting for you. Sure, you may not like how they’re saying it or the emphasis they’re giving to certain assets over others. The point is that it’s real. Prospective customers will bask in that genuineness and find it comforting; altogether reassuring.

To better appreciate the power of UGC and see first hand how companies are successfully employing it, we’ve assembled four select recent examples of UGC in practice.

Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” Campaign

Description: Coca-Cola replaced the Coca-Cola logo on 20-ounce bottles with 250 of the country’s most popular names. The enhanced Coca-Cola bottles were distributed to markets throughout the country. Coca-Cola then encouraged customers to share those bottles with family, friends, colleagues and even strangers who also have a passionate affinity for the beverage.

Results: Coca-Cola enjoyed a two percent increase in sales, increasing Coke consumption from 1.7 to 1.9 billion servings per day. The #shareacoke hashtag became the number one global trending topic on social media.

In addition to connecting with consumers personally, the campaign targeted consumers who regularly use social networks to share commentary, photos and “likes.” The consumers were given license and latitude to put their own spin on the social dialogue. Online conversations became organic, driven by consumers rather than the brand itself.

Starbucks’ White Cup Contest


In the spring of 2014, Starbucks hosted a design competition encouraging customers in the U.S. and Canada to decorate a Starbucks cup with customized art, photograph it, and then submit the design via social media using the hashtag #WhiteCupContest. The winning entry was then used as the template for a new limited edition Starbucks cup.

Results: It is hard to imagine a campaign better suited for social media. In fact, it was “social” from its inception: the White Cup Contest was initially generated by the My Starbucks Idea user community. According to the Starbucks website, the company received “ . . . almost 4,000 entries in just three weeks.” In addition to spawning widespread positive national and international publicity, the initiative proved to be an ideals means for Starbucks to demonstrate how they earnestly seek and value feedback from their customers and followers. The winning design was featured on limited edition reusable cups, resulting in increasing reusable cup sales and galvanizing Starbucks’ leadership position in environmental responsibility.
User Generated Content Marketing Tactics
Brita Lynn Thompson, a then 20-year-old community college student from Pittsburgh, submitted the winning design. Her winning cup was so popular that it was made available for purchase in Starbucks stores over a year later (even more rich content for social media and UGC).

National Geographic: “Wanderlust”

Description: National Geographic ran a competition in the early summer months of 2015 that they called “Wanderlust.” Photographers from across the globe were invited to “capture glimpses of the unforgettable people, places, and experiences that have impacted their lives from their travels around the world” and then share these images on Instagram with the hashtag #WanderlustContest. The grand-prize-winner would receive a seven day Yosemite National Park photo expedition with a professional photographer.

Results: The contest epitomized the importance of a brand genuinely understanding their audience. The “Wanderlust” campaign paid homage to the legions of amateur and professional photographers alike who share a kinship with National Geographic and revere how the publication has elevated the art of nature photography like few other media venues in the world. For its efforts, the campaign resulted in an increase to Nation Geographic’s Instagram followers from 10.1 million followers in 2014 to nearly 44 million followers today. 

Belkin and Lego: #LEGOxBelkin

Description: Consumer technology leader, Belkin, teamed up with legendary toy company, Lego, to create customizable iPhone cases using Lego blocks. Belkin asked their customers to display their creative skills by posting on Instagram, using the tag #LEGOxBelkin.

Results: Integrating UGC into social media and onto a product page enabled Belkin’s customers to share the virtually infinite case designs that were possible with prospective customers. In essence, Belkin customers became the company’s most effective marketers. Prospective customers were able to see the multitude of case possibilities before making a purchase and current customers found new ideas for their existing case. Belkin, in turn, was presented with a plethora of UGC on other social media platforms besides Instagram, like Facebook and Twitter, that helped spur ongoing online chatter.

Lay’s “Do Us A Flavor” Campaign

Description: In July of 2012, Frito-Lay invited customers to “invent” their own flavors for the 75-year-old Lay’s potato chip brand. They then asked fans to vote on their favorites. Lay’s offered a prize of one million dollars for the winning flavor idea.

User Generated Content Marketing Tactics
In order to attract new millennial customers and reinvigorate lifelong Lay’s fans at the same time, Frito-Lay made the strategic move of empowering the consumer by inviting anyone who had an idea for an innovative chip idea flavor to visit Lays’ Facebook page, enter information about their flavor and be rewarded with a shareable image of “their” bag of chips. Lay’s partnered with Facebook to transform the “like” button into a vote of “I’d Eat That.” Lay’s Facebook cover photo became a rotating billboard, featuring a new submission virtually nonstop.

After celebrity chef Michael Symon and actress Eva Longoria helped to winnow the 3.8 million submissions to three finalist flavors – sriracha, cheesy garlic bread and chicken and waffles – the vote opened to the public.

Results: In May 2013, Lay’s Cheesy Garlic Bread flavored potato chips were selected as America’s favorite. The campaign, now in its third year, has exceeded expectations at every turn.

“The first time we did it, we estimated we’d get a million votes; we got four million,”

Ann Mukherjee, former president of the company’s global snacks group and global insights division. In 2014, “ . . . we did it for the second time and got over 14 million votes.”

After the first year alone, the UGC helped increase ad awareness by two per cent; “Buzz score” by 3 points; and consumer purchase intent by grew by one per cent. Lay’s Facebook company page saw more than 22 million visits per week during the voting phase. Further, Lay’s sales rose a remarkable 12 percent in 2014, compared with the three percent that the company had set for its benchmark.