Getting your customers to work for you: User generated content in marketing

User-generated content (UGC) is one of the most powerful and cost-effective methods of creating and maintaining brand awareness and loyalty today. It offers benefits to both consumer and brand with relatively little investment on your end.

But UGC is just one aspect of any good comms strategy. With the constant shift in the technological and cultural landscape of marketing, it’s essential to understand the ecosystem we, as marketers, are playing in.


We’ve all heard of owned and paid media. But what is earned media? And where does – or should – it fit in your brand’s marketing strategy?

Basically, earned media (or user-generated content) is any content created (and sometimes shared) by users. It includes consumers’ tweets, photos, Facebook posts, reviews and videos and it costs you nothing. Great, right?

Don’t get too excited just yet.

You can’t buy or create earned media yourself. It’s just that: earned. And now that it’s easier than ever (thanks to advances in technology and social media) for the average user to create and post content online, it’s essential that you understand how to inspire UGC and make it work for you.

Common ways of encouraging UGC through social media platforms and websites include sweepstakes, giveaways, trivia and video/photo/essay competitions. These are all relatively cheap ways of getting users to create content for you.
The next (more expensive) step is tapping into conventional mass media to promote a branded promotional campaign. Ideally, you’ll create a strategy combining paid and owned media to coax consumers into creating UGC.


A few years back American Apparel ran a cheeky campaign to find the world’s best bottom to be the face (read bum) of their intimates and briefs line. They asked women from all over the world to submit a photo that showed off their derrière, to be judged and voted upon by the anonymous sea of potentially perverted internet users.

…And it worked?! Over 1,300 submissions were received before the winner was, er, crowned. So how did they do it?

Easy. They effectively combined aspects of paid and owned media, including magazine advertisements, online banners and their owned social media platforms, to create buzz around the competition and encourage interaction. The end result: they gained a buttload (sorry) of free content for their brand, didn’t have to pay any modelling fees, and got users interacting with an otherwise static company.

Okay, so maybe shots of young ladies in their underwear doesn’t quite mesh with your brand’s image. How about this ‘on-a-budget’ success story from Tourism QLD?

There are loads of other ways to get users generating free content for you but the math is really quite simple: paid + owned + earned = converged media. Which, in the end, is the ultimate way to reach (and engage) consumers.

Check out these effective campaigns utilising UGC from Vimeo and LEGO.

Richard Parker is the head of digital at strategic content agency Edge, where he has experience working with leading brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel. He previously spent 12 years in the UK, first at Story Worldwide then as the co-owner and strategic director of marketing agency Better Things.


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