3 Super-Engaging UGC Campaigns (and How to Do One Yourself)

The popularity of user-generated content (UGC) is easy to explain: people trust the opinions of other people more than they do a brand’s advertising. There’s an authenticity with user generated content that advertisers can find difficult to match. And that authenticity translates to influence, with 56% of people more likely to buy a product after seeing it featured in a ‘positive or relatable’ user-generated image, according to a study from Olapic.

But engaging potential customers (both those creating the content and those consuming it) is just one benefit of this marketing tactic. By utilising content creators’ personal networks, UGC campaigns can also help you reach new audiences that may have proven hard to target otherwise.

Such UGC campaigns are generally cost-effective, since content is created and distributed without the need to pay influencers, producers, models, photographers and so on. They can be a great tool for your business to engage existing and prospective customers in an efficient, scalable way. But what separates a successful UGC campaign from one that isn’t?

The three campaigns below are all good examples of what works. Read on to see why, and how you can do something similar:

Get Started with Square Feedback

Customer feedback you can work with


The images that fashion brands use in advertising and on social media are known for extreme retouching, particularly when it comes to photos of women in swimsuits. This practice is acknowledged as a contributor to poor body confidence among young adults.

Aerie, a sub-brand of American Eagle, sought to change that reputation and promote body positivity among young women with its #AerieREAL campaign. When users tagged a non-retouched photo of themselves in a swimsuit, the brand pledged to donate a dollar (up to $15,000 (approx. £11,000)) to the National Eating Disorders Association.

aerie real screenshot


Tapping into a prominent social issue is a great way to communicate your values to customers. But you don’t want to appear as though you’re capitalising on a movement. By adding a charitable component to their campaign, Aerie conveyed its dedication to positive change without feeling contrived.

Clif Bar

This US-based energy and protein bar manufacturer aligns itself with athletes, adventurers and people with active lifestyles. Its tagline — ‘feed your adventure’ — is also a hashtag that the brand encourages its ‘Clif fans’ to use when sharing their stories.

As a result, not only does Clif have an Instagram feed full of stunning photos of nature and people living their best lives outdoors, its brand has become synonymous with the bold, sporty users who tag it.

clif bar screenshot


Instead of telling potential customer who you are, user generated content can express how you want to be perceived as a brand. Create a hashtag with the tagline of your brand or campaign (not your company name), and invite people to use it alongside images or videos that match your overall message or category. You can then repost the content that best conveys your brand’s ideals.


Black Friday is a sales bonanza for retailers, challenging them to open increasingly earlier in the morning. But in 2015, US outdoor clothing brand REI made the bold move to close all of its stores that day. Choosing instead to ‘opt outside’, the company encouraged its customers to get outdoors and enjoy nature rather than fighting the crowds of shoppers on Thanksgiving day.

The #OptOutside campaign was radical enough to gain tons of media attention and accolades from the public. The hashtag has been used in more than 8 million posts on Instagram so far.

opt outside screenshot


By showing that profits aren’t its only concern — and by being true to its brand — REI saw an increase in revenue and online sales. You could try an outside the box idea like this to communicate your business’ values and the issues you support.

6 questions to answer before you build your UGC campaign

Now that you know what a great UGC campaign looks like, it’s time to create your own. To ensure you’re investing time in a campaign that yields results, answer these six questions first:

What does success look like?

A successful campaign relies entirely on solid metrics. Are you looking to achieve a certain number of user-generated posts? Or are you looking for specific engagement with those posts?

Who do you want to create content for your campaign?

Are you going to rely solely on existing customers or will you try to get all your followers to create content? If it’s something you have in mind, do you have additional budget — and time — to expand your reach with social influencers?

What do you want people to post about?

Aerie and Clif Bar developed campaigns that asked people to produce content related to a central brand principle. REI instead capitalised on a calendar event. Home-furnishings site Wayfair ran a UGC campaign — #WayfairAtHome — that asked people to share their Wayfair purchases in-situ at home.

Whether you ask people to produce content around a theme, an event or how they use your products, the most successful campaigns don’t request direct endorsements. Instead they focus on the real person’s experience.

Where and what do you want them to post?

What channels will host your campaign? Are you just asking for photos to be posted on Instagram, or do you want videos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? Do you actually want more control by asking consumers to submit content directly to you via email? Once you’ve decided on a distribution plan, stick to it for consistency.

How will you make sure they know to post?

You won’t get any user generated content if people don’t know you want it. So, make sure you promote the campaign via the channels your customers are most engaged. Social media is an obvious place to publicise your UCG campaign, but don’t forget about other channels like email.

Are you offering something in return for posting?

Consider what you could offer in return for content, just as Aerie did with their donation. You could run a contest or offer gift cards and discounts for the best posts. That’s not to say that the reward has to be monetary — sometimes just reposting the person’s content is rewarding enough.

How will you tag this user generated content?

You might have noticed that all of these campaigns ask people to use a specific hashtag. This will allow you to find all of the UGC on various social networks. Think carefully about your hashtag. Make it short, easy to remember and unique.

There’s so much to be gained from user generated content when you’re a small business. It can build your social presence at no cost or real effort from you, whilst expanding your reach into demographic groups you hadn’t been able to capture before. Appearance is everything when you’re trying to grow, and if you deliver UGC campaigns with care, you’ll see positive repercussions for your brand overall. Know your business, then let your customers help you grow it.

Related Articles
Why you should care about Corporate social responsibility
12 Black Friday marketing ideas that cut through the noise
Omnichannel marketing: the ultimate guide for retailers