6 rules for running an Instagram UGC Contest

How to successfully run an Instagram UGC Contest, including examples from top brands and pitfalls to avoid.

Social Media Managers know the growing importance of UGC (User-Generated Content) to create meaningful impressions and engagement. 86% of brands have a UGC as a component of their marketing strategy, and the fastest growing brands in the world are in many cases the ones that are growing via UGC and viral customer networks.

Why is UGC so effective?  When your customers create UGC, they are endorsing your product and advertising it to their network… for free.  It’s the most engaging and authentic type of content on social, and it drives sales.  92% of consumers consider UGC the most compelling form of advertising.

As social marketers, it’s absolutely critical to get your customers to create as much UGC as possible.  We can’t all be Zara, who gets tagged by roughly one customer every 10 seconds, but getting as much UGC as possible should be the top priority of growing brands.  And one of the most effective ways to grow UGC is by running a UGC Contest.

A UGC Contest is a call to action for your customers to create branded content.  Usually, the contest revolves around a theme and rewards top customers for creating cool content.  While UGC contests just provide a temporary boost in UGC, they are a critical tool for social marketers to keep engagement in the community high and interesting.

But before running a contest, social media managers should be familiar with these 6 rules…

Rule Number 1: The Theme is Everything

The easiest way to spend a lot of time preparing for a UGC contest that gets very little engagement is to use the wrong theme.  The theme and call to action for a UGC contest need to be three things:

  • Fun and Feed-worthy.  The single most important factor in your theme is that the UGC you are asking for is cool, Instagrammable, and feed-worthy.  There are very few people on Instagram who create spammy content – so if you ask customers to post something that is not going to look cool in their feed, it’s going to fail.  
  • Broad. Don’t make the ask too specific or focused on your brand.  The entire point of UGC is that users are making your product / brand their own.  Don’t stifle their creativity with overly prescriptive asks or you’ll get a poor response.
  • Simple. The call to action should not be overly complicated or multiple steps.  It’s enough work to build a great post, don’t make your customers jump through hoops to enter a contest.

Example good theme: The handstand challenge.  Fun content to post, on-brand for a lot of people, simple enough to make.

Example bad theme: The #ILoveWalgreens campaign.  I’m not sure what really cool “#ILoveWalGreens” content is… and neither were their customers.

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Rule Number 2: Communication is Key

Did you come up with a really great idea for a contest?  The next best way for your contest to underperform is if no one finds out about it.

It’s absolutely critical for the success of your UGC Contest that you communicate the contest as effectively as possible.  Here are some suggestions for communication strategy:

How to communicate:

  • Social Posts. Post in the feed and on your story that there is a contest going on.  
  • Email Campaigns. Send an email out to some (or all) of your customers to notify them that there is a campaign going on.  This works particularly well for group of affiliates or ambassadors.
  • Promote. Want to reach a larger audience than your current customer base?  If you think your contest is a home run, promote the post and see how many net new customers you can get creating interesting content.

What to communicate:

  • The theme and why it’s important to your brand
  • The prize
  • Show them what good content looks like – this includes showing sample photos/videos 

Here’s a sample of what strong communication looks like:

Strong UGC contest communication
Aerie contest shows an example of good content and clear call to action

The keys here are the photo itself shows the type of content they are looking for, the call to action is simple, and incentive is clearly articulated (above the expansion).

Rule Number 3: Don’t Skimp on the Prize

There are two reasons people participate in UGC contests.  The first is that you’ve come up with a really cool content idea, and your customers are inspired.  The second is a bit less idealistic… the incentives / prizes.

Incentives don’t have to be materialistic.  Some of the best UGC contests simply offer to feature the winners.  For brands with a large follower count, featuring one of your customers is oftentimes a much larger reward than any tangible rewards or product.  

As seen above (Aerie) – prizes can also be donations to charity.  Many people feel more inclined to produce and share content if it’s benefitting a good cause.

However, if you are going to include a materialistic prize (cash, product, third-party gift), make sure you are investing enough in the prize.  It takes hours of planning and valuable communication to launch a UGC contest… there is no reason to skimp on the reward. Make it awesome and you’ll recover your operational costs and get ROI.

Gymshark doesn’t skimp on the prize

Rule Number 4: Build momentum with Stories

Once a contest is going on, you want your audience to feel like it’s a big deal.  Your contest needs to be important enough for the person to get out of their routine and create some content. The easiest way to make your that is with Instagram stories.

As UGC is rolling in, identify the most high quality posts and immediately repost them to stories.  That will be a constant reminder to your audience that the contest is going on, the rest of the community cares, so they should too.

Plus, reposting your UGC submissions to stories will also provide inspiration for more of your audience, and remind your community that there is a strong chance they will be featured (added incentive).

Rule Number 5: Boost with your Segments

Another key to any UGC contest (much like a product launch) is depending on your Superfans, ambassadors, affiliates, and influencers to give the contest some buzz.  You know you can rely on these segments of your community to create really high-quality content consistently… so these are the perfect individuals to start adding momentum to the contest.

Make sure you notify all of these segments prior to launching the contest (so they have time to create amazing content), and potentially consider adding additional prizes for these groups. Definitely let them know they will be featured for creating strong content.

Since you can contact all of these segments directly (you should have the emails for everyone in these segments), you can offer them unique incentivizes like more valuable prizes, guaranteed features, or rewards for just entering.

Never underestimate the ability of your most valuable customers to really kickstart a contest and be the example for the rest of your community.

Verb Products runs contests through their Verb Friends (ambassadors)

Rule Number 6: Measure Results

Just like any other type of marketing activity, it’s critical to measure the results of any contest that you run.  How many posts did you get?  How many impressions?  Who had the highest engagement rate?  Did this create a lasting impact on our UGC even after the contest was over?

All of these questions are critical for determining the ROI of a contest and how well it was deployed.  Learning and optimizing should be the focus for any digital marketer, and contests in particular should be heavily focused on results.

For advanced marketers, we recommend measuring the contest results by segment as well.  Did your ambassadors carry most of the load?  How many of your Superfans participated?  Segment focused questions can help you determine how to customize your contests and focus your communication efforts in the future.

Measure the spikes, and the lasting impacts of your contests. Bonus points for measuring by segment.

Summary

UGC Contests on Instagram are particularly effective at providing boosts to UGC and keeping content creation interesting for your community.  Many of the most successful brands in the world run contests on a monthly basis, and potentially even run different contests for different customer segments to maximize engagement.

When planning these contests, remember to focus on the six rules for success.  If you are going to spend the time to run a contest, it might as well be a great one.

About LoudCrowd

We believe that your customers are your brand’s most valuable marketers, and that brands need to achieve Customer Led Growth. Currently, the best (and most engaging way) for brands achieve Customer Led Growth is through User Generated Content (UGC) on social platforms like Instagram. LoudCrowd helps you measure your UGC and create programs to grow it, like any other performance marketing channel. Click here for more information.

About the Author

Gary Garofalo is a marketing focused technologist and the CEO of LoudCrowd. He’s spent his career focused on analytics, strategic consulting, and building technology companies. When he’s not writing about social media, he spends his free time reading, lamenting over the risks of climate change and artificial intelligence, and playing pickleball with the LoudCrowd team.

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