This guide outlines everything you need to know to successfully use consumer generated marketing (CGM.) This is an exhaustive guide, which includes practical, easy to follow, step-by-step instructions as well as examples and links to additional resources and other helpful tools related to user generated marketing.
This guide will walk you through creating CGM campaigns using:
- social media posts
- mailing lists
- 3rd party websites
- content add-ons to existing products
I will explore each of these listed methods with practical examples later in the guide. Expand the table of contents if you want to jump straight to a particular section.
The first time I used consumer generated marketing I was blown away by the results. I ran a small software company and noticed a couple of users on my forum were routinely handling support requests before I could. They clearly had a passion for helping people and a deep knowledge of my software so I reached out to them and they volunteered to be moderators on my forum.
You may be thinking “that’s not consumer generated marketing, that’s just an affiliate program.” The reality is that running an affiliate program is just one of many tools you can use to encourage users to create content for your business. In this article I am going to explore over 20 different types of consumer generated marketing strategies and how you can easily use these techniques to help promote your business.
If you want a more detailed intro, I just finished taking a free course from the University of Illinois called Marketing in a Digital World [ coursera.org] (which I fully reviewed here) and the first half of the 4 week course focuses heavily on user generated content. I recommend starting with this free course if you’re totally new to digital marketing.
9 Examples of Successful Consumer Generated Marketing Campaigns
Before I list all the ways you can start your own CGM campaigns, it is useful to look at some successful examples to see what is possible. Yes, some of these examples are User Generated Content (UCG) but all of them take the UGC and use it for consumer generated marketing.
Each time they’ve ran this contest, they’ve produced 3 fan-created flavors and then allowed the general public to vote with their wallets and online for the flavor to keep.
What makes this a marketing success, is that they consistently chose flavors that were weird, unique and controversial such as Chicken & Waffles and Sriracha, which caused people to take notice.
Coke has brought this campaign back multiple times with slight twists and variations.
Combine this with the ability for creators to share their levels online and you had one of the biggest games and online communities for Nintendo’s struggling Wii U system. Many YouTube and Twitch channels thrived for years off of user submitted Mario Maker levels.
That may sound like a common business model today, but it was absolutely revolutionary when it first launched.
The GoPro Awards challenges content creators to make videos using their GoPro and submit their work for cash and prizes. This gives GoPro access to a ton of user created content that they use in their promotions, meaning it’s a win/win situation for both the company and the creators.
Should Every Business Use Consumer Generated Marketing?
While not every company should use CGM, most can and should. Companies of any size can deploy user generated marketing campaigns, making it an ideal choice for both an established business or a scrappy startup.
Companies that sell design and production hardware or software can easily use their customers use of their products as fuel for their campaigns. These types of companies will have the easiest time regularly benefiting from user generated content.
Companies With a Web Presence Should Consider CGM
Tech companies that produce hardware, software, and other digital products are especially well suited for user generated content because tech consumers already use platforms such as Reddit, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram which all thrive from user created content. In other-words, your customers are already content creators!
The goal is to find your most passionate fans and get them to create content which tells your brand story to the world from their unique prospective. Building a community around your products creates a healthy brand ecosystem that encourages engagement, sharing, and feedback.
CGM Solves the Skepticism that Technical Buyers Have of Traditional Marketing
When I buy professional hardware or software, I am interested in real-world performance numbers, not marketing campaigns. In practice, that means I make my buying decision by evaluating budget against production needs. I do research and concern myself with benchmarks and price per performance metrics, which leaves little room for traditional marketing.
If you’re trying to reach tech enthusiasts, sysadmins, engineers and other savvy individuals, then having industry peers recommending your product or service helps to bypass traditional advertising.
For instance, in my role as a sysadmin my hardware purchasing decisions have been influenced by benchmarks and recommendations made on YouTube channels such as ServeTheHome [ youtube.com] or IT Creations, Inc [ youtube.com] which are two channels that feature a single person purchasing and reviewing datacenter hardware and workloads.
Almost Everyone Trusts Their Friends, Family, & Colleagues More Than Ads
According to the 2013 Nielsen Global Survey of Trust in Advertising [ nielsen.com] 84% of consumers trust word of mouth advertising compared to just 37% for cell phone ads or 42% for online banners.
You really don’t need a study to confirm this, because it is common sense. If your best friend recommends something you’re more likely to listen to them rather than a stranger on TV during a commercial break. Everyone knows that ads are there just to sell you things, whether you need them or not, while our friends and family are most likely only going to recommend something they personally believe in.
CGM is Low Cost but Potentially High Yield Marketing
Creating content costs time and money which is part of the appeal of having users create content for you. For instance, you could hire a production team to create video testimonials for a substantial amount of money or you could reach out to your customers through social media and ask them to submit their own videos for free.
Obviously it is much cheaper to have the consumer create the video than to hire the production team. Since the costs of creating those videos is practically nothing, it only takes one or two successful submissions to break even or make a profit, while the time to recoup the expenses from the production team could hundreds or thousands of times harder to achieve.
How to Deploy CGM for your own Business
The key to consumer generated marketing is community. If you can build a community or tap into an existing one then your campaign will have enough content creators to succeed. Choosing the right community and asking them to create content in a way that produces results is the challenge.
If you don’t have a community built on your own, most tech companies can tap into topically related communities that already exist in social media groups, subreddits, hashtags, and forums. Here are several practical ways that you can start utilizing CGM for your company:
I mentioned the Doritos and Starbucks contests earlier in the article, but you can run small or medium-sized contests that still have a big impact. If you sell design or production software, you can set up a contest that encourages people to use your product to create their submissions. Even if you sell boring software you can still spice up your contest using gamification and any number of incentives.
The biggest issue with contests is that they are often heavily regulated and require some legal knowledge to operate. For a fee you can use a middleman service like PromoSimple.com or Gleam.io to help you create and run a contest that complies with local laws and regulations.
Social Media Posts
If you’ve read the whole article I’ve mentioned several campaigns that involved users creating something with a brand’s product or service and then posting their creation on social media. This can be combined with a contest or used on it’s own.
To get started using social media for CGM, you need to reach out to your existing followers or find a relevant community to your niche or industry. A couple of ways to find communities is to search Facebook groups or hashtags on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.
Once you’ve located your community, you need to reach out and ask them to create a submission. Then you review the submissions and post the best ones back into the community.
In the next section, I talk about using reviews as CGM, but there is a problem with that. It’s that the internet is full of anonymous troublemakers who sometimes like to break stuff just because they can. That is why pushing your CGM campaigns to your most trusted community, your mailing list, should be part of your marketing plan.
Not everyone has a large email list, but it’s not about quantity but quality. Even if you only have 100 people on your email list, if they all open your emails then you can be sure they are interested in what you have to say. Challenge your already engaged email list audience to participate in your CGM campaigns because they have already jumped through several hoops (signing up the list and opening previous emails to stay on the list.) You know they are willing to do some work to connect with your brand, so engage them to their fullest potential!
Customer Feedback and Reviews
If you’re selling a good product or service and keep up with customer support, then it makes sense to actively ask your customers to leave feedback and reviews.
Good reviews are easily quotable and can provide reinforcement to potential customers who are on the fence. Good reviews can be reposted as social media posts, used as part of a traditional ad, and are often the last thing a customer will look at before making a final buying decision.
Obviously reviews are a double edged sword since overwhelming negative reviews will likely scare off most potential customers. However, in those situations the business should really take the negative reviews to heart and address all the issues so that the customers are happy. If most of your customers are angry at you, don’t expect to be able to use CGM.
Forums, Slack Groups, Reddit and Other Online Discussion Platforms
Finding the right community takes research both in locating the community and learning how to properly engage with them. This means be patient and start by finding all potential communities you can join before narrowing it down to the few that will be worth it to concentrate on.
One of the downsides to forums and Slack is that many of the best communities are private, making them more difficult to discover if you don’t already know about them.
It takes time and research to discover the right communities and then learn how to properly engage those communities so that you don’t sound like a spammer. Be prepaid to listen for awhile before talking, even on topics you are knowledge in.
For example, I subscribe to the /r/sysadmin [ reddit.com] subreddit. This is a large Reddit community with over half a million subscribers. When I first joined the subreddit, I read posts for a few months and then slowly started participating as I gained confidence in my ability to contribute helpful content that wasn’t redundant or against the communities sentiments.
Once I had a good grasp on the etiquette of that community, I used a “user generated content creation” strategy of asking the community for the tips “they wish they would’ve known when they started [ reddit.com]” The thread was a hit and I got almost 300 replies which allowed me to quickly and easily write a 4,800+ word article of 33 sysadmin tips. You can use this same strategy to help with your content marketing by reaching out to the right online community in your industry.
Stack Overflow, Quora and Other Questions/Answers Sites
“Questions & answers” websites gained popularity with
Yahoo! Answers [ yahoo.com] which launched in 2005. The idea is that users submit questions and then other users provide answers which can be accepted by the submitter and/or voted on by the community.
Sites such as
Yahoo! Answers, Quora, and Stack Exchange rely on user generated content, which presents a great consumer marketing opportunity if approached with care. Virtually all of these platforms forbid spamming or promoting your own content which means you need to be careful when participating in these communities.
Software developers have very specific problems and for years have asked their questions and gotten solutions from Stack Overflow [ stackoverflow.com]
Any company can use games as a form of interactive marketing, but even small game development can be time consuming and expensive. Since games require attention and input from the player/consumer that means you can educate them about your product or service in a way that insures they understand your value proposition.
You can reward players in different ways and encourage them to share their progress with your game on social media. Giving away real prizes sporadically combined with mandatory social media posting in order to claim those prizes is one way to leverage a game into a CGM campaign.
Since game development is costly, if you do decide to utilize game marketing then you should start small with something like a scratch off-ticket game, a loot crate opening game, or a simple game like tic-tac-toe or hang-man for example. Of course, those types of games are not very interesting on their own, so you should skin or brand these games in a way that makes thematic sense for your business and offer some type of incentive to play and share the game.
I mentioned Mario Maker earlier, but Roblox [ roblox.com] is a much bigger example of a gaming platform that thrives off of user created content. If you’re not familiar, Roblox gives kids a game engine and assets to create whatever they want, which teaches programming and game design. Much of Roblox success comes from kids sharing their work with their friends.
While the Roblox model won’t work for most existing companies, I would be remiss if I didn’t include a mention of it in this article. What will work for any company is utilizing gamification principles to engage new customers. The subject is massive, so I recommend this free Gamification course from the University of Pennsylvania [ coursera.org] which covers the subject in great detail.
YouTube is the 2nd most used search engine in the world. You can use CGM to have your community create videos about your offerings which will increase your presence in YouTube searches.
Sure, you could send free samples out to YouTubers who do reviews or unboxings in your niche, but you can also get your customers to create reviews, tutorials, or demonstrations of themselves using your solutions.
If your company sells creative products or services, having your customers share their creations on video is a great CGM tactic. However, even companies that offer intangible goods can still utilize consumer generate videos. You just need to encourage your community to share your solution’s value proposition in a video. For example, if you sell a cloud based SaaS that manages personal finances, you could challenge your customers to create short videos about how your service has saved them time and money.
Everyone likes a free lunch, so give it to them… after they make some user generated content for your business.
I made this a separate entry from “contests” because some UGC/CGM campaigns benefit when everyone who submits gets the free item. However, if you are giving away some expensive items, it might make sense to only award those prizes to the best submissions, which brings us full circle back to contests. You can combine the two ideas and give every submission a basic freebie and then award the best user submitted content with prizes at the end of the contest.
Content Add-ons to Existing Products
Are your users able to augment your product or service in a meaningful way? If so, you can put their efforts to work by having them create add-ons to your existing products that you then market as community created content.
For example, if you sell digital painting software, you could challenge your userbase to create and submit new brushes. The best submissions then could be sold or given away. During the submission phase you could have users submit their brush packs via Twitter with a related hashtag to help maximize the spread of the campaign.
Open Source Projects
For commercial software businesses, the thought of going open source can be frightening. The company is here to make money, not give away hard work for free. However, the main benefit of an open source project is the community that you can build and what they bring to the table.
This community will give you regular feedback, tell you what they want from your product and even do work on the project for no cost. They will promote the project for you, write documentation, find bugs, create tutorials and more if you have a large enough community around your open source project.
However, going open source doesn’t mean you can’t keep selling your products. Giving away an open source “Community” edition of your software while selling an “Enterprise” edition that comes with commercial support is a well known business model used by giant projects such as MySQL [ mysql.com]. You can also open source pieces of your bigger proprietary software or you can open source your “side-projects” as a form of marketing while keeping your main software completely proprietary.
You might be thinking that open source projects don’t apply to your business but if you think outside of the box you can adapt the model to almost any business. For instance, when you think about open source projects you probably think about software, not beer. However BrewDog [ brewdog.com] publish the full recipes for each of their beers [ amazonaws.com] as a pillar of their marketing campaign.
I know from hard experience that the worst part of running a business that sells open source software is that the conversion rate is abysmally low compared to selling proprietary solutions.
When a product is free, a lot of people mentally equate it to being worthless, even if they never consciously think that. In addition, if you have a good product then most people will be satisfied with the free version unless you have very compelling reasons to part them from their money. Finally, if your open source project doesn’t attract a community, it might get lost in the noise of open source releases.
CGM is a good option for technology companies who want an engaged community who create authentic stories that act as “word of mouth” advertising for the brand. Since tech companies and their customers already thrive on social media, it’s almost a “no-brainer” to engage in some sort of user generated content strategy.