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8 Brands Doing Great Things with User-Generated Content

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Thanks to social media, we are having more conversations with more people using more mediums than ever before. Brands have taken notice and realized that those conversations—the ones between friends—are the ones with the most value. Their challenge? To find a way to leverage existing brand passion as a jumping off point in order to build and foster a loyal community. One of the best ways to do this? User-generated content.

Everyone wants to do it, but only a few people are doing it well. The point is to allow fans of your brand to contribute the conversation in a way that's authentic and will resonate and engage. But it's not just about having them tweet or post a photo to Instagram. First and foremost, it's about inspiring content that's great in its own right.

In addition, it helps if the brand already has an engaged audience. It's hard to build a community; it takes time and effort. You can't just have a photo-sharing contest when you only have a hundred followers. But once a brand has earned that audience? They are silly not to take reward that loyalty.

However, brands also need to make it easy for consumers to create and submit the user-generated content. Not everyone is going to want to make a high-quality video. A low barrier to submission, in most cases, is crucial to a high participation rate. Of course, keep in mind, not everyone has to actually submit content in order for a user-generated campaign to be successful. Likes, comments, and shares all help spread the brands message.

Lastly, brands need to make it about the user. People enjoy being brand advocates when the brand has authentically inspired them to be so, but even more so, they like sharing things about themselves. If brands can find a good mix of those two things? They'll have user-generated content gold.

Here are eight of our favorites who do one, two, or all of these things. In all cases, we think these campaigns were a success.

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The San Francisco-based retailer has been actively engaging users since they launched a feature in 2009 called Be the Buyer. It allows ModCloth shoppers to check out samples with prices attached and vote on whether or not the company should put it into production. Then, in November of last year, they held a "Make the Cut" contest where invited customers to send in sketches of their designs. Seven winners out of 1900 entries were chosen to have their designs produced. The winners received $500, but more important, their name appeared in the tag of the item.

ModCloth also consistently finds small ways to engage customers with contests that encourage pinning clothing items to Pinterest and giveaways like "Name It and Win It" where users submit names for a frock and win it if their title is selected. It doesn't stop there, though. ModCloth is also very active on Instagram with contests that ask for head-to-toe pics of customer's favorite outfits etc.

All-in-all, ModCloth is incredibly savvy when it comes to social media and engaging their very loyal customers through low-barrier-to-entry contests and projects.

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Chobani uses its Nothing But Good Pinterest board to keep share inspirational quotes and photos with their 13,500K+ followers. Does the content have anything to do with yogurt? No. Does it give potential yogurt-buyers warm fuzzies about the Chobani brand therefore putting them top of mind next time those people go to the grocery store? Absolutely.

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Tiffany & Co.

"Wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva..." It may have been said first by the Clergyman in "The Princess Bride," but no brand embodies the concept better than Tiffany & Co. Earlier this year, Tiffany launched an Instragram campaign that encouraged followers to share pictures of themselves with the person they love and tag it #TrueLovePictures. A selection of the photos were then shared on Tiffany's True Love in Pictures website.

Though the Instagram campaign is over, Tiffany still encourages people to share their pictures of True Love inspired by a different phrase ("True Love last forever when ______," for example) each week.

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Tiffany did everything exactly right with this campaign. Submitting photos was a cinch and they made it about the user, but the theme of the content aligned perfectly with the brand. What's not to love?

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Why do the work when you can get someone else to do it for just 1% of the profits? We joke, but that is what Lego is doing with its Lego Cuuso project. Users create a Lego project, share the concept, and see what others think. If a project gets 10,000 supporters, it's reviewed by Lego for a chance to become an official Lego project. If it's chosen for production, the creator receives 1 percent of the total net sales.

The creator is inspired to share his project with as many people as possible in order to gain votes, effectively raising brand awareness for Lego while also creating brand loyalty. All at very little cost to Lego.

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There's something about getting a glimpse into someone's private life that many of us find intriguing. It's why magazine articles are always asking celebrities to reveal the contents of their bags. In 2011, Moleskine capitalized on this fascination of ours and launched a campaign titled What's in Your Bag?

The photos—which had to include a Moleskine—were uploaded to Facebook for shares, comments, and likes. Again, by making the barrier to entry low and by appealing to both the exhibitionist and the voyeur in all of us, Moleskine managed to create thousands of interactions with their brand.

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One of the best ways to convince users to generate content? Tap into their nostalgic side. That's exactly what Subaru does with its My First Car campaign which encourages people to go online and share the story of their first car. This idea works because everyone who has ever had a first car has a story. When they got it. What kind of car it was. How much it cost. How they paid for it. Where they drove it first. Our first car is an important milestone for most of us and Subaru does a great job of tapping into that emotion. In addition, because the point of storytelling is sharing with an audience, the video is easily distributed via Facebook, Twitter, or email.

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Free People

Posting pictures of their outfits on Instagram is already something tons of girls are doing. Free People took note of that and added a twist: a card attached to all of its jeans with instructions for the buyer to take a pic of herself in the jeans, post it on Instagram, and add the #MYFBDENIM hashtag. The photos of the jeans are seen on Free People's stream, but also the customers and the best photos are featured on Free People's site with a handy "Shop this Style" link above. Free publicity that drives sales. Jean-ius.

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Considering this is Dorito's seventh year doing its Crash the Super Bowl contest, one can only assume it's been a successful campaign for the salty snack chip company. It started, however, with just one idea: "Break a bunch of marketing and advertising rules." That's slightly ironic since now "inspire user-generated content" has become a marketing and advertising rule, but at the time it was definitely revolutionary.

The idea? Get fans to create their own Doritos commercials for the opportunity to have it shown during the Super Bowl… oh, and a million dollars.

Doritos knows what they're doing and they're doing it well, dragging the contest out in four parts, complete with lots of voting and sharing on Facebook. And with staying power and no end in sight, Crash the Super Bowl might be the most famous user-generated content campaign to date.

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