user generated content as represented by hay

4 Excellent User Generated Content Contests Using Social Media

One of the toughest parts of any social media marketers job is the continuous quest to produce new and fresh content. Building an audience might feel like the most difficult part of your social media strategy, but once you have built this community there’s an undeniable pressure to keep your end of the bargain and provide them with worthwhile content.

How many times have you followed a brand, only to not see another post from them for a week or even longer? Without consistent posting, an organization misses huge opportunities to stay top of mind and increase social engagement amongst their customers. However, creating and sharing a steady stream of engaging content is much easier said than done. Brainstorming, shooting and editing photos and videos, and writing original copy all take time and resources that not all businesses have.

Thankfully, the very community you are engaging with are the ones who can help. User generated content (UGC)—content created and provided by your audience—allows for a truly authentic experience and speaks much louder than content solely created by a business itself. There are countless reasons to turn to user-generated content, many of which we describe in more detail in our Why You Should Launch a User Generated Content Campaign post. A proven method of generating user-generated content is through contests, so we’ve rounded up some excellent examples of companies doing UGC right to help give you some ideas for your own campaigns.

Who’s doing user generated content right?

National Geographic

National Geographic is an organization renowned for their stunning images, so the stakes were high when they turned to their social media community for content. Their recent “Wanderlust” contest, however, proved that user-generated travel content is a goldmine for brands. Asking users to “capture glimpses of the unforgettable people, places, and experiences that have impacted their lives from their travels around the world” and then share these images on Instagram with the hashtag #WanderlustContest, National Geographic tapped into a huge database of travel photography and video content that their community was more than happy to share.

National Geographic wanderlust contest for user generated content

In exchange for sharing their images, contest participants had a chance to win a National Geographic Photo Expedition to Yosemite National Park. The success of this contest was not only due to the prize aligning with the participants’ innate interests, but thanks to National Geographic recognizing what their audience is most passionate about. Users follow National Geographic’s Instagram feed or official hashtags for beautiful images of the world, and in tapping into this passion and interest they were able to not only engage with their community in a positive way, but generate tons of relevant and shareable content without the usual grunt work usually required.

Key lessons:

  • Recognize why your audience follows you and use this to your advantage. National Geographic knew that their audience finds value in beautiful travel images, so rightly assume they would be enthusiastic about sharing their own.
  • Choose a prize that aligns with your audience’s interests. National Geographic enthusiasts have a penchant for exploring the world, so the photo expedition trip was a smart choice as a prize.

Marc Jacobs

When massively-popular fashion designer Marc Jacobs announced that the company would be casting models for their next advertising campaign through Twitter and Instagram submissions, social media savvy fashionistas around the world went wild. Participants simply had to post an image to Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #CastMeMarc, and within 24 hours over 15,000 hopefuls had done just that. The overwhelming success of this campaign led to a second social media contest, and is even credited with starting a phenomenon that came to be known as “selfie-casting,” where fashion brands are using social media rather than modeling agencies to find the next fresh face.

Marc Jacobs #casememarc user generated content

The Marc Jacobs campaign is a great example of a brand tapping into a mammoth social media phenomenon—the selfie. They tapped into what they knew their followers and audience members would probably be doing already (taking selfies), and used this knowledge to not only generate content (in sharing the top entries), but to efficiently scout talent for their professional advertising campaigns. The fashion, beauty, and modeling community on Instagram is enormous and the Marc Jacobs campaign recognized the power in this market and used it to positively generate engagement and brand awareness.

Key lessons:

  • Pay attention to what your audience is already doing (i.e. taking selfies) and use this information to build your contest around.
  • Find a social media community relevant to your brand and participate in conversations there. There’s a community for everything, from fitness and fashion to technology and interior design. Explore the community your brand fits into, and continuously monitor trends and popular posts.


Luxury car company Infiniti took the user-generated content contest to the next level with their “New Heights” contest to promote their Q30 model. Participants were asked to download the Infiniti Q30 Augmented Reality app and print out the Q30 app maker. Then, they were asked to capture a photo of the 3D Q30 in creative situations, and upload their images to Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, with the hashtag #Q30Challenges. While definitely requiring more effort from participants than other contests, the prize included an all-inclusive trip to Budapest for two lucky winners.

infiniti user content for q30 challenges campaign
Image courtesy of the official Infiniti Facebook page.

Key lessons:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask your contest participants to do a little more work (within reason). In doing this, you are narrowing the entries being shared to include higher quality content as you are filtering out potentially less-dedicated entrants.


Mint, a personal budgeting app, is relatively new to Instagram but has already seemingly mastered the art of the user-generated content pull. Recently launching the “My Mint Moment” contest, the company asked the Instagram community to share photos of moments where their “life and finances align to make your dreams turn into your #MyMintMoment”. For a prize of $1,000, participants were asked to stop and celebrate these moments “whether paying off a loan or saving for a trip.”

While it may be difficult to conceptualize what a budgeting company might use as images for an Instagram account, this contest proved that Mint understands some key principles of content marketing. With their Instagram presence and this campaign, they are highlighting the way Mint fits into and enhances the customer’s lifestyle. They aren’t posting images of money or their app’s interface, but rather appealing to the customer’s emotions. With photos of weddings, new homes, and university grads among those being tagged with the #MyMintMoment hashtag, the brand is generating authentic and meaningful content from its audience, which is a priceless tactic.

Key lessons:

  • Appeal to your customers’ emotions. You’re selling a feeling, not a product, and with this you have a higher chance of receiving quality user-generated content
  • Highlight the lifestyle surrounding your brand, rather than just the product or service itself. Your audience will be much more inclined to post to their personal Instagram accounts with these types of images, rather than obnoxiously branded content.

How to run your own user generated content contest

Now that you’ve seen some great examples of user-generated content driven contests, you probably want to get down to business and run your own. While there are of course many ways to go about this, there are some basics that will help guide you through the process. Our recent guide to launching your first user-generated content campaign offers the following areas you will want to consider :

1. What kind of campaign do you want to run?

If concentrating on a user-generated content contest campaign, you will need to take some time to get acquainted with your audience and customers. Who are they? What do they like? What kinds of things do they post? In social listening, you are able to collect all of this data, and truly customize your social media campaign to fit these needs.

2. Which social networks do you want to use?

As we describe above, your audience needs are key when deciding how to run your contest. In recognizing who your audience are, and what they need, you can then determine what social networks you will want to use in your contest. As explained in our post, “If your fan base is on the younger side, Instagram is probably your best bet. Sixty percent of 13-18 year-olds and 47 percent of 19-32 year-old Millennials are using Instagram. Not only is the majority of Generation Z on Instagram, but they’re incredibly dedicated. One in four Gen Z Instagram users scrolls through their feeds hourly.

3. How will you promote the campaign?

Again, your audience demographics will play a big role in decisions made in regards to how you want to promote your campaign. As we describe, “one technique you can use to boost the promotion of your user-generated content campaign is enabling voting. It’s self-evident, but it bears repeating: entrants want to win. They will share the contest with their friends and family in an attempt to get votes. You can let people vote anonymously, or gate the voting system and require the submission/log-in with their email, Facebook, Google, Instagram, or Twitter handle. It’s a great way to generate leads in addition to your UGC, and it encourages the organic promotion of the campaign by your fans.”

Following these steps, it’s a great idea to not only obviously notify the winner, but to promote the winner through your social media channels. This creates buzz around your brand, as well as awareness for future campaigns. Think of creative ways, such as making a short video to announce the winner, and have this posted through all of your social networks. Use this to link back to your site to drive even more engagement and reach.

Keep it legal

Nothing can ruin a celebration like somebody getting sued. Before running your user-generated content contest, ensure you are familiar with the laws that may impact your campaign. While these will, of course, vary from region to region, each social network provides specific legal guidelines for the running of promotions on their sites.