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Turning Customers Into Collaborators: Five ways to Use Email to Get User-generated Content (With Templates)

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In research run recently by the IMRG, we learned that 73% of online shoppers have been directly influenced by User-generated Content (imagery shared on social media, reviews from customers, etc.) while making an online purchase decision. And with that same research showing the importance of UGC being particularly pronounced amongst millennial and Gen-Z consumers … it’s fair to assume that the trend toward UGC will only intensify in the coming months and years.

In this article, we’ll use a core part of any brand’s marketing ecosystem – email and CRM – to offer an answer to a question we hear often: “how do I increase the supply of relevant User-generated Content for my brand?”


A quick introduction to User-generated Content

User-generated Content (UGC) refers to any content that is created by users or customers of a brand, rather than the brand itself. This can include things like product reviews, ratings, testimonials, social media posts, photos, videos, and more. Brands will often opt to invest in creating and executing a UGC Strategy for a mix of the following reasons:

  • Authenticity: UGC is content created by real people, typically hosted on their personal social media channels. For that reason, it is content that communicates a sense of authenticity and credibility for a brand … and can be especially effective in building trust with potential customers. As we learned in the recently published Content Trends Report, the perceived authenticity and trustworthiness of a brand are crucially important factors to consumers when deciding what to buy: 91% of respondents said that they are more likely to remain loyal to a brand (i.e. buy from them again) that they find trustworthy and authentic. (Download the full Content Trends Report here.)
  • Social proof: UGC is an example of “social proof”; helping to demonstrate to potential customers that other people are using and enjoying your brand’s products or services.
  • Cost-effective: While you might invest in a platform that helps you keep a log of content rights approvals from customers (staying on the right side of the GDPR rules), UGC content itself is free to use, as it has already been created by customers or fans of the brand. This can be a cost-effective way to create content for marketing campaigns.
  • Increased reach: UGC has the potential to go viral, as users may share it with their own followers on social media. This can help to increase the reach of your brand’s marketing efforts.
  • Customer engagement: the act – on your brand’s behalf – of celebrating UGC can help to foster a sense of community and engagement with your brand’s customers. This can be especially effective when your brand encourages customers to create and share their own content…

With so many good reasons to get out there and start asking your customers to submit their own UGC (what we like to call “turning customers into collaborators”), you’ll no doubt be itching to get started.

But how?!

A multichannel approach is recommended, but the top of the list of places to go to start generating a pipeline of User-generated Content has to be “email”: you already have a relationship with this person (who may already even be a customer), you can ask them directly, and if you balance it just right then requesting UGC can even help prove the value of opening those emails you send to contacts in your CRM.

So, without further ado, here are StoryStream’s top tips for encouraging User-generated Content through email.


Generating UGC through Email

Five top tips for generating UGC through email

#1: Make it easy 

It’s almost too obvious to mention, but the devil really is in the details: the easier it is to submit UGC for your customers, the more content you’ll be able to capture. Making it easy for people to submit User-generated Content is as simple as providing clear instructions (an early understood, and easily typed-out hashtag for example), giving users plenty of ways to share their content (e.g. list out the social channels you’ll be monitoring, provide a direct upload form on your website), and having your terms and conditions clearly signposted for all who need to see them.

#2: Make it personal 

When it comes to asking your customers to create content on your behalf, aligning your needs with their enthusiasm is a great way to gain an edge. Try to target your CTA “in the moment” – i.e. ask for User-generated Content in the moments your customers are most likely to be buzzing about your brand.

Email personalisation is a particularly effective approach – asking for UGC as part of an order delivery confirmation email is an increasingly common practice for social-savvy brands. And so too is placing reminders on physical mail: product packaging that nudges a user back to social to e.g. “share their haul and tag #example” can quickly increase the volume of UGC available to your brand.

#3: Make it a competition 

Contests are a go-to tactic for many brands looking to supercharge their supply of UGC – and for good reason. A contest run by Trusted House Sitters, for example, generated over 4200 submissions in just 12 days (netting an equivalent creative cost of over $100,000!).

And by combining what you know about your customers in your CRM with a classic competition mechanic, you’re able to really drill in on the types of content you most need.

We’d encourage you here to think of it less as “asking customers to make content through a competition”, and more as “commissioning a collaborator through a creative brief.” For example, have a seasonal Spring campaign upcoming? Create a segment of previous springtime buyers to target with an email inviting them to share their “#SpingBrand” looks, incentivised with a weekend city break prize.

Really diving into what you know about your customers is a fantastic way to convert them into collaborators. And who doesn’t love a little incentive?

#4: Make it (immediately) worthwhile

Speaking of a little incentive… offering specific bonuses for customers who submit User-generated Content (future discounts, free trials, exclusive access to content, events, drops etc.) is a great way to encourage UGC (while also proving the value to customers of opening up your emails too!).

A direct quid pro quo is one way to approach the idea (e.g. a regularly included email CTA to “submit your #example review on Instagram now to receive 10% off your next order”), but you might also consider tying that request for content into your customers’ online account environment too. If you operate a loyalty scheme with login functionality for example, submitting UGC can even become part of your customer onboarding: make the customer aware that for every piece of UGC they submit, you will offer them an increasingly enticing incentive. Loyalty goes in two directions, after all!

#5: Make it “a thing”

A subtle way to prompt users to submit UGC for your brand: use your email communications to regularly showcase some of the best User-generated Content you’ve received from other customers. (Read more about activating UGC in email here.)

Seeing others enjoying your products and shouting about them can go a long way to inspiring others to join the conversation and submit their own content; a virtuous cycle of UGC creation. And then, when you come to ask a user directly to submit their UGC, they’ll already know the lengths your brand goes to to elevate and celebrate customer content. Make it “a thing”, because it is!


Templates: Getting Started with UGC Collection via Email

UGC and Email: templates to get started

As ever, the ingredients of your email (subject line, body copy … even the “To”!) are of paramount importance when creating an email asking for User-generated Content.

When it comes to subject lines: copy that’s short, attention-grabbing and specific about the benefit for the customer stands the best chance of delivering a strong email open rate. And, if it’s right for your brand, you might also want to consider adding a sense of urgency or scarcity to make the subject line ever more compelling (think: “Don’t miss the chance” or “last call to participate”).

Your subject line should reflect the tone of the email within (please, no nasty surprises!); something you’ll want to balance with your company’s overarching tone of voice. Here are some thought starters:

“📸 Show us your best [product] shots!”

“🚨 We want YOU! (See inside for a discount)🚨”

“We want to hear from you…”

“🏆 Share your story and win a prize 🏆”

“🗣 Your opinion matters, share it with us 🗣”

“🤝 Join our community, raise your voice 🤝”

“Sharing is caring, and we care a lot…”

“🌟 Shine with us!🌟”

“🎁 Share your experience and get rewarded 🎁”

“Feeling creative? We have a challenge for you”

By adding emojis to the subject lines, you can make the email more playful and eye-catching, which can increase the chances that the customer will open the email and read it (overusing emojis might backfire and make the email appear unprofessional; everything in moderation and all that).

For the body copy, you’ll want to remember rule #1: make it simple! Lead with the “why”, and remember that the more quickly and succinctly you can make your instructions, the better. Let’s start with a competition email:

Subject: 🎁 Your chance to win …”

Hey [Name],

It’s competition time, and there’s a very special prize up for grabs!

We want to see how you incorporate [product] into your life. Whether it’s a meme, a creative DIY project or a heartfelt testimonial … we want to see it all! Make us laugh, make us cry, make us proud. It’s up to you.

To participate, all you have to do is:

  • Use our product in a creative way (safely!)
  • Snap a photo or grab a video
  • Share it on your social media using the #[ContestHashtag] and tagging [brand]

Not on social? No worries – you can submit your entity using the form on our website [Link].

We will be selecting the top 10 entries and announcing the winner on [Announcement date]. The grand prize is [prize] and the runners-up will also receive [prize for the runner-ups].

Don’t miss out on the chance to win big and show off your creativity! The contest ends on [Contest end date], so be sure to submit your entry before it’s too late.

Best of luck, and we can’t wait to see your submissions!

[Your brand]

With the above template, you have the basic structure of an email encouraging a customer to join a hashtag competition. You can customise this email copy as per your needs and preference (just make sure to include all the entry mechanic details and prize information as soon as you can)!

If a competition isn’t the route you choose to go down, then there are fewer of those “need to include” details to account for. You will still want to include all the relevant information on how to share – the hashtag to use, channel to submit through, account to tag, etc. – but there’s a little more creative license to be taken in crafting the copy. Here’s an example:

Subject: “We want to know what you did next…”

Hey [Name],

And a very happy #ThrowbackThursday to you. We know it’s been a little while since you purchased your [product] – and we’d absolutely love to know how you’ve been getting along with it.

Share your experience with us using [#Example] – and we’ll share our favourites so that you can all see them! That’s how you turn #ThrowbackThursday into #Inspiration 😉

[Your brand]

Of course, if you can include UGC within the email itself then even better. You can learn more about how StoryStream can connect to your ESP to dynamically serve relevant UGC within email campaigns here, or reach out to our team to book a demo here!


Customers/collaborators: in conclusion 

User-generated Content can be a tremendously valuable asset for eCommerce businesses of all shapes and sizes. Not only does UGC help to build trust and credibility with potential customers – three-quarters of shoppers say that brands that share User-generated Content are more trustworthy than brands that do not (IMRG report) – it also provides valuable information and insights to shoppers that can influence purchasing decisions, and can help a brand to create a sense of community and engagement with its customers; hugely beneficial for building longer-term brand loyalty.

Regardless of the channel you’re circulating the CTA to “join in” on, the key rules to remember when encouraging customers to submit UGC are simple: make it easy to do (a catchy and easy-to-use hashtag, plenty of routes through which to submit content, transparent terms and conditions), offer a “why?” behind the request (be that via an incentive, a contest, or simply through an invitation to join a community of customer-collaborators), and make time to respond to and share submitted User-generated Content across all your marketing channels.

And when it comes to asking for UGC through the email channel specifically, don’t forget that you’re already off to a winning start. Use what you know about that specific contact to tailor the request you make, and consider bringing in whatever you can from your customer growth and retention approach to help sweeten the deal.

Positive word of mouth remains the holy grail for all brand marketers, and UGC is your digital equivalent. Whatever you do next, don’t leave the opportunity in unread.