How to Use Contests to Collect User-Generated Content

Learn step by step how to craft the perfect UGC campaign for your brand.

Today's online landscape is filled with a borderline overwhelming amount of content, and it can be hard for brands to stand out from the crowd.

The key is to constantly find ways to grab people's attention and drive engagement. There are lots of different approaches you can take to creating content and engaging users, but there are none which can beat leveraging the power of user-generated content (or UGC).

If you can effectively collaborate with consumers to generate UGC then you will be able to drive massive engagement and tap into a veritable goldmine of high-quality content without having to devote too much of your limited time and resources to content creation. This is a strategy that has worked wonders for brands like GoPro, Lululemon, and Apple, and there’s no reason it can’t do the same for you.

There was a time when most marketers held user-generated content in lower regard than professionally produced branded material, but as social media has become increasingly ubiquitous and the average user has become startlingly good at creating content this opinion has begun to wane with big brands regularly basing entire campaigns around UGC.

The enormous upside of UGC has started to rear its head and people are waking up to the fact that it possesses advantages that regularly give it the edge over traditional marketing material.

Let’s take a look at some of the key advantages which user-generated content has to offer.

The levels of engagement and relatability that content made by real users can provide is something that your own branded material will struggle to match.

While people tend to drown out traditional marketing material, UGC will be able to consistently demand attention.

People inherently trust content coming from their peers which makes UGC a powerful source of social referrals. Using user-generated content to promote your offering is significantly more authentic and trustworthy than purely relying on your own branded content.

When people create content on your behalf they will post and share it for their own following to see. This will help you extend your reach and is a perfect way to raise awareness, boost visibility, and build positive associations.

Running photo contests and other campaigns which generate UGC is a fantastic way to get users to play an active role in your brand and build a sense of engagement and community that will lead to long-term loyalty and growth.

In comparison to the production of traditional marketing material, the collection of user-generated content is basically free. Running a photo contest has some costs involved, but for the amount of awesome content you'll be able to procure it's well and truly worth it.

If the tremendous upside of user-generated content has you excited and you're eager to bring it into your own marketing mix then keep reading, because we're going to take you through all the best ways to run photo and video contests that will boost your exposure, drive engagement and most importantly net you a whole lot of user-generated content.

Running a successful photo contest was essentially unachievable for most brands as recently as 10 years ago, but thanks to the emergence of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, as well the pervasiveness of high-quality smartphone cameras, companies and users can now collaborate to produce content on an unprecedented scale.

The creation and exchange of UGC isn’t only simpler than it’s ever been, it’s also highly sought after. People have an inherent desire to create and share things with the world, so brands which run contests rewarding them for doing just that are able to capture a lot of attention.

So if you’re looking for an accessible and engaging way to acquire huge amounts of user content en masse then running a UGC contest should be on the top of your to-do list.

To get you on your way here's everything you need to know about running your own user-generated-content campaign:

The first thing you need to do when running a UGC contest is ask yourself "what type of content do I want to generate?"

You'll be wanting to procure images and videos that are valuable to your marketing efforts, but this can take you in a lot of different directions.

Remember, the more incentive you give users to enter your contest, the more you'll be able to generate high quality UGC. To give you some inspiration, here are some of the most powerful types of UGC you can target:

There’s arguably no better way to advertise your product than by simply showing it in action. This is the perfect way to highlight everything great about your product in an authentic and trustworthy manner.

This is a tactic which has been used to great effect by Apple, who show off the quality of iPhone cameras with their “Shot on iPhone” campaign.

This type of UGC is also frequently used by hordes of travel companies who use photos their customers have taken on trips to showcase what their service has to offer, but the same principle applies to virtually any brand.

Studies have found that as many as 84% of people trust online reviews as much as they trust recommendations from their friends. So if you are able to incentivise visually engaging reviews and user testimonials then you will put yourself in a position to collect marketing material that will help you win the trust of your audience, highlight the value of your product and ultimately drive sales.

Lite ‘n’ Easy, an Australian weight loss and healthy eating company, have had great success using competitions to source this type of content.


By giving away two free weeks of their service every month Lite ‘n’ Easy have been able to collect a continuous stream of high-quality customer testimonials which have become a cornerstone of their online marketing strategy.

This is a strategy that work for any brand, whether you want people to provide a testimonial about the effectiveness of your service, or simply post about how much they like your snacks.

Another fantastic type of UGC you can ask for is ideas for new products or directions. This is a great way to let your followers flex their creative muscles and engage with your brand in a fun way which will help strengthen your user relationships, encourage social sharing of your brand, and maybe even produce some innovative ideas.

Lay's do this with their incredibly engaging yearly Do Us a Flavor campaign which tasks users with sharing their own potato chip flavour ideas.

You can run this type of contest yourself without having to offer such an extravagant prize. People like sharing their ideas, so any incentive you can offer will often be enough to drive a contest which will engage your fans and possibly even inspire your next big offering.

As the last point illustrated, contests which give users the opportunity to show some creative flair can generate huge amounts of engagement. A great idea for a contest can be one which asks users to engage with your product in an original and creative way. This is a terrific way to produce an abundance of high-quality marketing material, spread your brand message and engage your audience.

Perhaps the best example of this type of competition comes from Starbucks, whose Red Cup Contest asked users to decorate their Starbucks cups and post them online for their chance to win cash prizes.

There are a lot of different types of powerful UGC you can generate using a contest. You just need to figure out what type will work best for you and your marketing strategy, and remember to make the type of content you want abundantly clear to your audience. You don’t want to launch a competition only to be flooded with irrelevant content.

Another decision you'll need to make as you start crafting your contest is what you're going to give away. Your contest prize will be the direct incentive for users to create content and enter your contest, so it’s important that you get it right.

When you’re choosing a prize for a UGC contest there a few specific things that you’ll need to keep in mind:

  • The best content will come from people who have genuine affection for your brand. Try offering a prize that will appeal primarily to these brand advocates. A bundle of your own products is far more likely to attract the types of users who produce high-value content than a generic gift like an Amazon gift card.
  • Your prize needs to justify the effort required to produce the content you want. The more you expect your users to do the more valuable your prize needs to be. You can’t expect people to jump at the chance to produce high-value content if all they stand to win is a $20 gift card.
  • Sticking to a theme is a good way to add a level of engagement to your contest. If you’re trying to generate content that fits a particular theme then it’s smart to offer a prize which also fits within the theme. For example, if you want to procure Christmas-themed content then try offering a Christmas-themed prize. It will add cohesion to your contest and do wonders for your engagement.

One of the most important aspects of running a user-generated content contest is deciding exactly how you're going to collect entries and pick winners:

One way you can approach recording entries and picking winners for your UGC contest is doing it all manually.

The way to do this is:

  • Announcing your contest on Instagram, Twitter or Faceboook.
  • Getting users to tag their submissions with a designated #hashtag, or @mention you in their post.
  • Compiling every valid submission into a list.
  • Picking the best entry as a winner or using a random list picker or a random number generator to pick a winner.

While encouraging users to share their submissions on social media with #hashtags and @mentions is the perfect way to kickstart the creation of content for your contest, manually tracking entries and picking entries is way more hustle than you need to endure.

If you run your UGC contest with Gleam's Competitions app you will be able to use our powerful import actions to automatically record and track submissions from a wide selection of import sources without users ever having to leave social media.

All you need to do is spread the word on social media and encourage as many people as you can to create and share awesome content. Don't forget to make it explicitly clear how entrants should be tagging their submissions.

With our import actions you will be able to collect entries from:

  • Instagram #hashtags and mentions
  • Twitter #hashtags
  • Facebook comments and posts on your page
  • and more

If you're running your contest on Instagram then the optimal approach to take is getting users to use a contest #hashtag and tag your @business in their submissions and importing entries from @mentions and using our powerful #hashtag filter to ensure that entrants are using your contest hashtag.

Gleam Instagram Import Action Setup

With this approach you can enjoy all the engagement and exposure benefits of hashtags while also using @mentions to take clear ownership of the campaign. Plus, when you use @mentions Instagram will allow you to access @usernames and timestamps which Instagram no longer allows when importing from #hashtags alone.

Once the contest is over you will need to pick a winner using a transparent and predetermined process. When running a UGC contest the best ways to determine a winner are by staff choice, popular vote, or random selection.

When you run a contest with Gleam, you can easily draw manual or random winners without any hassle.

As powerful and convenient it is to automatically import submissions from social media, the approach has some drawbacks when compared to directly accepting submissions into your campaign. These include capturing additional user data and easily getting permission to use the UGC you collect in your own marketing efforts.

With Gleam you can easily setup your own photo contest in a stylish widget and easily collect media submissions from Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or even offline files. You can even restrict entries to photos that include a particular hashtag or hashtags so you can make sure that the submissions you receive are relevant to your campaign.

You can easily run these contests on your own website or one of our stylish hosted landing pages and drive traffic from any of your social channels.

Have a play around with our demo competition below to get a feel for some of the ways you can use Gleam to source high-quality user content as part of a contest or giveaway.

  Use This Template   See More Photo Contest Templates

Running a campaign where users can directly submit their content into your contest is brilliant for a few key reasons:

  • You can maximise participation and exposure by driving traffic to your campaign through all of your social channels.
  • You can capture additional user data such as emails. This will make it easier to contact winners and stay in touch with participants.
  • You can use a checkbox to ensure users agree to your terms and conditions, which is the best way to get explicit permission to use the content you collect as a part of your own marketing efforts.
  • You have the option of expanding your campaign and driving additional meaningful actions.
Run Your Own UGC Contests

Check out the Gleam app and start running your own powerful user-generated content contests today.

Once your contest has finished and your winner has been chosen you’ll need to publicly announce them and promote their victory. A simple and effective way to do this is with a social media post.

You can even go a step further and encourage your winners to post a photo of themselves with their prize…

…or even get them to film themselves receiving and showing off their prize (this is particularly effective if you’re giving away your own product).

Announcing your contest winner is another great opportunity to utilize even more UGC, so don’t let it go to waste.

Also, make sure you don’t forget all your other contestants. They’re valuable leads that you should be trying to convert into customers, so remember to reward them for their efforts with timely updates, engaging content and valuable discounts.

When you run a UGC contest you'll be wanting to get as many people as possible to enter it, which means getting out there and actively promoting your campaign.

To help you get started with your promotional efforts here are some of the key ways you should be looking to promote your user-generated content contest:

The most straightforward way to promote your user-generated content contest is by announcing it across all of your social channels.

You should also post regular updates as your contest progresses. Try highlighting previous submissions to give users a bit of inspiration and get them excited to enter.

If you want your contest to gain some serious traction you should also try encouraging users to share contest links via social media and e-mail with smart incentives like additional contest entries. Facebook and Twitter work best for informal contests, LinkedIn is excellent for B2B activity, and e-mail is a great catchall.

Your existing followers are more likely than anyone to want in on any new contest, so always email your list and let them know about any contests you run.

Ticketmaster Contest Email

Do you have a blog? A newsletter? A weekly video series? If you do make sure you’re using these platforms to promote your contest. Highlighting your contest for it’s entire duration will greatly increase the amount of entries you get.

Birchbox Unboxing Video Contest

This is a tactic that Birchbox has used on their blog to great effect.

A great way to gain exposure from a new audience is by promoting your contest through content creators and influencers. If you know of a content creator or influencer whose audience aligns with your own you can try to get them to promote your contest in exchange for money, product, or even just the fresh and engaging content your contest provides.

This is a highly effective way to use content marketing to reach an audience who wouldn’t usually engage with your brand.

Just take a look at how BooHoo had their contest (and many of their products) exposed to 2.5 million relevant audience members by reaching out to influential YouTuber Zoella and providing her with some free clothing.

This is the bread and butter of driving targeted traffic. Paid ads are an effective way to get folks involved in your contest, so if you have the budget for it, consider using Facebook Ads or Google Ads to help you get your message out there.

In the aftermath of your contest you’ll be inundated with a wide array of high-quality user-generated content. This content can be a hugely impactful addition to your promotional efforts, so you should be incorporating it into your marketing strategy as soon as you get your hands on it.

Just remember that you'll need to get explicit permission to use the content you collect. You can do this by directly reaching out to users or getting consent via the terms and conditions of your contest.

Gleam Photo Contest Sign-in Form

Sharing the content you collect on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are outstanding ways to capitalize on the engaging and relatable content you’ve gotten your hands on.

By regularly incorporating your UGC into your social media activity you’ll be able to give your brand a sense of authenticity and connect with your audience on a very human level.

Email marketing is one of the most effective promotional tools you have, but it isn’t without its challenges.

If improperly executed, promotional emails can often come across as un-engaging and impersonal. One great way to avoid this is by incorporating the high-quality UGC your contest generates into your email marketing strategy.

User-generated content will make your emails more personal and relatable and add a layer of authenticity and credibility to your email marketing while providing your mailing list with a stronger sense of community. This will all help you forge stronger relationships with your audience and significantly boost the likelihood of converting your mailing list into customers.

Footlocker Hashtag Contest Email

Reviews and testimonials are the best kind of UGC to incorporate into your email marketing, as they are simply reliable endorsements that can often give users the last push they need towards a sale.

Dollar Shave Club Add Testimonials to Email

As well as sharing your user-generated content through all of your social channels, it's also a good idea to put it all on full display on your website.

Gleam’s Galleries app allows you to build a stylish photo gallery which is linked directly to your competition, so all the images which are submitted into your contest are imported into your gallery for you to moderate and display.

Once you’ve created your Gallery you can use it to liven up your website or add an extra layer of engagement to your social media presence by embedding the gallery into your Facebook page.

You can even display submissions in a sleek carousel gallery that will look great anywhere on your website.

In addition to simply displaying your photos, there are numerous other ways you can use a Gleam Gallery to engage your audience.

Another fantastic way you can use a photo gallery to engage your audience is by allowing users to vote on photos in your gallery. This is not only a great way to interact and engage with your audience but it also allows you to feature popular submissions more prominently, as you can order your gallery based on popularity. This will make your gallery more engaging and it can even help you hand select some exceptional images to include in your social media marketing.

You can also use Voting Galleries to help you select contest winners. All you need to do is enable voting within your Competition Gallery and then manually choose a winner based on which submission receives the highest amount of votes.

You can let entrants embed their Gallery submissions in their own blog as a way to encourage their followers to vote for their entry (and get more eyes on your campaign).

If you use our Capture app you'll even be able offer valuable discounts to users who vote for Gallery items. This is a great way to encourage Gallery visits, votes, and even sales.

If you want to set up a gallery to showcase contest submissions, you don’t have to wait until your contest is over. You can set up a Gallery right from the onset of your competition and use it to display incoming submissions in real time. You can even allow users to enter the contest from inside the gallery and add an extra element of interactivity to your campaign.

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Ahron Burstin

Ahron is a Growth Marketer at Gleam. Shoot him a Tweet if you got something out of this post ☺