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How to make the most of user-generated content on Instagram

By Matthew Meier · June 24, 2021
A hero image for Instagram app tips with the Instagram logo

Your customers play all sorts of roles in your business—and one of the most important is content creator.

Your customers are creating content for you all the time: everything from reviews to TikTok stitches to a Tweet about your brand. It's called user-generated content, and it's an authentic (and free) way to show off your products and services. The content works wonders on its own, and you can also re-use it (with permission) on your website, social media, or anywhere else you're looking for fresh material.

At my company, MaxTour, we've found that the most powerful platform for utilizing UGC is Instagram: it's helped us get new leads, build trust, and connect with current customers. Many of your customers are also on Instagram, and some of them are probably already posting about your business. The ones that aren't can be nudged to do so, giving you an ample supply of UGC to show off what your company is doing. 

So here's our guide to collecting, organizing, and sharing UGC on Instagram. After a year of getting serious about our Instagram marketing, including UGC, we now get 8% of our new leads from the platform. It's worth the resources to make it work.

Create a hashtag unique to your company

Larger brands have the luxury of creating hashtags for specific products or promotions (in addition to their primary one), but smaller businesses should create a single hashtag to track all activity. It's important to start with something manageable and measurable, so you can see how the hashtag is performing.

Creating a hashtag is easy: just slap a # in front of any word or phrase, and it becomes a hashtag. #DoneAndDone. If you can get people to use it, whenever anyone looks at that hashtag, they'll see all the content posted by you and about you.

Some tips for coming up with a hashtag:

  • Searching for your hashtag should produce 0 results—or close to it. You want to be sure you're all that people see when they click that hashtag.

  • Your hashtag should incorporate your business name. If your business name as is already has a hashtag, you can try your business name + city—that's what we did with our #MaxTourVegas—or your business name + descriptive term.

  • Keep it short and easy to remember (and spell!). 

  • Since there are no spaces in a hashtag, it helps to capitalize each word for readability when you share it. (Note: hashtags are not case sensitive and will still function with or without caps.)

  • Search for the hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok to make sure it doesn't have any unintended usage or history on those platforms either. Ideally, your Instagram hashtag will be used across all of your social media channels.

Promote your new hashtag

Now it's time to take your shiny new hashtag for a spin.

It's up to you how aggressively you choose to promote it. Some companies will simply start adding it to their own posts and hope it takes off. Another option is to ask customers to use your hashtag—whether that's in an email, on receipts, in ads, on social media, or anywhere else. Some businesses will even offer incentives, such as discounts, gift cards, or free products, for customers that use their hashtag.

The more you promote your hashtag, the more valuable it will be, but you need to weigh the resource allocation for yourself. Whatever you choose, here are some easy ways to start promoting it.

Add your hashtag to your previous posts

You can go back and edit everything on Instagram, including hashtags. So, to get a bit of momentum going, go back and add your new hashtag to all of your company's previous posts. This will get your hashtag off of 0 so there's something to see if people search for it.

Ask people who have posted about your brand to add your hashtag

People love to get attention from a brand.

Put yourself in your customer's shoes. How would you feel if your favorite company reached out to you directly? Plus, it makes the business seem more authentic and relatable because it gives customers a personal connection to the brand. You can then build off of that relationship in others ways as well.

So: a simple way to promote your new hashtag is to find older posts about your company or brand and ask the poster (in the comments) to add your hashtag. I usually say something like this:

Wow, great photo—it looks like the light was perfect that day. Thanks for posting this! We actually just created a new hashtag for our company and would love for this photo to show up for our hashtag. Could you please add #MaxTourVegas to this post? Thanks in advance!

Not everyone will do it, but many will be happy to interact. Here's someone who did.

MaxTour asking someone to include their hashtag

We've experimented with getting people to add our hashtag to their posts versus getting them to tag us—it's proven much easier to get them to use the hashtag. Which is great, actually, because then all of our UGC lives under the hashtag instead of being split between the hashtag and our Tagged posts section. 

Add your hashtag to your profile

Slap your hashtag on your Instagram profile, and it will automatically become clickable. That's what we did here:

MaxTour's hashtag in their profile
If you aren't using dark mode when scrolling social media in bed, you're missing out. Eye strain be gone!

If you click that hashtag in our profile, you can see all the photos people have posted about our company. This is a jackpot of UGC, raw and unfiltered for everyone to see. 

All of the photos under MaxTour's hashtag

Put your new hashtag everywhere else—and tell people about it

Put your new hashtag together with the Instagram logo wherever you think customers will see it. At the checkout counter, on tables at restaurants, on bags or other packaging, the list goes on.

But remember: you can't just put something into the universe and expect to get traction. When we first tried putting up signs with our hashtag in our tour vans, nobody on our Grand Canyon tours noticed them. Once we started pointing them out and asking people to use our hashtag in their photos, though, that's when we started seeing results. Now it's part of our training process to teach new employees when to point out our hashtag and make the ask.

It's easy, and it works. Give it a shot.

Do more with your UGC

You're well on your way to collecting great user-generated content. But once it exists, what do you do with it? Flaunt it! 

One of the best places to show off your Instagram UGC is simple: your Instagram feed. Choose your best customer posts and repost them. This has a few advantages. 

  • Posting UGC will make your brand feel more relatable since it's a real human talking about you.

  • It will also increase your post's reach. People love getting reposted by a brand and will often like, comment, or even repost your post. 

  • It gives you a solid library of content to post. With a large pool of UGC, you can experiment more with your other marketing efforts. And maybe even a little time left over at the end of the day for video games? If you're lucky.

Just be sure to ask permission from the original content creator first—either in the comments or via DM. 

MaxTour asking someone permission to repost

And when you do repost, give them credit and even a tag.

But Instagram UGC shouldn't only live on Instagram. Your website gets UGC! Facebook gets UGC! Brochures get UGC! Oprah impressions aside, the options are endless. If there's media or content on Instagram that you think would help your business—and be interesting to your leads and customers—use it.

  • Cross-post to Facebook or other social platforms (you can even do this automatically using Zapier). 

  • Pull captions or comments that reflect well on your brand and slap them on brochures.

  • Grab photos to put on your website—or even your brand.

  • String user-created videos together to create a DIY customer testimonial video.

The list goes on.

Making the most of your customers' experiences

More likely than not, your customers are already talking about you on social media. It only makes sense that you begin to leverage those conversations. Instagram is a great place to start because of its popularity, ease of brand interaction, and smooth hashtag integration. All of this makes it easy for your brand to make real, meaningful connections with your audience.

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