I’m eating tacos and drinking a craft margarita in the ocean. My legs are in the sea, I’m sitting on a stool, legs dangling over 25-feet of crystal-clear teal ocean, bellied up to a wooden counter attached to the side of a floating taco bar. Behind me, a soft platform is home to a half-dozen other guests, also drinking tropical drinks and relaxing in the sun.

How I got to this taco bar, spent $145 on the two-hour experience (including food and the required kayak rental to get there) is a story about how user generated content has transformed marketing.

In May of 2019, I watched an Instagram video of a barista in a swimsuit floating three drinks to a guest in reusable insulated cups on a little foam raft outfitted with cupholders. The guest, using a GoPro camera, recorded the video and posted it to Instagram to a hashtag that’s widely used for #StJohnUSVI. I  happened to see that post, watched the video several times and followed the business, Lime Out, USVI, on Instagram. Turns out, LimeOut was brand new, as in first week on the water, serving tacos and tropical craft drinks in the middle of Hansen Bay, on the east end of St. John.

To give you some perspective on this place, it’s remoteness, and the power of social media  –  UGC –  to generate buzz, it’s important to understand that it takes two planes, a taxi, a ferry, a car rental AND a kayak rental to get to LimeOut. And it’s a 25-minute hair-raising drive around blind corners and up over ascents that seem to drive off into thin air before arriving at a beach. Right now, you have to rent (or bring your own) paddleboard, kayak or boat to LimeOut, and the only kayak rental outfit charges a premium $45 for 1.5 hours of kayak rental, plus $3 to park your rented Jeep. If you’re all-in for tacos in the ocean, you’re all in.

In the month or so between the time I frst saw the video and the time that I actually went there, I followed LimeOut and not only their own content, but sharing of the user-generated content that their customers created from visiting. I got my kids excited about LimeOut. So much so, all of us listed it as our bucket-list experience for our time on St. John.

User generated content also works for product businesses too. Create a hashtag for your business, let your customers know, and encourage (and incentivize) them to use that hashtag for their use of your products. An example, in the craft and sewing pattern industry, most people tag their makes using the hashtag associated with the product name. More people see this use of product brand hashtag and follow it than they do the company’s own account. Further, the companies utilize this content to share out their customer’s DIY projects by monitoring their brand hashtags.

At the highest level of marketing trust is another customer’s recommendation, and UGC is recommendation on steroids. The use of customer’s user generated photos and videos in  your own marketing not only solidifies the relationship you have with that customer (they love to have their photos shared) but it also takes you, as the company, out of the equation. Someone else recommended your products. They are the influencer of the next customer-to-be.

How to get started using UGC:

  • Monitor hashtags that allow you to reach others – these hashtags, although they have a lot of posts attached to them, are the popularity feed that allows customers to find your own posts.
  • Develop your own product (but not company) brand hashtags. All you have to do is use a creative product name as a hashtags.
  • If you’re not naming your products with product brand in mind, you should start right now, and even consider rebranding your older products
  • Tell customers to use your hashtags – use product package inserts and incentives like contest features to get people to use your hashtags. Be generous – you’re paying your outside sales force, aka, customers to do this job for you!
  • Monitor your own product hashtags (all of them!) plus the general category hashtags for new posts from your customers. Follow, like and share their use of your products (with their permission!)

At LimeOut, the tacos are $9 per taco. That’s one single taco – albeit a craft taco like maho ceviche or seared tuna – and their drinks are $12 per drink. The entire experience – and that’s precisely what we were buying – was $145 for four people for two hours. But it’s highly memorable and it became part of our must-do just from a single UGC video on Instagram.

Provided your business has ample opportunity to resell the customer again and again, UGC further serves to reinforce their “good decision” vibes.

In LimeOut’s case, a number of their customers may not ever get to return, if they’re on a short holiday. Presumably some guests live or vacation there more often and can go again. But they have successfully used UGC to attract new customers, and in the process boosted their business from content they didn’t even have to create.

In the craft and sewing industry, the use of UGC on instagram is high. Most people post photos of their “makes” and use a hashtag for the product brand. Other customers see this product brand, many follow it, and they are further encouraged by seeing that product brand feed: it’s FOMO (fear of missing out) too. “Everyone has this product, I should too!”

For companies who don’t sell products or services, such as a not-for-profit, association or trade organization, using UGC also works. Concerts, events, webinars, seminars, courses – these, too, are all experience-branding opportunities that allow your organization to take advantage of the content your users create to boost business.

Marketing is in the hands of the customer – and they are powerful ambassadors of your brand to others. Make sure customers come first before anything. Always value their feedback because it inspires continuous improvement. Also, you can turn positive feedback into UGC. Doing what you can do encourage the creation of user-generated content and responding and sharing when you see it is key to building a successful customer-driven business.