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Q&A: How Can Brands Best Utilize User Generated Content?

Green screen much

But who’s she wearing in front of that green screen?

User generated content is more than just a catchphrase: for some major brands, it’s a key to reaching consumers on their level rather than with traditional ads and “SALE NOW” marketing emails. As a prime example, a recent Marc Jacobs campaign starred “real people” plucked straight from Instagram who’d never seen a modeling contract.

Marc certainly isn’t the only brand looking to others to help expand and improve its own promotional efforts.

So what’s the key to making fans’ content work for you instead of using stock photos like the one above?

We spoke to Ranvir Gujral, CEO of visual marketing startup Chute, for more information.

What is your company all about, and why should big brands care?

Chute is about helping the brands discover content that has been created about them by users surrounding a campaign.

Bypassing the formal creative ad/marketing process can be very powerful. Why is this trend taking off? Because brands are interested in finding authentic stories and developing relationships with their customers.

We have data indicating that pages perform better with such content.

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Here’s an example from a recent campaign for Ann Taylor

So who creates the campaigns?

We have an in-house studio. Customers come to us and say “we’d love to do X, Y or Z.” Ann Taylor, for example, wanted to feature pics of customers wearing their products on their page. We helped design and integrate the campaign; the internal team at Ann Taylor came up with the idea. They gave us the #littleblackdress hashtag, used their channels to amplify, and encouraged promotion around the hashtag.

Social media users shared one trillion photos last year, and we help clients tack and use relevant images in paid advertising and other campaigns.

What about those who say they can find and request this content manually?

The flow of a given photo through any organization is problematic. How do you share with colleagues for approval? What about your legal department? A paid ad agency?

Our software streamlines the manual aggregation process while allowing brands to manually send requests to the users whose content they choose.

We find that users are willing to approve the use of their material as long as the brand asks; our software helps them make these requests en masse. Average approval rate is 85 percent, and 50 percent of those users respond within the first half hour.

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Before screenshot

What sorts of results have you seen? 

We find that these users often become brand ambassadors organically in a positive, authentic way with no incentive or contest. It’s more about psychological validation along the lines of , “Now that I know the brand is watching, I’m sharing all my moments (and hashtagging them).”

Also: their friends and followers see these public comments as well. We’ve seen people get outreach from Adidas, Taco Bell, etc. and then take screenshots to re-Instagram, writing something like “this just made my day.”

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After screenshot

You recently opened a New York office run by David Bear, former global agency director for Microsoft. Do you work directly with traditional agencies on projects like these?

We’ve worked with all the biggest agencies.

Clients often give agencies a “no way” when they get a cost estimate on built-from-scratch digital projects, and we lower the cost of execution.

Thus far we’ve been seen as a compliment to the agency model; we allow them to work on other aspects of creative instead of reaching out to 1,000 people on Instagram individually.

The community managers are often the ones who bring us in: the client says “we won’t pay for more than one manager”, but you have to monitor so many platforms at once.

chute 4 twitter

Twitter, for example

How do you think the need for your product speaks to the current state of PR/marketing/advertising?

The line between PR and marketing is already blurred. When an agency comes to us, they’re just as likely to be PR looking to amplify the campaign as a traditional marketing agency — and we don’t even distinguish between the two internally. I think that PR agencies, because they are often the ones doing the community management, have to manage a lot of muddled responsiblitites.

They’re just as likely to buy our software as a digital ad/marketing agency.

What do we think? How do we tackle the challenges that Chute was created to address?

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