4 Brands Finding Instagram Success With Hashtag Generated Content

Brands like J.Crew, McDon­ald’s, and The North Face are cou­pling the excite­ment and con­tent of brand­ed hash­tags with sol­id dig­i­tal strat­e­gy.

Brittney Sheffield By Brittney Sheffield from The Home Depot. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Many mar­keters under­stand that some of the most res­o­nant dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing tac­tics are those that give cus­tomers a way to con­nect their favorite brands to their own lives. Mar­keters learn ear­ly that two-way con­ver­sa­tion is vital; it’s even more pow­er­ful to sim­ply let cus­tomers tell their own sto­ries through user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent. With its great dis­cov­er­abil­i­ty and long con­tent lifes­pans, Insta­gram offers brands an extreme­ly vis­i­ble way to inter­act with and share the sto­ry of their cus­tomers.

Repost­ed Insta­gram pho­tos pro­vide one of the sim­plest forms of UGC. More impor­tant­ly, Insta­gram pho­tos and videos extend beyond the social plat­form. Savvy brands can enhance their users’ sto­ry­telling expe­ri­ence by cou­pling the excite­ment and con­tent of brand­ed hash­tags with sol­id dig­i­tal strat­e­gy. These four brands show how uti­liz­ing social media, microsites and more can make the best of UGC.


J.Crew has con­tin­u­al­ly inspired cus­tomers to post their own pho­tos of J.Crew prod­ucts with cre­ative brand hash­tags. The brand engages its fash­ion-savvy audi­ence and incen­tivizes them through con­tests and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of being fea­tured across J. Crew social accounts.

Through hash­tag cam­paigns like #Shiny­Ponies, which encour­ages cus­tomers to post pho­tos of their brand’s shoes and #Acces­so­ry­Fix, which asked cus­tomers to post their favorite acces­sories, the brand moti­vates its cus­tomers to par­tic­i­pate in the brand’s mar­ket­ing sto­ry in a way that J.Crew can eas­i­ly, and pow­er­ful­ly, repur­pose. J.Crew even adds print col­lat­er­al to online orders that are pack­aged and shipped to its cus­tomers encour­ag­ing them to par­tic­i­pate in the #Shiny­Ponies con­ver­sa­tion.

For each hash­tag cam­paign it runs, J.Crew cre­ates a ded­i­cat­ed land­ing page to fea­ture user con­tent. This land­ing page acts as far more than a place to show­case con­tent. It smart­ly allows J.Crew to bring cus­tomers back to its site and rein­tro­duce the shop­ping fun­nel with calls to action that point back to the prod­uct pages that cor­re­late with the hash­tag.

Strat­e­gy win: Reward your cus­tomers for tru­ly rep­re­sent­ing your brand mes­sage. When your cus­tomers cre­ate con­tent with the same qual­i­ty as con­tent you’d pro­duce, sim­ply repur­pose it to show­case your cus­tomer and encour­age oth­ers to do the same.

JCrew Fine Print

Bonus: J.Crew’s Shiny Ponies land­ing page is extreme­ly clear on what the brand has per­mis­sion to do with its cus­tomers’ posts. When uti­liz­ing UGC, be sure to under­stand what you can and can’t do with cus­tomer gen­er­at­ed con­tent and trans­par­ent­ly com­mu­ni­cate your intent with your cus­tomers.


It’s rare that brands have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to launch a new ser­vice with instant uni­ver­sal appeal. When McDonald’s announced it would serve break­fast all day long, it did a ton of ground­work to keep it top of mind for cus­tomers.

From pub­lic and online radio to TV and print ads to social media cam­paigns, McDonald’s made sure its cus­tomers were ful­ly aware of all-day break­fast options (although, no McGrid­dles at lunch? What’s with that?). It also moved imme­di­ate­ly to get cus­tomers involved in the mar­ket­ing push.

McDonald’s fre­quent­ly reposts the Insta­gram pho­tos of its cus­tomers and has enlist­ed many brand ambas­sadors. This serves as an influ­encer tool, remind­ing cus­tomers that oth­er peo­ple like them enjoy all-day break­fast, while also beef­ing up McDonald’s reg­u­lar­ly updat­ed stream of con­tent.

Strat­e­gy win: Find ways to get your cus­tomers involved through high­ly visu­al chan­nels when you’re launch­ing a new prod­uct or ser­vice. Use their posts as influ­encer con­tent and find ways to get their feed­back, then use that con­tent to fur­ther pro­mote your launch. Cus­tomers thrive on see­ing oth­er peo­ple enjoy­ing the same things they love.


The Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da recent­ly rebrand­ed in an effort to bring its aca­d­e­m­ic and research impact to the fore­front of its sto­ry: the Gator Good. In the process, it also made sure that the brand’s sto­ry focused on its peo­ple. The #Gator­Good encour­ages stu­dents and grad­u­ates to tell their sto­ry of com­mu­ni­ty suc­cess and giv­ing, a plat­form that acti­vat­ed the new brand through two-way con­ver­sa­tion with its audi­ence, par­tic­u­lar­ly on high­ly visu­al plat­forms like Insta­gram.


By cre­at­ing an emo­tion­al appeal to stu­dents, alum­ni and fans, UF inspired peo­ple to respond to the university’s mes­sage by uti­liz­ing the Gator Good hash­tag on mul­ti­ple social media plat­forms. It result­ed in its largest year of pledged ser­vice hours from stu­dents after the launch of the cam­paign.

Strat­e­gy win: If you have a high­ly loy­al audi­ence that per­son­al­ly iden­ti­fies with your brand, appeal to their val­ues and achieve­ments. Think about how you can get them to share their sto­ry, then cre­ate a theme that res­onates and is easy to share via social media.


Before REI announced that it would shut down its stores on Black Fri­day in an effort to hon­or its mis­sion of explo­ration, The North Face was encour­ag­ing its cus­tomers to live its val­ues by push­ing the lim­its and explor­ing the world around them.

The North Face built an entire microsite ded­i­cat­ed to the idea of explo­ration. Here, they post a vari­ety of explo­ration-themed con­tent and give cus­tomers oppor­tu­ni­ties to upload pho­tos to win their week­ly con­test for a $100 gift card. Now, it has expand­ed the Nev­er Stop Explor­ing idea into a “Nev­er Stop” cam­paign that builds upon the mes­sage.


Strat­e­gy win: When you can afford to incen­tivize your cus­tomers into cre­at­ing con­tent that you can reuse on Insta­gram, go for it. Just be sure that your mis­sion aligns with your brand and real­ly does show­case the cus­tomers that are tru­ly liv­ing your val­ues.

Mul­ti-bil­lion dol­lar com­pa­nies aren’t the only brands that can launch smart user-gen­er­at­ed cam­paigns. All four of these brands share a cou­ple of impor­tant traits: they’re will­ing to give cus­tomers a voice in their mar­ket­ing efforts, and they use tech­nol­o­gy to cre­ate emo­tion­al and finan­cial incen­tives for users to join the con­ver­sa­tion.

Your top cus­tomers talk about you con­stant­ly. It’s easy to give them a plat­form to speak.

Has your com­pa­ny found suc­cess by lever­ag­ing user con­tent?

Brittney Sheffield

Written by Brittney Sheffield

Associate Search Manager, The Home Depot

Brittney is an experienced digital marketer specializing in SEO, content and agile project management. She's currently an Associate Search Manager at The Home Depot and previously worked agency-side as a digital strategist, marketer and scrum master.

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