social media how to Are you leveraging your community to bring attention to your brand?

Have you asked your customers and fans to contribute pictures and images to your social platforms?

If you’re not involving your community in creating and sharing visual content, you’re missing out on massive organic reach and engagement.

In this article I’ll show you how brands are empowering their fans to create and share visual content about them in really cool ways.

Why Ask Fans to Create Visual Content?

If you want organic sharing and big traffic, you need stunning and remarkable images that stand out in social feeds. But that doesn’t mean you have to rely on brand-generated visual content.

There’s been a shift in who creates visual content (and how). Mobile platforms have made it easier for consumers to create and share images on the go.

Smart businesses are capitalizing on that and encouraging fans to create visual content about their brand and share it across social networks.

When fans create and share content related to your business, they’re providing important social proof to their friends. A friend’s stamp of approval has been shown to be a key influence on future purchases and interactions with brands.

Here are three ways you can work with your community to create visual campaigns that give you more visibility, organic reach and traffic.

#1: Put Your Fans in the Driver’s Seat

In mid-2011, Tourism Australia chucked its usual Facebook tactics and decided to hand the page over to fans. Who better to tell others about Australia than the people experiencing its beauty?

Tourism Australia invited fans to take and post photos (both on Instagram and the Tourism Australia Facebook page) with the hashtag #seeaustralia. The company tracked the hashtag to find and highlight fan photos (and measure the success of the campaign).

fan friday australia, visual content from fans

Every Friday, Tourism Australia creates a photo album of the best fan-submitted photos.

Two and a half years later, fans are posting over 1,000 photos every day! Aussie locals, tourists and professional and semi-professional photographers contribute these photos. Tourism Australia chooses the best ones and creates photo albums to share in the news feed.

An essential part of Tourism Australia’s success is bringing attention to others. It features and tags tourism offices, destinations, regions and related small businesses around Australia. This tactic gives wider reach to both sides.

turtle image

Turtles love shares—all 7,900 of them!

So, how’d the experiment work out? Tourism Australia’s Facebook page is now the biggest destination page in the world, with almost 5.5 million fans. Reach and engagement have skyrocketed, all because Tourism Australia put its fans in the driver’s seat.

australia facebook

Tourism Australia’s frictionless sharing made it the world’s biggest destination page.

Think only big brands can get this kind of traction? Think again. You can adapt and scale any of these tactics. Tourism Australia even shared its entire visual content strategy in the must-see SlideShare presentation, The World’s Biggest Social Media Team.

#2: Spur Real-Time Sharing

When you experience something thrilling, it’s natural to want to share it immediately with friends and family. Smartphones and mobile apps mean just about everyone has a camera at all times. You can snap, edit and share a picture in less than a minute.

Diving Company Pro Dive Cairns runs three-day live-aboard dive trips where divers eat and sleep on a premium dive vessel. The company knows it’s providing thrilling, shareable moments and it recognizes the value of real-time sharing. Pro Dive Cairns leverages both to actively encourage enthusiastic clients to do as much in-the-moment sharing as possible.

Each dive vessel has free Wi-Fi, so divers and crew can take photos and share them immediately on Instagram, personal Facebook timelines or the Pro Dive Cairns Facebook page.

The crew helps get things started by celebrating the camaraderie of each dive trip with a fun group photo, then encouraging everyone to tag and share the image to show their friends how much fun they’re having.

pro dive photo

Tagging increases the virality of photos and gives a social proof recommendation.

Tagging photos immediately sends them to that customer’s friends’ news feed, helping the dive company reach an entirely new audience.

It makes sense that the Pro Dive Cairns crew takes advantage of this free advertising. After all, they want their fans (and friends of fans) to visualize themselves on the next live-aboard trip!

The real gold is when clients who are in the thick of the experience tell their friends about it. Having customers share their own content about your brand while they’re still engaging with you is powerful social proof.

night dive

Divers happily post about their experiences in real time on the Pro Dive Cairns Facebook page.

To keep momentum going, Pro Dive Cairns highlights and shares great photos and experiences posted by customers, giving them a virtual high-five.

fish photos

Pro Dive Cairns showcases client photos and albums on its Facebook page.

The whole process is organic because people love to share what they’re doing.

Your company can encourage sharing experiences by providing the means (free Wi-Fi), modeling the behavior (taking group photos, suggesting people tag themselves or post to your page) and rewarding participation (sharing and crediting your customers’ photos).

What changes can you make in your business to encourage your clients to easily post visual content about their experiences “in the moment?”

#3: Follow Your Fans’ Lead

Stylist Nikki Parkinson is well-known for her successful blog Styling You and has a large following on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

instagram header

Nikki Parkinson is engaging on Instagram, posting images and videos daily.

A hugely popular feature on Nikki’s blog is The Model and Me, where Nikki shares pictures of both a model and herself wearing the same outfit.

In November 2013, Nikki’s fans asked her to post what she wears on a normal day when out and about. What started as a simple photo post in response to her community triggered shares from her readers—not just of Nikki’s post, but also of their own everyday style photos.

After a week, it was clear that Nikki’s community wanted more from her, and they wanted to contribute more themselves. Nikki invited her fans to join the Everyday Style Challenge and spread the word by using the hashtag #everydaystyle.

As the challenge took off, Nikki made #everydaystyle an established part of her social identity.

everyday style

What started as a reader request turned into the popular hashtag #everydaystyle.

Every week, Nikki creates a collage using outfits she, her fans and other fashion bloggers have put together, then shares that visual content on her blog, Facebook and Instagram (the places her audience gathers most).

In the example below, notice how Nikki uses three tactics to engage her Facebook audience: an established hashtag, a link back to her site and a question for her fans.

everyday style wrap

Showcase your fans with an image summary post.

The hashtag puts her posts in front of the larger audience using and tracking it, while the link back to her site drives traffic to her current post and may lead to additional clicks to previous posts. Finally, the question encourages her community to engage with and share her post.

Nikki uses Flipagram video as a creative way to change things up on Instagram. With the video, she’s not limited to a single photo, she can show her #everydaystyle outfits for the previous month in about 15 seconds!

Nikki uses a collection of photos to create short videos to engage her fans.

By listening to her fans and acting quickly on their ideas, Nikki saw a massive leap in organic reach across all platforms. In fact, the Styling You Facebook page had an increase in engagement and shares and a 25% increase in number of fans.

Like other successful brands, Nikki isn’t keeping the success for herself. She encourages her fans to add other hashtags such as the #snscolour challenge run by Vanessa Rowse from Style and Shenanigans. This potentially expands the reach for both blogs.

The Power of a #hashtag

Hashtags provide an easy way for you to track content and bring fans together around a common purpose or interest.

To get the most out of your hashtag, make it unique and easy to remember. If you’re not sure if your hashtag is unique, search Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram to see if it’s already being used. Consider adding the year (#smmw14), an abbreviation (#fmsphotoaday) or combining two words (#everydaystyle).

The beauty of hashtags is that you can use more than one in an update. Combining hashtags exposes your updates to the fans of related content.

Your Turn

If you’re already creating visual content, but want to really make an impact, engage your fans in the process. Start out by listening to them.

What lights them up? What content do they love to share about you? Following fans’ enthusiasm leads to more reach, engagement and shares!

What do you think? Have you ever worked with your fans to include them in your content creation and marketing? Have you seen any businesses doing this in clever or innovative ways? We’d love to hear your ideas. Please leave your thoughts and comments below!

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  • Kylah Morrison

    I ran a competition once asking people to post their favourite motivational quote (an image or simply the quote) to enter my competition. It was fantastic, and I received predominantly images which made for an interesting summary blog post.

  • Awesome Kylah – it’s amazing how simple it can be – just by asking people to have their say motivates them to get involved… great idea! There are so many apps that make great quote posts now too. Glad to hear it went well!

  • there’re so many subjects a company could use to ask users to interact and engage among each other in order to make brands grow their popularity and spread the word about a brand, product or service. It takes time and efforts to investigate and find the best topics but every single business has got a chance: it’s just a matter of deciding whether the company wants to really use a social channel the best way or just “have” a social profile and keep complaining about the reason why people don’t comment or post replies or engage! It’s always a matter of doing things and fail and try again til success comes along or just sit and stare. Very effective post, thanks. Would to translate it and fit it for the Italian audience.

  • Love this – what a great way to continue to build engagement and keep it fresh. It really shows how some businesses embrace social media and understand the value within their customer service process rather than just as a marketing exercise. Another very clear post with excellent examples thanks Donna.

  • It’s a win win! You get engagement from your current fans and great content from them! A little forethought can go a long way!

  • Wow! There are a lot of creative ideas here, and I couldn’t agree more that letting your community take the lead on sharing interesting photos can give life to every post! Thank you Donna!

  • Sarah Bauer

    So that’s how the #everydaystyle hashtag originated! It’s fascinating to see communities grow and gather around these phrases that embody certain values and tastes. I’m thinking of Instagram communities like #keepitwild and #greatnorthco and even #vscocam – hashtags that now represent whole aesthetics, interests and ideas.

  • MiTed

    Hey Donna,
    Thank you for this great article. Public exposure in social media is a big marketing opportunity IF you can also act as a creator and offer free opportunities; the results are always fantastic if you know your potential customers!

  • Laura Brotherson

    I’d love to do this, but if I remember correctly you can’t post photos to others’ fan pages or it just goes into the side area that no one sees. Some pages won’t even let you post pictures because of how they are set up. There may be a change to Facebook I don’t know about, so please let me know the “how” on this! Thanks! 🙂

  • Hey Marino – Great Comment, I think the way it always works best is to find what lights fans up – what they usually comment about and post about organically and then give them a non-brainer easy vehicle to start adding visual content too – images and hashtags make that easy and if it is something that makes them feel like they are part of the company culture it can really help – and most of all if it allows them to be showcased – we all love to feel valued and cared about. It comes back to simple human needs! I love your comment about it being a matter of deciding for the company – it is so true. Sometimes the very thing that lights up your fans might be staring you in the face!

  • Thanks so much Fiona! This was one of my favourite posts too as it is something I am very passionate about – providing frictionless ways for your fans to share your message. I think this has HUGE potential for charities and organisations with a message, but also for any brand that can find a way to allow their fans to contribute and share. Sometimes you just have to look for that spark like Nikki did and I love that is has been one of the ways her community has grown the most yet she hasn’t placed a single ad.. it’s all about her fans. She has always been about organic growth and it is nice to see that this has also been organic. Did you know that it went one step further when her fans started to post #cushionoftheday images because she poses with one of her cushions everyday? so it is continuing to grow in offshoots now! ha ha.

  • Hey Blake! Nice to see you here. Thanks so much for your comment. I totally agree, a little thought about your fans can definitely go a long way, and sometimes too it’s a matter of stepping back for a moment, listening to what they are saying and creating about you and following their lead. As Jesse (social media manager for Tourism Australia) says – sometimes our fans can tell our story better than we can. It’s soooo worth tapping into that. Times have changed – consumer generated content is definitely driving things in many ways. Win-win for sure!

  • John! Thanks so much for stopping by…..I am sure your community are already jumping in and getting involved, but magic can definitely happen when they find the spark that has them creating and sharing content about you and with you. What I love about these companies, is that they truly believe in stepping back and listening to find what lights up their fans, building platforms that allow them to participate and share easily and then turning around and showcasing them and making them stars. It’s awesome to watch. Not an ad in sight, just the way it should be when social is truly organic.

  • ha ha that’s hilarious Sarah – I am not entirely sure if it had been used before that – it may have been but yes, Nikki definitely is the one behind the thousands of posts under the hashtag #everydaystyle – almost 6,000 and counting (just on Instagram). You are right about hashtags – they are very powerful when you find the right one. Here’s a fun fact: Nikki posts a photo of one of her cushions every day when she poses for #everydaystyle.. her readers loved that and started to post her own cushions and boom… now that is a hashtag too #cushionoftheday – check this article out:

  • Thanks so much – glad you found it useful! You are right – the most important step is knowing your community – if you are too busy blasting content at them then you can’t see that they are actually excited about something that potentially would allow them to be more involved. Great points!

  • Hey Laura – thanks for your comment. I do see your point and understand that, yes, photos don’t automatically post out from the page when fans post on your page but it is still engagement, and what these companies do is then showcase their fans in a Fan Friday Photo post or post about them individually, and the fans just love the idea of sharing. On Instagram it is a little more public when they share, but in the case of Tourism Australia they are still posting! I think if you add a hashtag it definitely helps – hashtags are more effective on Instagram than Facebook for sure, but they do find a way to search on the images etc. The other thing that the company can do is to create a large album of fan images and then post up about that, they can also comment on the images – there are many ways to still make fans feel good about posting and to get engagement going. I think your point about pages not allowing photos is a good one – if you see a spark in your fans don’t block them – allow them to contribute – you can always moderate the photos but not letting them post them at all may be blocking a really awesome opportunity for user generated content. Hope that helps!

  • Melissa

    Are there any legal issues with using a fan’s photo from Instagram or Facebook as part of your brand’a Facebook page (whether it be a album or a collage post)? How are brands working around this?

  • I agree as usual!

  • It’s interesting reading this Donna – it articulates what a lot of bloggers are already doing but explains the why and the subsequent impact. Thank you for the mention too! x

  • MiTed

    As far as I know, when one shares an image from Instagram or Pinterest, he is actually sharing not the image itself but the whole “post” WITH the copyright notice linked to the generated image, so there is no copyright infringement as this is precisely stipulated in the Legal Terms Of Use on both platforms (it’s not the same situation in Facebook, and this is good and also bad 😛 ).
    I guess big brands don’t make use of copyrighted images of other brands or individuals, but they do can use Facebook fan’s photos as far as this platform users must know and accept that any of their photos become Facebook property immediately after they post it on their timelines and CAN BE SHARED by others.
    Donna, can we have your opinion on this point, please?

  • Thanks Vanessa – yes I think brands can learn a lot from bloggers – because they do focus so much on community, the “advocacy” happens naturally and organically! I have loved watching your hashtag merge with Nikki’s – it’s great to see how things can snowball when it is about helping your readers by exposing them to new and exciting content – and not just on your own site! Look forward to seeing you again in August!

  • Thanks for jumping in MiTed – I think in these examples, especially tourism Australia they make it very clear on the facebook page that if you are posting to their wall you are giving permission to share – you can read their info here: – as a general rule of thumb I would recommend sticking to “within platform” ie sharing out Facebook images from the link on Facebook “from” your page or regramming from Instagram – the majority of these posts are all within the same platform they were received. Obviously I can’t give legal advice but I always recommend to either use your own images or use the “share” functionality of a particular platform if sharing. getting permission is another way to do it. I hope that helps!

  • Letting your fans get involved in co-creating your content is highly valuable because it creates a bond, making them more loyal to your brand.Thanks Donna!

  • You are very welcome Barbara!

  • Hi Donna, a great article and so well articulated. I too am the owner of a small social initiative that encourages people to come forward and submit their complaints for resolution. Although it can’t be called as “fan generated content” but I have already started posting user comments from my website on the Facebook page. And I can see the difference already. But, I really want to find out, as you have said, what lights my fans up, and exploit it to the full. I have a lot to learn from this article. Thanks for sharing this. Bookmarked alread!

  • These are certainly great ideas for businesses and even fashion blogs. I post to social media for our educational charity, and though our Twitter following is building exponentially, and some of our posts have been used in online mags, and Linked In forums respond well, it is hard to get a response on FaceBook. I have tried all sorts of ways to engage people. But as a charity, we don’t have freebies to give away. I do post heaps of pics. If anyone here has any creative ideas, I’d be most grateful for the help. If this is an inappropriate request, just let me know and I’ll know better next time.

  • Definitely ok to ask for ideas Kim – there are always great readers on here with interesting ideas. Can I ask what type of educational charity it is – the message of it/what you are fundraising for – sometimes if you create an emotional connection around a cause, these types of strategies can work quite well with charities but I would need to know what area of education it is to give you more specific ideas. It may be too, that your target audience IS on Linkedin and Twitter and other places more than Facebook – never discount the possibility that FB might not be your main platform – still worth being there but I have known businesses and blogs do better say on Pinterest or Instagram than Facebook. So maybe explore that – go where your ideal audience is hanging out and provide content suitable to that platform… sounds like you are definitely making progress on some progress which is good!

  • Awesome Ritesh – you are on the right track – have you thought of even doing a small survey – that can uncover what lights them up (and what fires them up – angry or excited!) – then you can work with that. I have found that useful before. Glad you liked the post!

  • Hi Donna, thank you for such a prompt reply. It’s awesome. Our charity educates girls and women in developing countries. Our tag is “Seeding growth through education”. We are small, but in a way, that led us to our niche. Smaller projects that don’t get on big charities’ radar. We work with partners. In India for example, $5000 will provide two trained teachers for afternoon coaching in a dedicated local village school, provide the students with all their requirements, and with an afternoon meal, as well as providing goats for village women. I think you are dead right about audience. On Twitter and LI our followers are either other NFP People in developing countries interested in the Twitter and gender resources we share with them. But FB is a target audience for donations. Part of the problem is the FB algorithm that prevents all those who like our page seeing our posts. FB wants us to pay for Boosts. But we can’t afford that. So we are encouraging those who do get it, to share as much as possible. But its an uphill battle.

  • AmandahBlackwell

    Yes, I’ve included fans in content creation and marketing for our local animal shelter. Fans are comfortable sharing their visuals.

    I’d have to review my FB News Feed to see which businesses are clever. 😉

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  • This is a really great post, and has got me thinking so much I don’t actually now where to start. On my page, we allow people to print charts for free, and the most interaction we have had recently was on a post someone else printed of their child with the chart. You have helped me realise that this is something we should be encouraging more of. Thanks again.

  • Great to hear Amandah – Animals are always well loved :o)

  • ha ha no problems Helen (hope I haven’t made more work for you :o) – if you are unsure where to start, simply ask your community with a post or survey or maybe see what they are already sharing and what lights them up. Let me know how it goes!

  • Sarah Bauer

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing that article, I had no ideas there was a whole underworld of cushion obsessives out there 😉 Pretty great!

  • Hi Donna, it’s a brilliant idea and a win-win for both sides because half of the effort is being done by the fans which in turn yields higher engagement. Asking fans to share pictures is a good idea to run a small contest or a long term theme. I would like to try it out but would also like to know what in the scenario where the topic isn’t as interesting as tourism and other topics that you have mentioned. Does the success of the campaign greatly rely on the topic that is chosen?

  • Good question @sohail – I think the success of the campaign actually depends on what your fans are interested in vs what the brand thinks might get more results/sales/reach etc. There has been a big shift to user generated content and yes, for sure the brands that have interesting content like tourism operators are in a good position to benefit but there are many other ways to tap into what lights up your fans. It might be about a cause or something they believe in that you also believe in – or maybe they are posting their opinion on a particular topic and you can tap into Tourism Australia says, it is about building platforms that the fans can contribute to rather than telling them what to do… so hopefully that helps. And yes for sure, some businesses have the advantage over others but even small businesses can find something that lights up their fans. Good luck with it!

  • Hi, I’m community manager for a budding company in Spain, and I have been reading your email religiously. They are great, although I do have a comment: most of the advice/examples are from companies who are already installed on the market, and are often industry giants… What about start-up? Companies who are looking for user engagement, but can’t do it simply because we still have few users… Any advice? Can you direct me to a specialized section? Thanks

  • Does anyone know how to create the photo album like Tourist Australia (mentioned in #1) in which they show fans’ posts with the pictures. I can’t figure out how they collect the posts and create an album with them.

  • Hi Cloe – I am not sure about specific articles – I know that companies like Canva and Buffer have used social media very strategically as start ups – and blogging has been a huge way that both of them have established themselves and especially in Buffer’s case they did a lot of guest posting. Postplanner also do a lot of blogging – that and social, but in all cases, they are pushing out a lot of quality content. Hope that helps. They are of course social media/tool start ups, but the same should be true for every start up. Provide quality content that helps or teaches your ideal audience, based around your core product/software etc… or even based around how it helps them (ie the outcome, not the actual product). Sorry if I am off target with this response but I hope it helps.

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  • Trevor Jurgens

    I am working with tourism and other businesses to design “triggers” into their experiences that cue people to share. The best ones are a unique experience that give value to the visitor but benefit the business by generating a social “echo”. Interested to hear of any examples any of you have experienced that did just that and what an overarching name would be for these designed moments?