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How to Run a Successful Marketing Campaign with User-Generated Content

J Katherine Bahr

User-generated content (UGC) is the digital form of word of mouth marketing. When consumers upload their own photos, videos, or posts about your brand, it builds trust for your organization, increases brand visibility, and improves search engine rankings. UGC is a vital element to any digital marketing strategy, but inspiring consumers to interact with your brand can be a real challenge.

Many organizations have created contests and awards centered on UGC to engage customers and create buzz about their brands. AT&T’s Film Awards launched in 2016 with just this purpose: to find and create loyalty among new filmmakers and help transition AT&T from a telecom company to a content company. 


Cory Davis, a key account director at Submittable, told us that even a company as big as AT&T struggled to find the right audience and entice them to submit content. Marketing News spoke with Cory to discover how his team helped the AT&T Film Awards reach their content submission goals and discuss how other brands are leveraging Submittable to run their contests and awards.

Q: Why was AT&T seeking user-generated content?

A: AT&T’s reason for user-generated content demanded a much higher quality of submissions than a typical social media contest or award. The film awards started because they were new in the film and creative space. AT&T really wanted to find new filmmakers early on in their careers and help them gain visibility.     

Trying to engage users and find undiscovered and minority creators—whether it’s in film, photography, music, writing—can be difficult even for the biggest brands because the creative world is so much about networking. An award contest helped cast a wider net and circumvent that system. A lot of companies try to build their own platform for submissions and simply advertise through social media to create their contests and awards. When you do that, you don’t have control of who you’re connecting with. Learn more about the best practices for your next award contest.

Q: What challenges do you see brands encountering with contests and awards?

A: AT&T might seem like a specific case, but they had the same problem almost all brands have: reaching the right audience. A few years back, National Geographic—an iconic brand for film and photography—tried to run a film contest entirely through Instagram. They only got about 100 submissions, and none were the quality they were looking for. That happens a lot at large organizations. This large, public-facing contest becomes an afterthought, which not only hurts the contest, but also damages the brand.

Q: So what does Submittable do that’s different? How does Submittable help brands solve contest and UGC challenges?

A: Submittable has the trifecta: We offer an easy way to accept and review any type of digital content. We have a built-in network including the right target audience, a community of over 1 million creatives, academics, and jobs seekers who are actively looking to submit their work.  And we also have a dedicated staff that can communicate directly with these audiences and partner with affiliate organizations who have a presence in this space.

Q: What does your community look like? Can it work for contests, awards, or submissions that aren’t film-related?

A: Absolutely. Submittable was actually started as a software platform for literary magazines. We were originally an opportunity marketplace for writing submissions. Now we’re an opportunity marketplace for writers, photographers, filmmakers, and a lot of academics use us too. Yale runs their research paper grants through Submittable. ESPN runs their humanitarian contest through us. Student-run literary magazines at universities all the way up to corporations looking for job applications use it. It’s a completely customizable platform, so even a single organization can use it in multiple ways.

Submittable also makes the review process completely customizable. You can have as complex a review as you want with scoring rubrics or multiple rounds of reviews. If people on multiple levels are reviewing the content, you can control who sees what.

Q: What was AT&T’s experience with its film awards before they came to you? What did you help them achieve?

AT&T came to us their second year of their film awards. The first year they used a different submission software and the number of submissions wasn’t in line with what they were hoping for.

We ran the campaign for them, creating their social media ads, digital assets and press releases, reaching out to our affiliate organizations, and conducting follow-up interviews with the winners. With Submittable they passed their content submission goals within three weeks.

We did this by asking a lot of questions. They wanted a lot of submissions, but at the same time needed their films to be of a high-quality. They needed to demonstrate to their higher-ups that these films were worthy of being part of $10 million events through page visits and impressions. At the end of the day, that’s the same for any brand conducting any kind of call for submissions: know what you’re trying to achieve through the effort, get it in front of the right audience, and make the effort effortless. Submittable hits all those fronts with a turnkey solution for anyone looking to have people engage with their organization through content.   

Cory’s experience with the AT&T Film Awards shows that no matter how big a brand is, they are always looking to extend their reach through user-generated content and need an action plan in place. Announcing an award or contest on social media isn’t enough. Like any campaign, a drive for user-generated content requires a strategy for finding the right audience, connecting with that audience, and the right tools to create a seamless experience.  

For more information about Submittable, and their content submission solutions, visit www.submittable.com.

J Katherine Bahr is a freelance writer and content marketer with almost a decade of experience helping organizations engage their ideal customers.