You’re on the right track if you’re promoting your events on Facebook and Instagram. But so are a lot of other events. The competition for “airtime” on users’ feeds is real.

And let’s face it: There’s only so much you can do with your own social content. You might reach some or even most of your followers, especially if you’re targeting with paid ads. But to really build momentum for your event, user-generated content is where the magic is at.

User-generated content is content that your event-goers post and you can share on your accounts. This content isn’t just easy for you to re-post — it’s a powerful driver of ticket sales, too. After all, studies show that consumers trust user-generated content 50% more than content straight from brands.

But inspiring user-generated content takes a purposeful social media approach. Once you know exactly what user-generated content is and why it’s important, you can harness it to reach many more people than ever before.

Why user-generated content is critical to event discovery

Today’s social media users have become savvy at tuning out marketing messages when they lose interest. But they’re still deeply invested in authentic content created by friends and people they admire. In fact, 86% of millennials say that user-generated content is a good indication of a brand’s quality.

As people find out about your event and get excited about it, they start to share your content. The magic happens when they post their own original content about your event. It might be live video, snapshots told in Facebook or Instagram Stories, or witty captions describing their experience. The point is, it’s original, it’s authentic — and it promotes your event.

User-generated content is the key piece to the “event discovery flywheel” — a self-reinforcing cycle where social media efforts build upon each other to create momentum. The more you post, the more people come to your event. The more people come to your event, the more people post their own content about your event — which attracts more and more people to your event.

user generated content flywheel

“This flywheel is a powerful way for businesses to be discovered by their local community,” says Mike Bronfin, product marketing manager at Instagram. “Encouraging the right types of content creation and sharing while customers visit your event is the best way to get discovered.”

Get attendees sharing more content, more often

Some user-generated content will happen naturally without your intervention. People who are excited about the tickets they just bought for your event might post an announcement to their friends. And while at your event, people are apt to post pictures and status updates.

But smart event brands don’t just rely on happenstance user-generated content to do the job. They actively motivate followers to post more and better content. Getting attendees to share more content, more often is the direct path to event buzz. Here’s are two examples of ways to inspire user-generated content, and event brands that do it well.

User-generated content idea #1: Interactive contests

The Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Virginia, has an aggressive social media strategy for promoting events. This includes running four Instagram contests each year tied to special exhibits. Fans are invited to “submit” pictures they’ve taken in these exhibits by posting them in their own feeds. By tagging Lewis Ginter’s Instagram handle, users enter the contest.

But something else happens, too. According to Jonah Holland, who runs social media marketing for the gardens, “We see huge engagement on the original photo that someone posts to enter.” Followers share with their friends, and suddenly, the brand is reaching people way outside its own fanbase.

Social media contests are a creative, engaging way to motivate word-of-mouth from your followers to their followers and beyond. And there are plenty of ways to execute them, from free ticket giveaways to hashtag contests.

User-generated content idea #2: Partnership agreements

When your goal is to encourage more user-generated content, don’t forget about the partners you have in your event ecosystem: performers, speakers, vendors, sponsors, and paid influencers.

Maker Faire, a showcase for creative makers in San Francisco and New York (and a growing number of cities around the world), has its own “maker marketing strategy.” Director of Marketing Joan Rosenburg supplies every participating maker with a digital resource kit. Makers can use these assets — official logos, links, and content ideas — to promote the event to their own followers.

Make sure your partner agreement includes parameters around social media promotion. The more you encourage your partners to share, and give them the tools they need to do so, the higher your chances of reaching a wider audience.

Influencing user-generated content takes a certain degree of effort and ingenuity. But the momentum it can create for your event is truly magic.

User-generated content is just one of three key marketing strategies the experts at Facebook and Instagram say you should be using to promote your event.