Applebee’s new marketing strategy: customers’ photos

To boost engagement with its “neighborhood” and generate some social media buzz, Applebee’s, the country’s 10th largest chain by sales, will turn over its Instagram feed to its customers for the next 12 months, Adweek reports, relying in a big way (although not solely) on user-generated content—read: free content—to populate the page.

While consumers will first need to go online to give Applebee’s permission to use their photos, any pictures uploaded after that using the hashtag #Applebees or #Fantographer could be reposted by the chain. Periodic photo challenges and shout-outs aim to encourage more activity.

With 200 million monthly active users, Instagram is becoming the place to be for brands interested in connecting with a modern audience. And this move by Applebee’s could help boost the chains credibility with millennials, in particular. A recent study found that millennials trust user-generated content 50 percent more than traditional media. And UGC is 20 percent more influential on purchasing decisions than other forms of media.

A number of other restaurants also have promoted user-generated photos online:

The Oinkster, with two locations in Los Angeles, wallpapers its home page and Instagram feed with photos from customers using the hashtag #Burgerlords. And it promotes that hashtag prominently at the top of its homepage.

Starbucks mixes user-generated photos of its highly-customizable drinks in with its own product, behind-the-scenes and lifestyle photos. Hashtags such as #treatreceipt and #whitecupcontest tied to promotions boost interaction on Instagram, where the brand has nearly 3 million followers.

Pinkberry—again, a restaurant concept with a highly customizable product—has run multiple contests inviting its customers to share photos of their favorite yogurt combos on Instagram tagging them with @pinkberryswirl and a special hashtag for a chance to win up to $1,000.

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