In 2020, Circle K’s marketing team knew they needed to up their social media game as the COVID-19 pandemic changed how companies interact with consumers.
“During a time when we were all separated, that sense of community was important,” Yazmeen Rigaud, senior social media analyst for Circle K, said in an interview.
At the time, Circle K’s social media was “graphic heavy” and didn’t offer any content that was relatable or “made you want to dig deeper,” Rigaud said.
“[Our social media] was missing real people,” she noted.
Their challenge became clear: how could Circle K build loyalty and community through social media — and get compelling content from its customers?
This led them to discover user-generated content (UGC), which is content that followers make and give a brand the rights to use. Circle K tapped EnTribe, a UGC vendor, to help build a social media platform that would “celebrate creator content and promote the Circle K brand and products,” it said.
“Circle K didn’t have any creators they were working with,” Gabriella Burns, director of sales and business development for EnTribe, said in an interview. “They wanted to build a one-to-one relationship with their community. It was a sensitive time, where people were afraid and social media was weird.”
The first step to Circle K’s UGC strategy was to build a content creator network. EnTribe helped Circle K create an online portal where customers could upload photos, videos or other forms of media for a chance to be featured on Circle K’s social media channels and win various prizes. When consumers upload their content, they fill out a form that gives Circle K the rights to repurpose that content.
By tapping into regular consumers instead of celebrities or professional influencers, Circle K is creating “authentic” content that consumers increasingly want to see, Burns said.
“The difference is that with UGC, [the content] isn’t paid for by the brand,” she said. “Influencer content lacks authenticity. When we look at social stats on Instagram, we’ve seen UGC is more engaging than any other professionally shot content that a brand can post.”
UGC is also more affordable than influencer-paid content, Burns said. In fact, the only thing brands pay for is the assistance from a vendor — such as EnTribe — to build the portal and help strategize. But when it comes to the content itself, it’s free.
“With UGC, you don’t pay people for the content — people want to create that content for you,” Burns said.
Within a few months, Circle K went from zero creators to nearly 400. Today, it has over 2,000 creators in its UGC network. Last Easter alone, it collected 800 submissions from social followers — its most in a single promotion, Rigaud said.
Every week, Circle K launches its “Friday Top Five” program, where it promotes its five favorite pieces of UGC received that week via Instagram. This feature has increased Circle K’s social content by 100%, the company has said.
Building its UGC network hasn’t been all smooth sailing, though. For starters, Circle K had a bandwidth issue at first.
“Back in 2020, our global marketing team was only five people,” Rigaud said. “Now, it’s 200.”
Additionally, Circle K has faced the challenge of crafting the guidelines for the content it collects. This includes rules on things like ensuring Circle K is portrayed in a positive manner or the quality of lighting in the photos and videos being submitted, Rigaud said.
Moving forward, Circle K plans on building out its UGC with more video content for TikTok and Instagram reels, Rigaud said. The company also wants to lean more into sustainability-based content and start giving merchandise prizes to consumers.
For EnTribe, Circle K marked its first time working with a c-store operator, which also came with its own challenges.
“C-stores tend to get lower-quality content, like standing next to the gas pump over nice stuff in a hotel store,” Burns said. “For us, it was a challenge — and an opportunity to start working in a different industry.”
But that challenge of receiving high-quality content is addressed by building those customer and community relationships, Burns said. Specifically, Circle K and Entribe offer tips for consumers when making and submitting content, such as ensuring the camera lens is clean and the background is simple, and including the Circle K logo.
“If a c-store can get high-quality UGC, anybody can do it,” she said