When Peak Organic Brewing Company started in 2005 they asked us create their website (yes, it's a table-based layout — this was 2005, get over it). When it launched the website included (and still includes as of this writing) the ability for you to "share your peak experience" with other users of the website by uploading a photo and a brief description of your experience. Other users could then view and rate these "peak experiences" and each newsletter sent would include a recent top rated "peak experience." User submissions were even selected occasionally for use on the product's packaging.
With around 500 submissions and 15,000 ratings this "share your peak experience" aspect of their website allowed Peak Organic to learn about the people who drank their beer. Even better, it allowed their customers to learn a little bit about each other. It also gave people an opportunity to contribute, quite literally, to the Peak Organic brand with the chance of having their photographs and experiences incorporated into the product's packaging and displayed on store shelves throughout the country. I liked to call this "user-generated brand," a form of user-generated content. All brands are influenced by their users but this was user-driven brand evolution made tangible. This content was also a factor in helping them reach the number one position on Google for the search term "organic beer" — sorry Vermont's own Wolaver's!
In addition to Peak Organic's website, we also created their brand identity, developed materials for their event marketing, designed their packaging, made point of sale materials, and created sell sheets. We worked with Peak Organic for several years but we no longer work with them today. I'd like to explore some things we'd do differently today knowing what we know now four years later and with the tools available today. I wouldn't suggest anyone simply try the same things we did with Peak Organic. This worked because it fit in with their brand. However, there are some things you may be able to learn from our experience (no pun intended).
First, I would "unlock" the user generated content from the website. This could be done simply through a feed of recent "peak experiences" with links back to individual experiences. This would allow people to easily access this content from outside the website. If they're engaging with the brand, why does it matter if it they're on the brand's website or not?
An alternative approach would be to have users submit their "peak experiences" to Flickr and aggregate these photographs with a tag and possibly a group (Flickr was still in beta when we first launched the Peak Organic website). The website would then consume these aggregated photos like anyone else would and could even add a metadata layer on top for implementing the rating system. This would potentially give the community more control of this content and give Peak Organic the possibility of tapping into existing communities on Flickr.
When we first launched the Peak Organic website online photo sharing was still relatively new. Since then sites like Flickr have grown exponentially and many people are at least familiar with sites like Flickr, if not sharing photos online themselves. Today, microblogging (e.g. Twitter) is relatively new but growing very quickly. This leads to the second thing I'd do differently today — experiment with tagging beyond Flickr. I'd try tweeting from various events using an event hashtag and/or a brand-specific hashtag. Relatively speaking, not many people are on Twitter yet. However, the momentum is there and mixed in with the all those tweets must be a few "peak experiences" ready to be shared. Coincidentally, the maximum length for a "peak experience" description was 150 characters, 10 more than Twitter's 140 character limit.