User Generated Content that Can Increase Engagement and Event Branding

The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words may still hold true, but more than likely you’re hoping your content will generate a million or so impressions. Marketers have seen time and again that photos are the main type of content that is created and shared at events and experiences, and that’s followed by social media posts. Now, with on-site hashtag printers like Photoboxx and Luster, students and guests can create instant keepsakes using their own user-generated content from special events and activities. 

Student unions across the United States have jumped onboard this opportunity to increase engagement, spice up event branding, and in many cases, generate some income that can often cover the cost of paying for the printers. Unions join a group of other university stakeholders like alumni associations and marketing departments that are setting up hashtag printers at homecomings, graduations, and tailgating events. At the University of Michigan, a Photoboxx rental for the 2016 commencement ceremonies generated 835 tagged photos, reached 545,000 people, and created 1.5 million impressions.  

“With the proper marketing, paying for itself and bringing in additional revenue comes fairly easy,” said Donnyale Ambrosine, marketing director for Colorado State University’s Lory Student Center. 

The process is fairly simple, beginning with creating an account for the cloud-based software that can communicate with social networks and take care of the printing requirements. You can even download a mobile app that allows you to manage the event with a smart phone. You then create a hashtag for the specific event or activity and then share that with your guests. As people take photos during the event with their phones, they then share them via social media like Instagram and Twitter, tagging them with the hashtag. The hashtag printers then monitor for the tags appearing in social media and automatically print 4-inch by 6-inch (Photoboxx) color photos during the event for guests to keep. Luster prints 2-inch by 3-inch photos, and it offers a service called Hashtag Mosaics, where guests contribute their photos to create mosaics during the event using the pocketsize photos. Live display grids in place at events can also show collections of images as they are taken. 

An additional benefit is the opportunity to insert foot graphics that allow for unique branding above and below the image. This option allows you to approach sponsors and partners for co-branding images with logos, vinyl wraps, and special graphics. 

Some of the unions that have been using hashtag printers over the past two years include those at Temple University, West Chester University, Emory University, the University of Washington, Rutgers University, Binghamton University, the University of Texas–Austin, and the University of Rochester. 

The most popular printer in use at unions is Photoboxx, which is now in its second iteration. They can be purchased or leased from the company, but unions are finding that they can rent their printers to other units on campus and earn enough to cover the leasing or purchasing costs. 

Husky Union at the University of Washington has two printers and rents them for events in both the building and for events around campus. The printers are free for student organizations to reserve and use, but Husky Assistant Director Adam Serafin said there is a need to communicate some information about use and managing the device before groups begin using the printers. “There is definitely some work to give users a lot of front-end information so they can manage their events and trouble-shoot small hiccups, but I think we’re getting better at the process,” he said. 

A few tips offered by those managing hashtag printer programs include: make sure guests know they must have a public, not private, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram account in order to connect their photos to the printer; be sure you have a reliable Wi-Fi connection or you’ll have disappointed guests. One improvement to the newest Photoboxx version is its hotspot capability, reducing reliance on Wi-Fi; one way to encourage interactions that lead to use of the hashtag printers is to create a photo booth or photo backdrop environment with props. 


  • Steve Chaplin

    Steve Chaplin is managing editor of ACUI’s The Bulletin and manager of the ACUI College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) Evaluation Program. A former newspaper writer, editor, and manager, he has volunteered as a student mentor as a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and received awards for his writing and reporting from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Kentucky Education Association, and the Kentucky Press Association.

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