The Ultimate Guide to User-Generated Content Marketing
Back in the day when the phrase “content is king” was coined, it’s hard to believe that people were aware of just how big this thing we call content would become. Still, with time, we’ve seen the definition of content expand to include everything from the posts you liked on Instagram, to your favorite podcast or that show you binge-watched over the weekend. Content is everywhere, and everything either is or has the potential to become, content. Everyone is a content creator, too, and this proliferation of user-generated content hasn’t escaped the attention of marketers. And so, user-generated content marketing came into being.
If you’re looking to dive into this exciting subsection of content marketing and learn how to benefit from user-generated content in an effective yet responsible way, you’re in the right place. We’ll try to cover as much ground as possible in this article, helping you get all the information you need about user-generated content.
So stick around, and get ready to learn:
At its simplest, user-generated content is the content created by regular folks – not brands, publishers, or professional creators – that gets released online, usually on social media. When you log in to your favorite social networks, all the things you see your friends, family, and other people you follow create, can fall under the umbrella of user-generated content. If you shop at an online store and notice they use testimonials, or even if you check out the Yelp reviews embedded on a restaurant’s site, you’re looking at user-generated content.
Usually, user-generated content comes in two main forms – visual and textual. The visual content users generate includes photos, videos, vlogs, even graphics and images designed by users. The textual content are all the testimonials, reviews, comments, and even social media posts created by users. Users can create audio content, too, and it can still count as user-generated content, but you’ll have a tough time finding it.
In the broadest sense, any content that’s created by people who are users rather than publishers or professional content creators is user-generated. If you view it as a publisher, business, or brand owner, user-generated content is only the content that can serve a purpose for your brand or business. The way content marketing usually works is that the entity partaking in it creates the content. When they decide to use content created by unaffiliated third parties, content marketing morphs into user-generated content marketing.
One of the main reasons why marketers, or anyone engaging in marketing for that matter, need to create marketing strategies is to ensure the purposefulness and effectiveness of every activity. Marketing requires resources, be they time, money, or labor, and you should know what you stand to gain before you choose to use any single technique, channel, or production method, in your campaign.
It’s not that hard to see the reasons to include user-generated content in a marketing strategy. It has an obvious unique selling point as it removes the burden of content creation from you. The savings from not having to invest resources into content can be all the reason you need to give user-generated content a place in your strategy. But user-generated content has more to offer. Lots more.
A Great Kind of Social Proof
There’s nothing like content created by regular people to give other regular people both the permission and reassurance to do something. The fact of the matter is that people trust other people, and they seek out examples and opinions before they decide on an action such as buying a product or subscribing to a service.
Social proof is one of the key concepts in the multidisciplinary field of neuromarketing, which aims to explain the unconscious drivers behind our economic decisions. While in the analog age people would rely on the ones in their nearest vicinity for social proof, in the digital age the circle of possible influences is much broader. This is why content such as testimonials and product and service reviews are so valuable – they have the power to affect purchase decisions.
An Air of Authenticity
Professionally produced brand content will always look a bit fake, no matter how much you try to make sure it doesn’t. It will look staged because, frankly, it often is. It needs to be, too – it’s much better to have content that reeks of over-production than content that looks like it was under-produced.
With user-generated content, people don’t expect the same level of production quality. We’re fine with seeing the content we’d be able to produce ourselves – that’s a huge part of the charm. It’s what makes user-generated content authentic, and one of the few marketing methods that can impart some of that authenticity onto the brand.
Boost to Loyalty and Engagement
On its own, the content people create for their social networks does not affect how they see your brand. That changes when you decide to use the content for your business or your brand. At that point, you engage with the user who created the content, give them acknowledgement for the content they create and increase the reach of their content.
The use of user-generated content sends plenty of signals to all of the other users. These signals work together to boost your trustworthiness, but also to inspire loyalty in users who will appreciate the fact that you feature other users’ content. If you launch a campaign to encourage people’s content-generating efforts, you can also expect them to engage with your business more.
A Myriad of Possible Applications
User-generated content integrates easily into all sorts of different campaigns. It lends itself to achieving all sorts of goals, and it works well with the latest eCommerce trends and methods. It’s just versatile and malleable.
You can, for example, put user-generated content to serve in social shopping. If you connected Instagram to WooCommerce, this can come in handy for you. On the other hand, you can create a content-generating contest that increases your business’ reach. You can do all of that just to foster a community around your product or service.
User-generated content is everywhere. Social media is brimming with it, as are video hosting platforms, all sorts of message boards, review websites, and comment sections. Having too many choices isn’t always a good thing – you can have a hard time finding a good place to start picking them over, and even then, you can be seduced into mindless scrolling by the sense that there’s always a better piece of content out there, waiting for you.
If you want to be effective at finding user-generated content, you need to approach the search strategically. You should know what to look for where, as well as how to entice people to do some of the work for you and send in submissions. Here are a couple of things you might try.
Look at Social Media for Brand-Appropriate Content
You can’t avoid looking at social media for brand-appropriate user-generated content, but you can make sure that you look in the right places, using the right tools. Identifying people who are loyal to your brand and have had some interactions with it already will give you a solid pool of user-generated content creators to look through.
You could also use hashtags to find specific content that matches your needs. Better yet, employ a branded hashtag to make the process even quicker and easier. Just remember that casting a wide net might give you the most results to search from, but it will also eat up most of your time. Strive towards balance.
Check With Your Employees
Some employees might be brand ambassadors in the waiting. Others might not even have a presence on social networks. You should identify the former and consider leaving the latter be, unless having a social media presence is in the job description.
Using content created by employees as user-generated content is a great way to humanize your business. At the very least, you can consider using their favorite content for the “meet the team” page on your website.
Launch a Content-Generating Campaign
Why not create a campaign to let your fans or customers know that you’re looking for user-generated content? These campaigns are often fun, have the potential to become viral, and they’re incredibly cost-effective.
Social media is perfect for content-generating campaigns, and it gives you plenty of awesome tools to help you out. You can, for example, center a campaign around a branded hashtag, an image filter, or an even more elaborate tool users can use in content creation. Because you set the rules, campaigns can also help you gain control over the type of content that’s sent your way.
Scour Comment Sections and Review Websites
Even if you’re not a huge fan of comments and you’ve decided to disable them on your website, you can still have more than a few venues where you can look for reviews, testimonials, or other similar user-created content.
First things first, however – you need to make sure that you claim your business on Yelp, Google My Business, and the like. You can also create a list of sites likely to contain user activity that could relate to you, such as message boards or social media groups. From there, it’s just a matter of time or your willingness to dig before you come across something usable.
Leave the Door Open for Submissions
Sure, you can enable comments. But how about enabling comments with images, instead? It might mean a little extra work for your website’s admin, but it can prove to be a valuable source of user-created content.
Having an open-door policy when it comes to submissions is great, but you must make sure to advertise it and create the proper submission channels. Whether it’s email, instant messages, or a form on your website, you can simply set it and forget it – until the content starts coming in.
So, you have all the user-generated content you can ever need – now what? You can just start posting the content like there’s no tomorrow, flooding all of your channels with it, dole out the content like it’s free, which in the case of user-generated content – it probably is.
You can also approach your treasure trove of cost-effective marketing content with a bit more forethought and spend it rationally. Either way, you’ll need to find the right way to integrate the content into your strategy.
Share the Content on Your Social Platforms
The most obvious way to integrate user-generated content into your content marketing efforts would be to simply share the content on channels. You can either use the network’s share functionality or simply repost content. Before you do so, make sure to:
Get permission from the content creators – you should always do that.
Reach an agreement regarding the proper attribution and linking.
Post appropriate content on appropriate channels.
Keep these tips in mind and have a good legal adviser to ensure you don’t break any copyright regulations. Then again, that’s advice you should heed whenever dealing with other people’s content.
Repurpose the Content for Your Advertising Materials
Whether you want to display the content on live events, make it the center of your next advertising campaign, or use it on your website, user-generated content can be just the right spice for otherwise bland assets.
Again, you should really make sure you have permission to use the content in the specific way you plan to use it. Testimonials might not come with tricky legalities, but images do – you might end up having to purchase the rights to display an image if you want to use it widely.
Make the User-Generated Content Shoppable
Social commerce is a trend, so why not bank on it? Since user-generated content is great for nudging people towards deciding to buy whatever you’re selling, why not make it easy to purchase what they want at that exact moment?
You can do that with user-generated content. Again, you should be sure that you have your back covered legally when using third-party content to sell products so directly.
Always Take Care of the Legal Side
We’ve said it before, and we don’t mind repeating it – make sure you clear the rights for any piece of content that requires it. You can work with legal counsels to that end, or use software to help you out, it doesn’t matter – just make sure you have the legal right you need before posting any content.
Asking for permission is mandatory, and any request for credits has to be fulfilled if you plan to release the content. Those two are the very basic forms of courtesy, and they might not cover you completely.
Go in Knowing What You’re Looking For
Trying to find a piece of content without knowing what you’re looking for is like going shopping without a list – sure you can find what you wanted, but you might come home with plenty of things you didn’t want. Only in the case of user-generated content, the price you pay isn’t money. It’s time.
Let the Audience in on It, Too
When you know what kind of content you need, you should also let the people following you on social media know. If you have any guidelines that could help them have their content featured on your site or social channels, make sure to point them out clearly.
Work Towards Turning Customers into Brand Advocates
People who will spread the word about your brand diligently and effectively are incredibly valuable to you, as they can set the fires of word-to-mouth and help your business immeasurably. You can use user-generated content to develop a relationship with the most dedicated fans who wouldn’t mind becoming brand advocates.
Consider Building a Community
A content-generating campaign can have a beneficial side-effect in allowing you to sow the seeds of a community around your brands. It’s up to you to decide how much you want to invest into it, but you should strongly consider it as communities have plenty of benefits.
Have a Plan in Place for Dry Spells
There’ll be times when good user-generated content is hard to come by. You might want to have a campaign as your ace in the sleeve for that situation. Collaborations or even periods of rest are good alternatives during dry spells.
Use Channel Appropriate Practices
Every channel has the things that make it special, and it’s these things that can give you a hard time because every channel will have its specific practices. So whether it’s going live on Facebook or making sure the user-generated content you post on Instagram meets your channel’s visual theme and style – don’t forget to honor the channel-specific practices.
Let’s Wrap It Up!
User-generated content is an incredibly beneficial type of content you can easily integrate into your overall marketing strategy. Many of the biggest brands choose to do so because the benefits are clear – from the low cost to the community-building, and serving as social proof.
Still, you have to make sure that you play by the rules and use the content you get from users well. So always ask before you take, and never say “no” to providing full credit. Be prepared to seek additional legal advice if needed. The content you take, make sure you to the best possible use, from using it on appropriate channels to using it for an appropriate purpose.