How to make the most out of User-Generated Content

There’s a common saying in marketing that your brand isn’t what you say it is, but what your customers say it is. There can be no better expression of this than the user-generated content trend.

User-generated content involves consumers submitting writing, videos, photos and other media related to and directed at your brand. There are many benefits, but here are a few of the biggest.

  • It humanizes your brand
  • increases your organic reach
  • fuels influencer endorsements
  • promotes brand loyalty
  • spreads brand awareness

But, before you go firing your entire content department, be aware that these benefits come with a warning label. To do user-generated content well requires strategy and effort. You can’t just open your channels and sit back sipping a beer while all the free content rolls in (unfortunately).

Requesting content without considering what you want to gain from it, who your target audience is and which channels you want to focus on, can end up being a costly and time-sapping mess.

So how can you make the most of it while minimizing any risk? Here are five of the most effective approaches that you can put into action for your business.

Know your audience

Who are they?

All good marketing begins with audience research. To aim the right message at the right people, you need to meet them where they are. To do that, you need to know where that is.

Both Facebook and Twitter have tools that allow you to find out who follows you. The best part is, they’re incredibly easy and intuitive to use. Just fill out a few boxes and click Enter.

So, run some analysis on your social media audience and use it as the basis of your campaign.

If your research suggests your audience are generally 30-something singletons from Western Europe who are into campaigning and watching cat videos on the internet, you can ask yourself ‘what might motivate them to send content to my page?’.

Where are they?

The first thought that comes to mind when you hear ‘user-generated content’ is probably beautiful Instagram photos. But you should avoid picking a platform just because it’s easy or common. Choose right platform for your audience.

It needs to be:

  • somewhere they already are – you need a captive audience
  • a platform that allows them to share the right content easily – asking for essays on Twitter might not be very productive
  • one that you understand enough to manage the content well – if you can’t use it now, you can’t manage a campaign on it
  • a place your business already has a presence – the bigger your profile, the more of a response you’ll get

What do they like to share?

Once you know who and where your audience are, find out what kind of content they share. If your followers are mostly social-media savvy millennials, photos and videos are a good bet. But personal letters, poems and other more niche content can also work with the right crowd.

Decide on an incentive

The most successful user-generated content campaigns offer incentives for participation. Which could be:

  • Fame
  • Freebies
  • Prizes

If you’re a small company, prizes and freebies are a winner. For larger companies, or niche businesses with a tight, cult following, offering notoriety can be just as compelling an incentive.

Set goals

If you don’t set measurable goals, you’ll find it impossible to tell whether you’re succeeding or failing. And that’s a pretty important distinction to be able to make.

You need a tangible plan, with specific goals, right from the off.

Your goals might be about increasing traffic to your website by a certain amount, gaining hundreds or thousands of new followers, or be more product-specific, like reaching sales goals for particular products or services.

Whatever it is, make sure you have the tools to track it. Use your website’s metrics tracking centre to gauge improvements in traffic and your sales team to track improvements in their KPIs.

Like any digital marketing campaign, check in with your goals regularly and alter your approach if something is not working.

Bonus tip: most content campaigns intentionally drive traffic to your website. Make sure yours is able to handle the extra heat before going live by checking the bandwidth and disk space limitations of your current provider and updating your web host if necessary. There’s nothing worse than watching your campaign go viral, only to experience serious downtime because of poorly prepared web requirements.

Create a story

In crowded, corporate marketplaces, people value the human touch. Content from really people is all the more meaningful when accompanied by a story. To really get the most out of your campaign, encourage people to give some context to their posts.

Not only does it feel more motivating for people when they’re able to talk a little about themselves, but it adds a real, human element to your marketing.

Apple’s #ShotOnIPhone campaign is an example of how great marketing can come from a company valuing the story behind how their customers use their products. It works because people love to love to share the story behind their special moments.

A word of warning… Stay away from blatant advertising prompts like ‘please share’. They look desperate and make people cringe.

Instead, focus on bringing out the best in people. The best campaigns ask people to get creative. Think Startbuck’s #WhiteCupContest which encouraged customers to doodle on plane white cups and tag their mini-artwork on Instagram.

Choose a message that displays your values

Sharing a story works. Sharing a story with a positive message works even better. To get this right, you’re going to need all of that research into your audience.

Choose a message that:

  • represents your brand
  • is relevant to the product or service you’re promoting
  • makes people feel good

Remember that ethical consumerism is on the rise. Harness it and you’ll create something people want to be involved in.

A great example is Aerie’s #AerieReal campaign that advertised fab underwear and promoted body positivity by building a campaign around the ‘real beauty’ trend. It was successful because it took a culturally relevant message and asked a receptive and engaged audience to contribute to it.

Final thoughts…

Use-generated content can be a powerful and cost-effective form of marketing. If you strike the right note with your followers, you’ll get be rewarded with great content in return that you’ve not had to pay a penny for. But it takes insight and time to do it well. Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to your #ShareACoke moment in no time.

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