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How To Build User-Generated Content Into Your Marketing Strategy

Nate Birt

published on December 11, 2014 in Content Marketing

If you’ve never heard the term user-generated content (UGC), you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past decade; running scared from your competitors; or under the false assumption that this method of information-sharing is moot, given it dates to at least the year 1665.

Regardless, you should take some time between now and the start of 2015 to assess your content-marketing strategy and identify ways to begin engaging your brand fans on a deeper level using the content they’ve created at zero cost to your organization.

In the following post, we explore three fundamental principles of user-generated content (UGC)—reasons behind its effectiveness in content marketing, legal considerations and where to find it. For a little extra fun, we’ve spotlighted three outstanding UGC campaigns that really bring this storytelling technique to life.

Why It’s Effective

The reason UGC is more impactful now than ever is because it has become extraordinarily popular in the Age of Millenials. Anyone who seeks to engage this valuable audience of people born between 1977 and 1995 must carefully plan to meet them where they spend time. After all, there are 77 million of them.
Example: Coca-Cola invites Facebook’s No. 1 brand fan page to chronicle its rise to stardom

Illustrating the power of UGC with millenials is recent research by Ipsos MediaCT. Among other findings, Ipsos reveals that of all the time millennials spend with media, 30% involves UGC made and shared by peers. That translates to:

  • 18% for social networking and content on platforms such as Facebook
  • 6% for email, texting and other messaging
  • 6% for talking with other people about news, products and brands

Couple that impressive time investment with Accenture’s forecast of $1.4 trillion in annual spending among U.S. millennials by 2020 and you have the ingredients needed to effectively share your brand’s story with a powerful return on investment.
Example: GoPro shares video clips fans have captured with its camera

Although major brands have invested in UGC in a big way, many other businesses are still searching for opportunities. For example, 35% of business-to-consumer marketers say they plan to begin leveraging user- or fan-generated content within the next year, according to a recent report from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs titled “B2C Content Marketing 2015: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America.” B2B Content Marketers would do well to do the same.

Once you’ve acknowledged the need to get serious about content your fans are producing online, the next step is to understand where to find it—and how to avoid becoming entangled in a legal twilight zone.

Licensing and Rights Issues

Suppose that in scouting for UGC on social media, you stumble upon a stunning landscape photo captured by your brand’s No. 1 fan. It’s flattering to your organization, and repurposing it elsewhere would be a fun way to engage people beyond a traditional status update.
It has the potential to go viral. But will you unleash a legal world of hurt if you proceed?
As with most emerging platforms, the answer is: It depends.

For starters, associate editor Kelly Sheridan of Insurance & Technology notes Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998
Adopt and alert website visitors to termination policies for repeated copyright infringement
Accommodate technical means of safeguarding copyrighted material
Appoint team members who can reply to takedown notices, which copyright holders issue if they think their work has been misused
Make up-to-date contact information readily accessible online in case someone needs to report a copyright violation.
Also seek out the terms of use for individual platforms from which you plan to glean UGC. You can check out this blog post from intellectual property firm Klemchuk Kubasta LLP or others like it for links to guidelines from some of the largest social media sites.
Lastly, plan around the type of campaign you’d like to launch. For example, social media generally have specific rules surrounding acceptable means of generating UGC during promotions and sweepstakes.
If you’ve done your due diligence, checked in with legal counsel as needed and mapped out your UGC goals, you’re prepared for the fun of engaging your audience directly.

Where to Find It

The good (and challenging) thing about UGC is that there is an abundant supply online. That means it’s up to you to find quality content created by brand fans and identify the best ways to surface it.
UGC Example: #LegoxBelkin campaign promotes Belkin’s Lego-customizable smartphone case

Some simple steps can go a long way. First, you can literally ask fans to share their content with you in a variety of ways, from a simple website form to your preferred social media channel. Make it clear that you’re soliciting their original content as part of your marketing efforts, and share a link to your terms and conditions as part of any callouts, notes Constance Aguilar of SmartBlog on Social Media. There are even third-party services that send fans through the proper steps to ensure they’ve had the opportunity to review any conditions for using their content.
If you spot an excellent customer review or photo shared online, reply to your fan to seek permission to share the comment in some form or fashion. You might pair a stunning visual or branded photo overlaid with the text of the review and a campaign hashtag, for example.

Beyond social media and website forms, other avenues for UGC gathering include seeking out online reviews, sharing surveys with fans via email or hosting a contest.
There are plenty of paths to UGC excellence, but the bottom line to achieving success is creating clear goals, understanding and mitigating risks, and being transparent with your audience from beginning to end. In doing so, the authenticity of your brand campaign will stand out—and that authenticity will be confirmed in your fans’ words, images and videos.