Of the many gifts given by social media, none may be so fruitful as the ease of use for people to create and share their own work, especially if it features your business or brand. These pieces of user-generated content (UGC) are great for businesses and can be leveraged for promotional and other purposes. Savvy businesses can even use this content as part of relationship marketing, which can help draw new customers and earn return visits from existing ones.

User-generated content is media produced by users and provided to publications and other platforms. Prominent examples of platforms that greatly benefit from UGC are Wikipedia and YouTube, where users upload information and video for wider general consumption. For our purposes, user-generated content most commonly appears in the form of blogging, review sites, video-sharing sites, social media and other channels. User-generated content is valuable because it promotes:

  • Audience involvement and making genuine connections.
  • Brand loyalty and return visits from your customers.
  • Higher SEO rankings for your site, which comes from consistent external contributions.
  • Outsourced brand promotion by your existing customers, which in turn attracts new ones.
  • Authentic conversations, a meaningful experience and honest feedback from your users.

Valuable Times to Leverage

Although user-generated content is always valuable, there are certain times when calling for contributions will be more beneficial than others. Consider launching campaigns that benefit from UGC in these situations:

When Redesigning Anything

If you’re looking for a fresh perspectiveon your website, social media page, packaging, etc., you might ask your audience to contribute ideas and designs. This will get your audience involved and evoke a feeling of teamwork and inclusion. Remember to be clear about what type of content you are asking for, and be transparent about how that content will be used.

When Raising Awareness

UGC can be used to promote an issue or topic relevant to your business or its mission. People are wired to share, especially when they think that doing so may help others. For example, if you want to announce your new partnership with a non-profit, ask your customers for input on how they or someone they know has been affected by that cause.

When Growing Your Audience

UGC helps your business generate interest and make connections with your users. If you have a small social media following, you can amp it up by asking questions and being responsive. People will be more likely to visit your site or social media page if you encourage a meaningful experience. This is done by responding to reviews or comments quickly and respectfully, as well as sharing your own content and ideas.

Kicking Off Marketing Campaigns

Involve your audience and respectfully ask for their participation through the use of UGC. You’ll generate more buzz and interest in your campaign by including their works. For example, if you are undergoing a rebranding, involve your customers by asking for their input and ideas.

When Developing New Products

Ask for ideas or entire mockups on product features your customers might like to see improved or implemented. You may also choose to get feedback on current products to see if any changes may be necessary.

Encourage User-Generated Content

One of the greatest difficulties of generating quality content is the challenge of turning bystanders into contributors. People will be encouraged to contribute if you use certain tactics when asking for user-generated content. How can you get users to contribute?

  • Hold contests and offer prizes. By offering incentives, people will be more likely to get involved. People are competitive by nature and will be more willing to contribute if there’s a prize to be won. Offer access to something special, like a behind-the-scenes tour, or assign customers “levels” of participation with specific perks. These perks could be special discounts for contributors or even branded promotional items. Also, note that by making it a competition, people will try harder to win, and you’ll therefore get more quality content.
  • Simply ask for contributions on social media or on your blog. Include any relevant hashtags, and encourage users to spread the word. When you ask, be sure to use a very clear and specific call to action. What exactly do you want users to share? When should they do so, and how? Also, keep in mind that calls for simpler content, such as a picture or a tweet, are much easier for users to create than a video or a long essay. You will get more participation if you keep your content requirements small.

An Important Note About Compensation and/or Attribution

If you’re a prudent business owner, you might be asking yourself, “Do I have to pay for user-generated content? Do I have to attribute its creator?” These are good questions to ask, and unfortunately there’s no clear answer that doesn’t sidestep the complexities of intellectual property laws. For that reason alone, whatever your UGC strategy might be, we strongly encourage you to have your plan reviewed by a lawyer to be sure it’s compliant with intellectual property laws while protecting you from undue liability. Doing so protects both your business and your customers.

Here are some best practices that you can incorporate when forming your UGC plan.

  • Create transparent Terms of Service regarding the use of UGC. If users are using your business’ intellectual property as part of their creations, be clear about who will own the intellectual property rights to the created work. For example, you’re a clothing retailer, and you own the copyright to a design featured on a dress. One of your customers takes a photo of herself wearing a dress that features your design. If your customer submits that photo as a piece of UGC, your Terms of Service should address who owns the photo, especially if there are licenses involved that govern its use and if any rights are waived by the user submitting the photo to your business.
  • Don’t use pre-existing UGC without permission. It might be tempting to pluck out that perfect photo from a Google image search, but that temptation can lead to lawsuits and significant fines and lawyers’ fees. Just because they’re wearing your clothing or using your product doesn’t mean you can use their creations to promote your brand without their permission. Remember: UGC isn’t contributed if your business steals it.
  • Attribute UGC to its creator. Aside from the aforementioned marketing benefits, attribution is a goodwill gesture that signals to the contributor that you value their efforts. Think of it like a mini B2B partnership. Additionally, bylines are great incentives to encourage contribution.
  • If possible, compensate the creator. Your budget may not allow for cash payments. But as mentioned earlier, you can use discounts or loyalty programs to recognize a contributor’s effort in promoting your brand. In some lucky cases, your customer might even be satisfied with just an aforementioned byline.

While user-generated content isn’t appropriate for every business or campaign, it can work wonders for businesses that are photogenic or benefit from wide exposure on social media. Be sure to address any concerns about intellectual property rights when creating your strategy, and follow these suggestions to keep your business protected from liability. As a result, your customers will feel engaged while they work to promote your business.