Let Your Fans Do the Talking user-generated content

User-generated content is so hot right now. Researchers have found that today’s consumer is less swayed by owned media, and more influenced by real people. In fact, 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family and 70% trust online reviews, while the vast majority view paid online advertising with deep suspicion. The solution for marketing your brand with all the believability of a real person is simple: Actively collect and utilize user-generated content.

What is User-Generated Content?

In the most technical sense of the term, user-generated content consists of original words, thoughts, and images that users voluntarily submit to an online entity. That poll you just answered on Starbuck’s Facebook page about your favorite iced drink for summer is user-generated content. So is the instagram image you snapped of your salad last night and tagged the restaurant in.

From a marketer’s perspective, customer-submitted content is something of a silver bullet. It’s free, and it carries much more clout than if you raved about your products and services. Great user-generated content carries social proof, and it can extend your exposure in content creators’ networks. You want lots of it, to share on your company website, blog, and social media channels. Here are some ways to actively solicit and implement your fans’ work:

1. Ask And Ye Shall Receive

Sometimes, all the motivation people need to send you a glowing quotation or photo of themselves with your product is an invitation. Large segments of the population love being in the spotlight, and reusing someone’s content can result in a certain degree of celebrity.

2. Offer Incentives

Whether you’re simply hoping for a few quick photos, or a much longer interview with your customers in order to write a case study, recognize that everyone’s time is valuable. The incentive you offer doesn’t need to be huge or costly, but it may pay to demonstrate that you appreciate their submission with a discount, or feature their brand on your company blog.

3. Run a Contest

There are several types of Facebook contests permitted by the network, and they essentially boil down into two categories: sweepstakes and content contests. In the case of the latter, Facebook can be an ideal place to hold the contest. Given that you’re required to run contests through a third-party app, you generate permission to utilize the content at the time of submission. People love the thrill of competition, and if you throw in a great prize, your likes and store of user-generated images or essays will soar.

4. Reuse and Recycle

Just because you decided to publish a fan’s Instagram photo on your Facebook, it doesn’t mean you can never use it again. In fact, with full permission from the content creator, it’s a brilliant idea to get the most mileage possible from user-generated content. One of the sharpest ideas we’ve ever heard of comes from HuHot Mongolian Grill, who sponsored a Facebook contest for new recipes. The leading submissions were reposted to Pinterest, where the restaurant’s social media staff had created a board specifically for promoting the contest.

5. Use it Throughout Your Sales Funnel

There’s really never a time where user-generated content is inappropriate. Traditional marketing thought dictates that in order for a consumer to make a purchase, they must pass through a series of stages known as the buyer readiness cycle. When you start thinking about buying a new car, you’re aware you have a need and start to Google local car dealerships. You perform more research, narrow down a few makes, models, and dealers, and eventually develop a conviction that you’ve picked the right vehicle.

Whether you’re creating social media posts to draw leads into the top of your sales funnel, or writing a case study to close new revenue, user-generated content can probably say it better than you can. Use images and quotes as social proof to make your brand trustworthy, and testimonials and case studies to convert leads into customers.

Consumer trust is a critical factor in marketing. If an individual doesn’t believe your brand can deliver on its promises, or provide something better than its competition, they probably won’t ever make a purchase. Leveraging the thoughts, words, and images of real human beings – with their permission, of course – can make your brand über-trustworthy.

*cartoon used with permission via Tom Fishburne.