Great content is the fuel that powers marketing automation — without a steady stream of compelling content, marketers struggle to keep audiences engaged and sales pipelines filled. Savvy marketers realize there’s already a wealth of rich marketing content available to them through the conversations of their customers. So, where can you find that engaging, authentic, marketing content?

Today, simply leveraging customer content across social media sites like Twitter and Facebook won’t cut it. Social networks are great for building audience and staying connected with customers, but these are not great platforms for harvesting content because the terms of service favor the end-user — and this is the way it should be because social networks are designed for consumers.

With a customer community platform that is branded and owned by your company, however, you invite customers and prospects to engage in conversation with you and with each other in the context of your products and services. These conversations are inherently relevant to prospects, since they’re created by other people like them. Companies that get ahead of the game by launching customer communities can leverage the community-sourced conversations for marketing content. Here’s how:

1. Leverage and scale customer-generated content

Strong parallels exist between how a community provides value for customer support and how the community contributes to content marketing. In both cases, value arises due to the existence of high quality, customer-generated content that’s easily discoverable through organic search. An open community offers a scalable solution that builds upon itself — engaging content invites participation, which generates more content, which leads to more participation.

Aerohive, a controller-less, wireless, and cloud-managed mobile networking provider, tapped its Get Satisfaction-powered community to capture the goodwill and expertise of its customers to create scalable, engaging, and compelling content, rather than rely on traditional, company-manufactured marketing content and support knowledge alone. That strategy gave birth to Hive Nation, Aerohive’s highly active customer community that attracted more than 1,400 members — including industry experts, employees and customers — within six months. Aerohive is able to capture the conversations generated by Hive Nation’s more than 10,000 monthly visitors and use it as authentic marketing content to fuel its marketing automation engine.

2. Identify community content that influences buyers and bring it into the marketing flow
When a consumer arrives at a company’s community page through an organic search query, a level of awareness and interest is born. Presenting appropriate calls-to-action in the context of relevant content is a powerful way to nurture this interest into a legitimate sales lead. For example, if a customer is dropped into a conversation about a specific product capability, the following calls-to-action can be included to guide the customer through the marketing flow: request a demo, download a whitepaper, or make a purchase. Community pages can be used to encourage certain actions once interest in the brand’s products has been established.

3. Make community a destination for campaigns so they become long-lived demand-generation programs
Community-generated content can act as a great source for long-term campaigns—all on their own. ServiceRocket, a training and support delivery platform, observed that engagement with their customer community went beyond just support-related questions. They began leveraging this constant and genuine customer contact by updating their community with product changes and enhancement. Their customer community developed into one of the best forums to generate buzz around new products, since the audience there was already engaged and interested in discussing them. ServiceRocket’s experience with their customer community exemplifies how a destination for customer information opens up the possibility for serendipitous creation of demand-generation programs.

4.  Leverage community content to capture targeted leads
Interactions within the community are a great source for targeted leads. Customer and prospect conversations within the community oftentimes center on questions about a particular product or service, which in turn indicates a level of interest or intent to buy. This information can be used to ignite conversations that align with the interests of community members as demonstrated by their past behavior and conversations.

One major big data technology platform provider, HP Vertica, saw immediate gains once it made the decision to accelerate its community’s impact by adopting a platform that could organize conversations around its products. In fact, some of the most viewed conversations are about migrating to their platform from competitive solutions. Viewers of these threads are highly qualified leads.

5. Generate inbound interest through SEO
In most community platforms, conversations receive the best organic referral traffic through the natural SEO that user-generated content receives. No one knows for sure how Google’s algorithms work, but it is clear that customer content is prioritized because it is copious, written in the natural language of customers, and highly engaging. Once HP Vertica established its customer community, more than 70 percent of community page views resulted from search engines. At Get Satisfaction, we have found that across the entire platform, more than 50 percent of page views come from customer queries on search engines.

The results are in — 2014 will be the year that customer collaboration comes to the marketing stack. Still, it’s important to note that any campaigns to encourage lead generation through user-generated content should be measured to determine how effectively the community is achieving that goal. CRM integration with a community platform creates a rich view of the customer and prospect that will drive sales and inform go-to-market strategy, while Marketing Automation Platforms (MAP) can track prospect behavior in the community and trigger contextually relevant marketing campaigns.