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The Beginner's Guide to User-Generated Content

But what if someone else developed that content for you?  That's the idea behind user-generated content. Put it to work for you and it could elevate your brand to new levels -- but there is no guarantee of success.  

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By now, most entrepreneurs are familiar with the tenets of content marketing. You write, record or produce content from scratch, promote it, then reap the rewards of higher brand visibility and traffic.  

But what if someone else developed that content for you?  

Related: How Do You Improve Email Marketing? Start by Improving Your List.

That’s the idea behind user-generated content. Put it to work for you, and it could elevate your brand to new levels — but there is no guarantee of success.  

What is user-generated content?

In case you aren’t familiar, user-generated content is any content that’s created by your users (including customers, fans and followers).  

These include things like:  

  • Social content. If someone makes a comment about your brand, posts a review or shares a video of them interacting with your product, it’s a form of user-generated content.  

  • Forum posts. Some brands explicitly try to cultivate a brand community by launching forums, where users can ask questions, make comments and talk to one another. Sometimes, this is to solve issues. Other times, it’s just to engage about the brand in some way.  

  • Blog comments. If you write new blog posts regularly, this is a great opportunity to collect comments and facilitate more discussions in thread form.  

  • Photos, videos, etc. Visual forms of content, including photos and videos, can be used to promote your best products.  

  • Reviews and testimonials. Of course, even user reviews and testimonials can count as user-generated content — and provide you some of the best benefits.  

Why is user-generated content valuable?

So why is this strategy so valuable to brands?  

  • Minimal manual effort. For starters, if users are generating this content, you won’t have to do the dirty work. Instead of paying a full-time employee or hiring a content agency, you can recruit your users to do the work for you. Obviously, this is a bit of oversimplification — but user-generated content is still highly cost efficient.  

  • SEO benefits. User-generated content also carries SEO benefits. Any content you produce for your blog and website will serve as a way to boost your authority and get new pages ranking in search engines. Assuming the content is high-quality, new and relevant, its SEO ranking power can be substantial.  

  • External trust. Customers are much more likely to trust the word of an existing customer or fan than they are the word of a company they’re unfamiliar with. Reading a review posted by a previous purchaser is going to be much more persuasive than reading advertising copy. Accordingly, user-generated content can help you build external trust.  

  • New voices. If you have an in-house content team, even if they’re extremely talented, eventually their work can become stale. The voice they’ve created can get repetitive and uninteresting to recurring followers. Allowing user-generated content can help you get an influx of new voices and perspectives, adding to the diversity of your blog, website or social media platform.  

  • Brand community development. This is also an opportunity to develop a brand community from the ground up. If you nurture your top content generators and get involved in conversations, you can improve public perceptions of your brand and increase customer loyalty simultaneously.  

Tips for cultivating more user-generated content

What steps can you take to cultivate more user-generated content?  

Related: How You Should Be Evaluating Your Content Marketing Success

This is arguably the most important element of your strategy, because users don’t typically generate content for your brand on their own.  

  • Ask. One of the easiest ways to get more content is to directly ask for it. Ask your followers to leave reviews or write testimonials for your brand. Open up your blog to accept new guest submissions. Tell your fans you’re eager to see their best photos of your product in action.  

  • Run a contest. You can also attempt to run a social media contest, incentivizing participation further. For example, you can ask followers to post a photo or video of themselves that enters them in a drawing for a $100 gift card in exchange for their submission. It’s only a mild form of bribery.  

  • Incentivize with other rewards. It’s also possible to incentivize user participation with other rewards. For example, you can have a kind of loyalty program or rewards program for your forum participants.  

  • Promote your best examples. When you come across a piece of user-generated content that rises above the rest, such as an interesting video or an excellent guest post, make sure you promote it. The increased visibility might motivate other users to follow suit.  

  • Get involved. Finally, get involved in conversations and engage your users directly. It will build stronger brand-consumer relationships and make people more comfortable providing submissions.  

With the right user-generated content strategy, you can get more visibility, develop a better reputation and generate more traffic for your brand. It takes time to build momentum, but with the right investment and enough patience, you’ll stand to benefit enormously.  

Timothy Carter

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Timothy Carter is the CRO of the Seattle digital marketing agency SEO.co. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO and digital marketing leading, building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and driving growth from websites and sales teams.