As a business, you look for ways to humanize your brand and build trust with customers. One of the better avenues to help personalize your brand is social media. With audiences becoming more hyper-focused, brands are seeing success on social by providing user-generated content.

According to The Atlantic, the average consumer is bombarded by more than 3,000 brand messages each day. With so many messages at their every turn, there’s no doubt it’s difficult to gain consumers’ trust with your brand.

But effectively humanizing your brand makes you appear more like another friend in a consumer’s social media network, instead of an in-your-face ad. For marketers who aren’t seeing much interaction or social media engagement, it might be time to consider user-generated content.

What Is User-Generated Content?

User-generated content is a source of content crafted by a consumer, social media follower, fan or influencer that lives under your brand’s properties. Whether it’s a blog, social media post, Wiki, podcast, video or social image, the content is created by third-party users.

Businesses then use this content on their website or social media networks to promote their brand. Typically this type of content comes at little-to-no cost, which acts likes a free source of advertising.

But why would consumers provide this type of content and for free?

Why User-Generated Content Is Influential

Brands often look to content already created by users, so it turns into a simple “ask” to repurpose. Additionally, consumers love being noticed by brands they enjoy. Not only that, but brand interactions lead to serious revenue opportunities.

Sprout Index Charts Q2 2016-07

According to the Q2 2016 Sprout Social Index, about 75% of consumers say they will share a positive experience with a brand. Consumers are also 70% more likely to make a purchase with a company after a good interaction.

How User-Generated Content Helps Your Brand

While it’s nice to know sharing one person’s content on your social networks could have a great impact with that individual, you can’t share everyone’s content. The good news is there are several other benefits to user-generated content that help your brand. For example, user-generated content:

  • Encourages more engagement: Consumers simply trust one another over brands, which means user-generated content gets much more engagement. ComScore found brand engagement increases 28% when user-generated content is used in product videos. Additionally, consumers are twice as likely to share user-generated content with friends or family.
  • Builds Trust With Consumers: The purpose of user-generated content is to humanize your brand. And with 51% of consumers trusting user-generated content over information on your brand’s website, you can build better relationships with this content stream.
  • Provides SEO Value: Many brands don’t know this but user-generated content significantly helps your SEO. Kiss Metrics found of the world’s top 20 largest brands, 25% of their search results are linked to user-generated content. This means higher organic traffic and more content being linked to your site (more backlinks).
  • Reassures purchase decisions: A long existing problem for brands is keeping customers shopping. According to an L2 Inc report, when consumers witness user-generated content while shopping, the conversion rate increases by 4.6%. Additionally, user-generated content interactions while shopping increases the conversion rate to 9.6%.
  • Increases your follower count: Customers typically come to your social media sites for deals and promotions. But they also look for a better channel for conversations. Nearly 35% of people use social media for customer care. With user-generated content encouraging engagement, you’re going to get more people following you to interact.

How to Deploy a User-Generated Content Strategy

Now that we know what user-generated content is and how it helps your brand, it’s time to start a strategy. Just like any other content strategy, your user-generated content plan has to have specific goals and guidelines to work its best.

According to SEMrush, 86% of businesses have tried user-generated content, but GoodVid discovered only 27% have a strategy for this content in place. User-generated content sometimes sparks conversations, increases engagement and builds trust. But if used the wrong way, this content will have your followers packing up and leaving.

To ensure your user-generated content strategy is flawless, follow these eight steps:

1. Choose Your Social Space[s]

The first step toward an effective user-generated content strategy is knowing where you want to publish. Each social network has it’s own unique demographics, which means your user-generated content isn’t one size fits all.

Determine who your audience is by doing a bit of research. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook have their own analytics features that help you uncover important demographics. However, these native sites only scratch the surface compared to third-party social media analytics tools like Sprout Social.

sprout analytics report group

With Sprout you get detailed audience information on who’s following you and how they interact with your content. These social media analytics can tell you exactly who’s engaging and where. This ultimately helps you decide which social network to focus on with your user-generated content.

What Works on Each Network

Besides figuring out your audience, it’s important to know what content works best with each network. For user-generated content, try some of these tips for each social network:

  • Facebook: This network is great for sharing video content and stories about your brand. Use Facebook to post user-generated videos that can help the content get more viral. Additionally, understand Facebook is extremely saturated with ads, so your content has to stick out.
  • https://www.facebook.com/LaCroix/videos/10154178198955856/

  • Twitter: With only 140 characters, you’re not as limited as you might think. Twitter tends to be a great spot for images, so let the visuals do the talking on this social network. Adding photos to your Tweets no longer counts towards your 140 character count, so you have a lot more flexibility. Visual user-generated content on Twitter also benefits brands because of its shareability.
  • Instagram: One of the most popular networks for user-generated content is Instagram. Knowing how to Regram is a must to push user-generated content. Here you can get help showing off your visual presence with other’s content.
  • Happy layering season! 🍂🍁Photo by @nova_kate #firstdayoffall

    A photo posted by Gap (@gap) on

  • LinkedIn: As the world’s largest social network for professionals, user-generated content has to be vetted and relevant to your brand’s goals. This isn’t the spot just to repost user’s content because you liked it. Instead, use LinkedIn to promote above and beyond user content that aligns with your brand.
  • linkedin example of ugc
  • Snapchat: The newcomer in social is definitely Snapchat, and brands aren’t hesitating to use it for user-generated content. A popular and effective tactic is doing influencer takeovers with Snapchat or holding contests to encourage people to interact with your brand. However, another big trend is presenting a question like “Football? or Football⚽️” where users upload their Snaps to make it into the feed.
football or football snap

2.Know What You Want From User-Generated Content

After choosing your networks, you want to set some goals. Don’t go into user-generated content without a plan. Instead, make sure you know what you want out of all of this.

Depending on the type of user-generated content (which we’ll get to in a bit), you have to set specific goals. For example, some brands use social media contests for user-generated content. Last year, Pepto Bismol launched a Twitter campaign asking users to give a reason to follow them.

The whole point was to draw attention from the Showtime series Happy-ish after one if it’s episodes called out the brand. The contest gave winners the exact amount it costs to get a 12-month Showtime subscription.

For this example, the content goals were simple–increase followers, engagement and brand reach through the contest. Pepto increased their followers by more than 27% and drove more engagement with the hashtag #happyish than the actual show itself.

This is why it’s critical to be sure about your goals so you know if the user-generated content actually paid off. Treat it like any other marketing strategy and set benchmarks.

3. Tell Your Audience What You Want

As we saw above, some user-generated content is asked for by the brand. Whether you’re asking for images or customers’ thoughts, you have to be clear in your decision-making. Without a clear goal and ask of your audience, you might confuse or deter people away from your site.

Try to be as specific as possible with your rules or regulations toward user-generated content. If you want people to send content to you, more than likely they will. But how much of it will be usable if you didn’t state clearly what you wanted?

It’s also important to not lose your focus. If you want a specific style of content, don’t revise or change your plans after a few short days. Getting people to share user-generated content with you takes time. If you rush it, you could end up creating a negative experience.

What’s even worse is if you’re not specific with your guidelines, you’re extremely susceptible to internet trolls. Make sure you check hashtags and your guidelines to leave little room for errors. Otherwise, you’re giving internet trolls exactly what they want–a chance to use your words against you. Simply be smart and take your time with user-generated content.

4. Choose a Type of User-Generated Content

You have numerous ways to apply user-generated content to your marketing strategy. Like we mentioned above, a popular way to generate non-branded content is social media contests. However, that isn’t the only thing you can do.

By @lucialitman | Submit your work via email to thedesigntip@gmail.com

A photo posted by The Design Tip (@thedesigntip) on

Another popular type of user-generated content is with campaign hashtags. Hashtags can get your audience involved with your message or campaign. For example, Chobani recently started its hashtag #ChobaniKids to promote healthy eating.

The brand gave tips about healthy eating and tidbits about its products for children. Also, the hashtag sparked plenty of discussion about how parents enjoy the product and find it beneficial for their kids.

Even though your ultimate goal is to promote your brand, you could do this by simply using a beautiful photo that relates to your brand. For example, Bass Pro Shops uses a follower’s Instagram photo to promote wilderness.

No Wi-Fi Available? PERFECT. 📷: @jamieout

A photo posted by Bass Pro Shops (@bassproshops) on

The photo drove more than 100 comments and plenty of engagement that doesn’t even necessarily have an impact on the brand. On the other hand, this type of content drives users to follow, engage and send content further down the line.

5. Pick the Best of the Best

Hands down, your user-generated content should reflect your brand. This is why it’s so important to pick the best of the best when it comes to this type of content. If you’re a social media manager on the lookout for usable content, don’t settle for average image, videos, audio or other types of text.

The best thing to ask yourself is if it caught your eye, will it catch others’? The great thing about user-generated content is it can highlight your brand’s creative side without needing an expensive photography or video department.

Social media channels like Instagram are perfect for finding and sharing great images or videos. This network is heavily based on vanity, so why not make sure you have beautiful photos to match your brand? Even if you have a “boring” line of work, that doesn’t mean your content has to be. Showcase your creative customers. You’ll be surprised what they can do.

Look for the best content and only accept the best to make sure your brand is highlighted in the best way.

6. Focus on the Community Aspect

The best thing about user-generated content is it typically sparks engagement. That means you have to put emphasis on building your community. As a community manager, you have to create a persona for the brand and connect customers and advocates.

User-generated content brings the chance to connect with new people through conversation. Your whole point is to build credibility, and if done correctly, you’ll drive users down the marketing funnel.

Your followers are extremely important to your social media strategy, so treat them well. Answer questions, be there during product launches and show your human side. Users know there’s someone sitting behind the screen, so give your brand a personality that engages.

Don’t treat social media engagement as a chore, but instead as an opportunity.

7. Give Recognition

You’re using someone else’s content, so make sure you give the proper credit. On social media channels, add the words “credit,” “photo,” “cc” or “? by” with their username. Calling out your talented followers is a great way to build relationships and put a smile on their face.

Feeling lucky and charmed on #NationalIceCreamConeDay 🍀 cc: @catquinn #InsideR29

A photo posted by Refinery29 (@refinery29) on

Make sure you have approval from whoever is providing the content and let him or her know how it will be used. For blog posts, Wikis and other text content, make sure they link to your site. But if it’s on your own site, make sure you highlight them in a positive way.

Here at Sprout, we have our Sprout All-Stars who are our brand advocates and social media experts. You’ll see their content appear on this blog and across our social channels. However, we make sure to always highlight their efforts and give thanks. It’s smart to be appreciative of what you have.

8. Analyze & Measure Your Content

If you want to ensure your user-generated content strategy is working, you have to measure it. With Sprout Social, you have social media analytics tools to track your overall engagement with user-generated content. Whether you’re posting to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram, you have access to detailed audience reports with Sprout.

New Facebook Pages Report by Sprout Social

Not only that, but you have the chance to monitor conversations around your brand. Don’t miss a great opportunity to share user-generated content because you missed someone using your brand in a hashtag.

Use Sprout to analyze and monitor your social media interactions so you’re always on top of things.

Start Sharing

User-generated content is tricky, but if you follow the steps above, you can use it to your brand’s advantage. Take this opportunity as a chance to engage more with your audience and build a better community among your followers.

Driving more awareness to your social channels will not only direct people to your products or services better, but it will also show them your brand’s personality.