Four ways to drive engagement with user-generated content

User generated content (UGC) is not a new concept, but for digital marketers, UGC has never offered as many exciting possibilities for engaging with consumers and building brand loyalty.

With the recent billion dollar acquisitions of content companies like Instagram and Tumblr, tech giants are further demonstrating the immense value of content today,and the opportunities are apparent for marketers.

In a January 2013 Econsultancy/Adobe report on digital marketing trends, over 700 digital professionals identified content marketing as the single most significant trend in marketing today.

Content, in short, is king, so it’s incumbent upon brands to make good use of it.

Sounds easy, right? Not so fast, it’s never as simple as it sounds. With its many shapes and forms, identifying the right content to engage your customer and doing it at the right time on the right channel, requires strategic planning and resources.

One compelling solution is to allow consumers to create content for your brand. The rise of social media and mobile technology has made every consumer a potential broadcaster, and it is easier than ever for brands to solicit, collect, promote, and analyze content that comes directly from your customer base.

Why Do It?

User generated content has never been as easily accessible for both brand marketers and consumers as it is today. The prevalence of smartphones and tablets makes it easier than ever to take photos, make videos, draw pictures, and otherwise broadcast our thoughts and opinions instantly through numerous social channels.

They are also a good advocacy tool for brands to engage both new and existing customers. When done right, UGC campaigns that make it easy for your consumer to market on your behalf will lead to higher levels of engagement and provide actionable consumer data.

Here are four tips for digital marketers implementing user generated content.

1. Present a clear call to action

Although UGC can be easy to solicit from consumers, it is critical for brands to present a specific call to action that identifies objectives of your campaign and outlines the desired contributions you are seeking. It is also important to recognize that many participants in your campaign may initially just be there to view content, and don’t intend to contribute to it.

An inspiring call to action or value proposition will help convert those who were simply bystanders.

There are many different levels of contributions you can solicit, and each type of content has a different target audience. For example, it is far easier for a user to submit a picture or send a tweet than it is to create a video.

Target the masses with simpler requests, versus targeting a passionate community of enthusiasts with things that take additional time and effort like video creation.

Your call to action should do two things: very clearly state the type of content you are soliciting, and provide users with an incentive–like the promise of status/fame, a prize or exclusive discounts–to participate.

In addition, you should use the thrill of competition to get customers excited and their competitive juices flowing. You can also increase the volume of participation and engagement by making it easy for participants to share the campaign across their social channels.

2. Ensure quality

One potential risk when opening your brand to contributed content from customers is the potential for your usual quality standards not to be upheld.

This is why it’s essential to set clear parameters and expectations at the outset of a user generated content campaign. Offering incentives for winners will also place a premium on quality content by tapping into people’s competitive nature.

Entertainment.com recently ran a “My 30 Seconds of Entertainment” video contest that provides a good example of how to ensure quality by making the content submission process easy for users.

First, while Entertainment.com outlined a very specific request, it also allowed for a variety of ways for people to create their own video.

In addition, it capped the length of the video at 30 seconds, which makes it much easier for the brand to manage and screen the content, and for non-submitting customers to participate by watching the videos.

Coca-Cola’s “Design a Family Night Music Cover” campaign also provides a valuable example in how to ensure quality when soliciting content. To open the contest to people without artistic backgrounds, the campaign provides tools like a photo uploader, and the ability to choose among different backgrounds, icons, and stickers.

This is good for consumers because it helps them elevate the quality of their submission, while also preventing results that are off-brand.

3. Depth vs. breadth

One of the biggest ways for marketers to drive results is by taking steps to ensure their user generated content campaign provides widespread marketing value. Therefore a key question to ask when planning a campaign is how it can be valuable to more than just those who actively participate.

While you will naturally receive fewer entrants in a contest that asks users to prepare an entry, the entries you receive will likely come from those who are more passionate about your brand or the reward opportunity.

Because the majority of people participating in your campaign will simply view or interact with content rather than actually preparing and submitting their own entry, it is important to incentivize both content submitters and content viewers.

The Gap Casting Call campaign provides a great example of a brand successfully striking this balance. The campaign, which asks users to submit photos of their child, is simple — with an easy call to action that drives a lot of activity by tapping into parents’ pride in their children.

Because Gap hosts an online gallery for all submissions, the campaign also promotes viral activity as people share the photo of their child across their networks. For those who simply visited the page to view the finalists, they were incentivized to vote with the chance to instantly win a $500 Gap gift card.

4. Make it authentic

2012 Nielsen survey found 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.

This trust factor is one of the most important selling points for a UGC campaign. It’s imperative for marketers to make it authentic and consistent with the brand’s persona. And due to the wealth of information and content available in today’s digital world, authentic content is celebrated and more meaningful. 

Gap’s Casting Call campaign does a good job of this by highlighting authentic content of real children wearing the brand’s clothes. Gap is crystal clear on the campaign’s theme and asks parents to upload a photo of their child with a brief description of how they brighten up the world.

Authenticity shines through in the entries as parents share details on everything from a simple smile that brightens their day to community service projects that can make a big difference. 

Harness a more authentic and meaningful experience for your customer by driving a two-way conversation throughout your campaign — from the submission stage, to social sharing, voting, and beyond. However, be keenly aware that transparency is critical as any problems in the experience can be broadcast instantly by digital consumers across social media.

Content drives engagement

User generated content campaigns are not new, but the rise of mobile and social tools present even greater opportunities for marketers to increase engagement among a passionate group of consumers.

When done well, these campaigns can lead to significantly increased brand engagement.

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Four ways to drive engagement with user-generated content

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