By Kailynn Bowling, co-founder of ChicExecs PR & Retail Strategy Firm

Thanks to the rise of social media, user-generated content is more popular than ever. User-generated content, or UGC, is content created by your customers. The content can be in any form (text, image, video) and on any platform (Yelp, Instagram, blogs). Brands use UGC to bulk up their content offerings, whether on their websites, marketing materials or social media platforms.

UGC is an incredibly effective tool for marketing, especially for small businesses with fewer resources. You can share a profitable marketing campaign without creating a single new piece of content in-house -- your customers do it for you. UGC is powerful because it creates advocates for your brand. It’s no longer about pushing product; customers can see right through sales-y marketing.

The Benefits of User-Generated Content

Today, you have to build relationships for the long haul with customers. UGC is the perfect tool to make that happen. No matter your size, niche or audience, UGC can benefit your marketing team.

Builds Trust

Trust is the most important commodity in marketing. Consumers are more wary of brands today than ever before, so it’s critical that you find ways to quickly build trust with new customers.

UGC not only invites happy customers to tell your brand story, but it’s also more genuine. Potential customers trust the word of other customers more than a brand’s. Why? Customers have nothing to gain from sharing your product. It’s clear that they authentically enjoy your brand and want to tell the world about it.

Saves Time and Money

The best thing about UGC is that it preserves marketing resources. I know marketing teams are often stretched thin, both in terms of time and money. Fortunately, you don’t need a lot of time or a big budget to do UGC right.

UGC invites customers to do the hard work for you. Over time, you’ll have a library chock full of UGC at your disposal. For very little cost, you get the quality content you need. If you’re bootstrapping a marketing team, UGC builds your media library quickly.

Encourage Conversation

Marketing isn’t a one-way street anymore. It no longer involves marketers talking at customers about their offerings. Today, marketers need to build relationships through dialogue. UGC does just that: It encourages customers to talk about your brand, offer feedback and make their voices heard.

Making the Most of User-Generated Content

UGC has the potential to revolutionize your marketing. So, how you can build a passionate following that creates UGC for your brand? Here are the tactics that have worked for me:

Branded Hashtags

Whether you’re on Twitter or Instagram, hashtags help users locate content quickly. Create a short, branded hashtag that customers can use to talk about your brand. This not only encourages customers to share but also makes it easier for you to find UGC mentioning your brand.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to check this branded hashtag regularly to make the most of it. Sometimes users will have questions or complaints; you need to be ready to engage with them.

Giveaways

Everybody likes free stuff. Giveaways are the perfect way to build excitement and encourage UGC. The easiest way to encourage participation is through a branded giveaway hashtag. You can also use tools like Rafflecopter to measure participants’ number of shares and mentions, which can count as entries, too.

As far as the giveaway itself, it can be anything. Offer incentives such as gift cards or free products. If you have a small budget, try offering social media shoutouts or give the winner the power to name your next product.

Experiences

The Museum of Ice Cream and Meow Wolf are experts at immersive, UGC-friendly experiences. But you don’t have to be an artist to capitalize on experiential marketing.

Something as simple as an Instagram filter encourages customers to participate and share your content. Customers are happy to share your brand with their network because the content is novel and exciting. In exchange, your brand scores free promotion.

The Bottom Line

UGC helps marketers bulk up their websites, blog, emails, social media and more with effective, affordable content. You have a lot of tools at your disposal as a marketer, but if you want as much return on investment as possible, UGC is for you. 

Kailynn Bowling is the co-founder of ChicExecs PR & Retail Strategy Firm.

Published on: May 10, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.