Building and enhancing engagement and advocacy are central aims of content marketing, designed to lead to enviable levels of sharing, visibility and discussion.
This has multiple benefits from social and SEO perspectives. Increased levels of social mentions inevitably grows your reach by putting your brand in front of new people and leading to a natural snowball effect.
These social signals have an SEO benefit too, one of the factors pulled out by Searchmetrics for in their last annual ranking factors report. Engaging content leads to users spending more time on your website and can naturally attract backlinks, which are also vital for increasing organic search engine rankings.
Curating and promoting content created by your customers or fans, whether written, visual or video, is one tactic that can stimulate genuine, interesting conversations. It allows brands to connect with customers and potential customers while providing an interesting, inspiring or useful resource.
But how can this be done effectively?
Research, research, research
This stage is utterly essential: without it you risk targeting the wrong people, on the wrong platform, with the wrong message.
You know who you're targeting, so now it's time to look at what is interesting and relevant to these people.
Using tools like Brandwatch and BuzzSumo is one way to monitor your landscape, to see which topics and posts are trending on social media and getting talked about on industry leading websites. It can also be useful to see which formats get the most interaction and where that engagement takes place.
Both of these can have a big impact on how you decide to run your user generated content campaign.
Reviewing your own social media and blog content can give useful insight too; perhaps you can spot a couple of areas where conversations are already taking place or a consistently popular topic that could be expanded.
Similarly, reviewing which recent posts by your competitors and leaders in related areas are most popular is useful.
Don't neglect your own internal resources either: talk to customer service or sales reps who might be able to suggest common questions or problems that customers look to your product or service to solve.
Use this to narrow down some general topics and the specific questions you will ask your users.
Choose your platform and format
Now you have an idea of the topics you're going to cover, it's time to see which platforms and formats are best suited to your sector and users.
Do you go for written, visual or video content? It should depend on what type of content you're looking for and who your audience is. For example, if you're asking people to share a humorous anecdote then a short written snippet is going to work best, whereas a photo might be more appropriate for something fashion focused.
Remember to keep in mind that the more complex it is for people to contribute, the more incentive people might need to do so. For some particularly demanding user-generated content, like videos or creating Pinterest boards, you may want to format it as a competition.
You can use different platforms for collecting and curating user-generated content, for example asking for users to submit tips on Facebook or hashtag a photo on Instagram, and then share this content on your company's blog. Sometimes you may be able to use third party websites and communities to gather content, but if you do so ensure that you're not breaking any guidelines.
Ideally you want to target the most engaged sector of your audience, although sometimes a certain amount of experimentation is needed to refine exactly how and when you approach your audience.
Do make it very clear that you will feature the top content on your blog and social channels too.
User-generated content still needs to be compliant with general and subject-specific advertising guidelines. This doesn't mean that a company operating in an area such as finance, which is compliance-heavy, can't use this tactic.
It just means that the campaign needs to be adapted, for instance concentrating on user's experiences of related subjects rather than investing tips or reasons to choose a financial or insurance product. This often compels focus to areas that are more engaging to those at the top of the marketing funnel too.
Enjoy and engage
Viewing and curating user-generated responses is always fascinating – but remember to take time to engage with all your replies. Monitoring and responding regularly gives you the chance to spark those conversations that build brand advocates.
Thanking and responding to those who aren't going to make the cut for the final piece of content is a must too, so that everyone's contribution feels valued. This also encourages people to keep contributing and participating and helping to build a community.
If you're publishing user-generated content on your blog, consider breaking it out into bitesize chunks to help promote it on social media.
Then take stock, refine and repeat.