woman taking picture of milkshake with phone
From tapping influencers to supporting a charitable cause, there are many ways businesses can leverage user-generated content to bring awareness and trust to their brands. — Getty Images/AkayArda

User-generated content, or UGC, refers to any type of content (videos, GIFs, images or text) created by a person rather than a brand. Examples of UGC can be a review left by a happy customer, a picture of your window display posted on Facebook or an Instagram boomerang of a “cheers” toast with your bar’s latest cocktail creation.

Like influencer marketing or word-of-mouth marketing, UGC is extremely compelling content that your brand should be sharing. Research shows that consumers trust UGC 50% more than other types of posts. Here’s how to leverage UGC to grow your business and attract new customers.

[Read more: 3 Expert Strategies for Creating Great Content]

Use a unique hashtag

A hashtag allows your audience to link their content to your brand. Hashtags categorize content and reach a wider audience. You can also discover posts that your fans are already generating on your behalf. Coca Cola’s #ShareaCoke campaign is the perfect example: The hashtag gained the company 25 million new Facebook followers. Come up with a hashtag for your business that is catchy, memorable and adds a call to action.

Launch a contest

A contest can help increase the amount of user-generated content related to your brand. Incentivize customers and followers to share an image, review or video (with a hashtag!) to win a prize. A pet store, for example, could encourage customers to take a picture of their furry friend in a branded, reusable shopping bag. This encourages customers to add a reusable bag to their cart, and also adds some cuteness to your social media channels. Emphasize that prizes are limited to spark creativity.

Encourage your influencers to spread the word

Influencers occupy a gray area between owned media (e.g., ads generated by your company) and user-generated content. FTC regulations mandate that influencers be transparent about being compensated for posting on your behalf. But, research suggests that influencer recommendations are more trusted than traditional advertising.

[Read more: How to Leverage Influencer Marketing]

Get your influencers involved in a UGC campaign by having them spread the word about your hashtag, contest or new product. Influencers add a layer of authenticity and credibility to your request for customer participation. They also provide inspiration for the type of content you hope your followers will post.

Your customers are your best salespeople; let their words speak for you.

Give credit to the poster

Always ask permission before sharing user-generated content, and give credit back to the original creator of the post. “When you ask permission, you show the original poster that you appreciate their content and get them excited about sharing their post with your audience. You also keep yourself out of hot water when it comes to copyright concerns,” according to experts at Hootsuite. Give credit where credit is due. Tag the original creator directly and note whether you’re using their image, video, words or all of the above.

Promote a new product

Releasing a new product? User-generated content can get the word out fast. Use your loyalty program to give your best customers a sneak peek of the product. Encourage them to share their exclusive access on their social media channels to generate excitement. Other followers will be enticed to see what all the fuss is about.

Ask for reviews

Reviews are one of the most powerful forms of user-generated content. Roughly 60% of consumers look at online reviews before making a purchase decision. Make it easy for your customers to click “purchase” by highlighting great customer reviews on your social media channels. Your customers are your best salespeople; let their words speak for you.

Engage with your followers

As the saying goes, give and you shall receive: The more you engage with your audience on social media, the more they’ll return the favor. Be an active participant in the conversation. Like your followers’ posts, respond to their comments and share their content. They’ll do the same in return. Users want to interact with their brands, so personalize your feeds as much as possible.

Build a community

Not big on social media? Find another space where your users can engage. Some brands add forums or discussion boards to their website. One automotive company, for example, hosts a forum for developers on its webpage to encourage discussion around specific products and answer questions about its technology. Provide the space for UGC to exist, even if it’s not through social media.

Support a cause

Some users share content to increase their channel’s followers and engagement. Others, though, will be motivated to get involved in your campaign when there’s a bigger cause at stake. Partner with a charitable organization to raise awareness or to run a donation drive: For every UGC post tagged with your campaign’s hashtag, give a portion of your sales to a cause. You’ll drive engagement, increase revenue and do some good in the process.

Be imperfect

User-generated content offers a way to personalize your brand. The biggest mistake a company can make is trying to make UGC too perfect. Followers prefer UGC to “appear 100% authentic and genuine.” Gain the full benefit of growing your business with UGC by building trust — no photoshopping necessary.

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