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From positive reviews and social media photos and videos to contests and incentives, there are countless variations of user-generated content that can be used for marketing. — Getty Images/g-stockstudio

As a business owner, you understand the importance of positive customer reviews and social media posts about your brand. Consumers want to do business with brands they trust — and reviews are a key element in building trusting relationships.

In fact, 72% of consumers won’t make any moves until they read reviews about a business, and 93% of consumers let reviews about local businesses determine their opinions before trying out the business themselves.

When companies use these positive reviews and social posts in their marketing strategies, that is called user-generated content (UGC) — content created by customers of a brand, for or about that particular brand. Think of it as free advertising via satisfied customers.

[Read: Under Armour Looks to User-Generated Content to Better Tell Its High-Performance Story]

If you’re interested in leveraging UGC in your marketing strategy, here’s how it works.

Examples of UGC

There are various types of user-generated content you might implement into your marketing strategy. Smart Insights provided a few examples:

  • Reviews. When your customers leave positive reviews on your site, social media or elsewhere, they’re essentially marketing your business for free. Success stories from confirmed buyers tell consumers they can trust you.
  • Contests. Giveaways and contests are great ways to cultivate brand awareness. Use terms and conditions that will attract attention to your account, such as requiring contestants to follow your account, tag three people, share your post in their story, etc.
  • Videos. Video content is engaging, personable and easily shareable. Ask customers to review your products or services via video to share on social platforms, so others can see their honest feedback firsthand.
  • Gamification. Gamification turns the customer experience into that of a game, engaging consumers and encouraging them to continue participating in your brand. This can involve incentives like points, competitions and achievements that will eventually result in a higher reward — like access to certain perks, VIP status, discounts and more.
  • Themed content. Create themed activities that encourage users to get more involved with your brand. For instance, if you’re in the food and drink industry, during the holiday season, you might start a hashtag contest that asks people to share their favorite holiday drink or treat from your eatery in a photo with the chance of being featured on your account.

[Read: 8 Social Media Trends Every Business Needs to Know About]

Success stories from confirmed buyers tell consumers they can trust you.

Steps to using UGC

There’s a ton of research and planning involved in UGC. To help get you started, Sprout Social outlined these important steps:

  • Choose effective social platforms. Which social media platform makes the most sense for your business? Where do most of your customers tend to hang out? Do your research so you can invest more resources into the right platforms for your brand.
  • Set goals. What are you trying to achieve through UGC? Perhaps you want to increase brand engagement and build customer loyalty and trust in your business. Or maybe you simply want to save time and money on content creation. Whatever the case, keep these goals in mind when creating your strategy.
  • Tell your audience what you want. Want them to share photos of your products? Leave reviews of your services? Create videos of their feedback? Let them know! Odds are, they’ll be more than happy to get involved and have the chance to be featured on your page.
  • Collaborate with the community. Collaboration is a two-way street. To earn consumer trust, you must really be an active part of the community. Answer messages and comments, like and share tagged posts, and get personal with your audience.
  • Analyze and measure efforts. Don’t just freely implement UGC without paying attention to your results. Find a way to regularly analyze and measure your efforts so you can learn ways to improve and advance your strategies. By investing in social media analytics tools, you can have further access to this information.

[Read: Website Analytics Tools for Your Business]

UGC is becoming a staple marketing strategy today. It’s affordable, engaging and simple to implement. By following these important steps and experimenting with a few of the above examples, you’ll be able to highlight your customers and build valuable relationships with them.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

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