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UGC Can Strengthen the Relationship Between Your Social Media and Content Marketing

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For marketers, there is no hope for social media without superb content, and there is no better medium for distributing content than on social media.

We're stuck with this "arranged marriage," which is why it's time to do some relationship counseling.

Currently, the dynamic is too one-sided: Content marketers make stuff, the social marketers have to distribute it, and the audience is supposed to consume and share it with other people. The audience has minimal influence on the content, and social marketers seem aloof.

The dynamic creates a lecture, not a conversation.  

If you want a healthy, loving, and fruitful relationship between social media and content marketing, you have to make the conversation two-sided by adding user-generated content (UGC) to the mix. The people who believe in your brand (i.e., your customers) will get to define what you are to the wider world. Your new task is to collect UGC from social media, deliver it to the content marketers, and then re-distribute it in a curated, awesome form.

Instead of waxing on about how wonderful UGC is, let's talk through a proven model for collecting UGC and using it.

Creating a Mission

To collect UGC, you have to put people on a mission where the intrinsic value of participating is just as compelling as the reward. The act of sharing this content is secondary to the journey of creating it.

For example, consider GoPro. On the GoPro website, the company invites people to submit UGC content, such as photos and videos. For its current contest, the company asked customers to upload an original GoPro video for a chance to win $5,000.

Moreover, every day, people capture and post more than 6,000 videos using a GoPro camera, and users mention the camera in hopes of being featured on GoPro's Facebook page, YouTube channel, or Instagram feed.  

Here's a look at one of the GoPro videos:

Another great example is the MINI Final Test Drives challenge from MINI USA and its agency BEAM Interactive. (Full disclosure: It is a customer of Widen, where I work.)

The company invited current MINI owners to come up with amazing test drive concepts, capture them on video, and submit the video to MINI. Ten lucky winners were able to test drive the new MINI Hardtop model before it was released to the general public (more on the contest later). It generated tons of submissions from passionate MINI owners looking for a challenge and a good time.

Generating Love Between a Company and a User

The basic premise of UGC collection is that expression has to be experiential. The process of making UGC must be intrinsically valuable... or no one will bother making it.

So, instead of paying models, cameramen, set designers and other professionals to create all your content, you attracted a huge influx of free content of mixed quality. There a few directions you can go from there.

GoPro has a team dedicated to finding UGC videos. It selects videos, edits them, or asks the maker to create an improved version, then simply publish them on their social channels. The videos are stunning.

The UGC videos keep people engaged in their social channels, interest people in the cameras and inspire others to capture and share their own GoPro experiences and live out their moment of fame. (Moreover, the cost of creating this much content at this quality level would be astronomical for GoPro. )

In MINI's case, the company put the test-drive videos before its social communities for a vote and then had judges select 10 overall winners from among the fan favorites. This process not only saved tons of time but also kept the community invested in the contest. Then they had the winners custom design their own MINIs and participate in professional commercial test drives, which performed well on social media.

Here's a look at one such video:

The key is that people who invest passion, time, and effort in UGC see a final product polished by content marketers and redistributed via social media.

The lecture is now a conversation.

Showing Your Best Side

Most branded content is like an online dating profile—although the profile is probably close enough to reality, people still notice when you add a few inches, shave a few pounds, or use a picture from five years ago. Content reminds people that the brand is selling something.

With UGC, instead of a dating profile, you have friends testifying on your behalf, and they are more trustworthy than the dating profile. Your content marketing and social persona both become more genuine and believable because they are co-owned by your customers.

Instead of a bitter couple, the social and content teams become the proud parents of an inspiring UGC experience.

So, yes, you can solve the dilemma of the arranged marriage by building a shared purpose and two-way dialog around UGC. I promise, you won't hear that relationship advice anywhere else.

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Jake Athey is director of marketing at Widen Enterprises, a provider of marketing technology and services.

Twitter: @JakeAthey

LinkedIn: Jake Athey

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  • by Mary Thu Jan 29, 2015 via web

    Any advice for collecting/using UGC that's NOT video? For some companies, video is a high barrier to entry for their audience or customers that are consuming their content. Just curious if you had any ideas that you've seen that are successful.

  • by Jake Athey Fri Jan 30, 2015 via web

    Hi Mary, great question! I have seen some brands big and small (and our own) find creative ways to inspire, collect and use UGC that's not video. Holding contests or "challenges" through promotions and events is a great way to inspire the capturing of authentic UGC experiences. We've seen MINI, Schwinn and Travel Wisconsin do a nice job with this.

    Get customers to share their photos on Instagram and encourage the use of your #hashtag by offering an incentive during the life of the promotion. You can automate the capture of this content for your own marketing use with the help of IFTTT and Dropbox.

    That way, you can use the high quality content on your other social networks and branded content platforms. With proper engagement, this cycle can produce some really strong imagery for any size marketer.

    Learn more about this automation blueprint on my blog at or @jakeathey. I'd be happy to share more sample recipes to help automate the collection of UGC.

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