You already know that customers can conduct some of your brand's most valuable marketing in the form of customer reviews, word-of-mouth praise, and other user-generated content (UGC) that puts a spotlight on their love for your brand.

But, when those customers are spending considerable time taking and sharing selfies, how can their actions translate to benefits for your business?

For an answer, look no further than the woman who literally wrote the book on selfies: Kim Kardashian West. The Kardashian clan has helped elevate the act of taking photos of one's face into a marketing force to be reckoned with.

Although "selfie" is a mere two-year-old addition to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it's a concept that has rapidly sparked engagement between not just the Kardashians and their millions of followers but between everyday people and smart marketers at brands big and small.

As social media marketing has evolved, consumers have increased the personal nature of their interactions with brands. Today's brands encourage audiences to take and share selfies, snaps, and other forms of visual user-generated content; and many distribute that content to communities across the globe.

If your company isn't taking advantage of the selfie society, you could be missing out on a major business opportunity to get your customers interacting with your brand and build their brand loyalty.

Whether you're late to the selfie party or in search of new ways to engage, here are four tips to help you harness visual UGC and raise your brand's goals to Kardashian-approved heights.

1. Request customers' selfies and provide incentives

Most millennials are digital natives: They came of age in a culture saturated with digital media, and 71% engage with social media every day. Taking selfies and creating visual UGC is a natural way for millennials to communicate and engage with their peers.

To enter the conversation from a brand's perspective, you need to be direct in your ask and offer incentives for your customers to share their content.

To start, align a strategic business goal with a UGC campaign and hashtag. New York City-based fitness company SoulCycle launched a specific campaign to attract male customers and simultaneously support Movember, an annual men's health movement that encourages men to grow mustaches throughout November. SoulCycle named the initiative #NoMoExcuses, and the campaign invited men to share photos along with common excuses that had prevented them from joining a cycling class. The company then curated an online gallery of select customer photos and quotes, and paired it with a referral form for a free exercise class. By the end of the month, the gallery had nearly 50,000 views, 4,500 captured email addresses, and 5,300 new male customer referrals—a 35% increase in new male customers, and a 44% overall increase in new customers, per store location.

Keep in mind that incentives don't necessarily have to come in the form of a discount or prize. Many brands see a successful return from simply recognizing their customers and highlighting the UGC on the brand's social channels. For example, during the 2015 NHL playoffs, a campaign called #MyPlayoffsMoment encouraged fans to share videos that showed their views of games and celebrated their favorite teams. By promising to feature fan videos in a gallery, the NHL collected more than 120,000 pieces of UGC.

2. Think quality, not quantity

Here's a campaign goal that I've heard more than once from first-time UGC marketers: "We're aiming to collect 100,000 selfies."

Meanwhile, here's one that I've seen translated to real business results: "We're aiming to collect high-quality UGC that we can reuse."

UGC has common threads with social, digital, and traditional marketing, but it won't prove its ROI if you're simply aiming for quantity. After all, if you're requesting selfies from customers, your goal likely isn't to just store the photos on a hard drive and forget them. Rather, you want to curate, and use them in ongoing and upcoming campaigns, strategically connecting this valuable UGC with key audiences to support future business efforts.

Guarantee the lasting value of the UGC you collect by establishing a high standard for the quality of content you accept. Highlight customers' efforts that are executed well and are in line with your brand vision, rather than retweeting every blurry photo that uses your hashtag.

Ensuring the content your customers share is aligned with your brand image is extremely important. Run campaigns that challenge users to create and share unique, valuable content, and give participants a sense of achievement when you recognize their work.

You'll make the UGC experience more rewarding for contributors and new audiences alike, and you'll inspire new contacts to share on your behalf.

3. Don't use UGC without customers' permission

To ensure that your customers know what will happen with their UGC, you need to gain their permission.

Some brands aim to secure consent from users with generic statements outlining basic terms and conditions. An Instagram post announcing a new campaign might note, for example, that "by posting our hashtag, you are giving our company the right to use your content in promotional materials."

However, many customers see that approach as indirect and unsatisfactory, and that damages the basis of trust that any successful UGC campaign relies on. Moreover, depending on how a consumer came across the hashtag, they may never have been presented with the contests' terms.

To avoid confusion, be direct with your audience. Though you should always consult with your legal department to determine an ideal strategy, the below user flows can help get willing participants on board to help fill up your selfie stores:

  • Response-based consent. Actively ask users for their permission to reuse content. When a customer posts a selfie with your campaign's hashtag, comment on the photo with a message, such as "Thanks for sharing! We'd love to use this photo in other marketing materials. If that's OK with you, please reply with #ThisSelfieApproved."
  • Explicit, or "checkbox," consent. When users share UGC, drive them to an online data-capture form with a clear request. For example, the page might state, "By checking this box, I permit this brand to reuse my selfie in its marketing content." This type of iron-clad permission is sure to please your legal department.

4. Once you've built brand loyalty, flaunt it

Populate your marketing campaigns—from emails to social posts and landing pages—with UGC.

If you're a clothing brand, customers' selfies while decked out in your garments can support your company's desired aesthetic while highlighting real users. If you're an online travel company, selfies in the exotic locations you helped users reach can show results and encourage others to become customers while they're scanning their social networks.

* * *

If you're not already engaging with UGC, it's time to get in on—and monetize—the trend that Kim K. brought into the spotlight.

By inspiring, curating, and using content from your customers, you can build relationships with audiences and inspire brand loyalty that goes above and beyond traditional one-way marketing.

More Resources on Building Brand Loyalty

Brand Admiration and the Power of Love: Build a Brand That People Adore

How to Win Customers' Trust and Loyalty With Unfiltered Marketing: Stephen Denny on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

'Disloyalty Programs': How to Fend Off Large Competitors and Build Customer Loyalty 

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image of Jeff Soriano

Jeff Soriano is senior director of demand generation for Offerpop. A B2B demand generation expert, Jeff has more than 10 years' experience leading software-as-a-service companies.

LinkedIn: Jeff Soriano