User-generated content (UGC) is as old as content itself. Simply put, we've always wanted to chime in—from the Oxford English Dictionary, which was compiled from slips of paper, to letters to the editor, to fan fiction. We now flock to participate on our favorite online platforms.

With digital forums, comments sections on blogs, and the ability to publish content for free, at the click of a button, UGC is at an all-time high. America's Funniest Home Videos has morphed into YouTube, to which 300 hours of video are uploaded to every minute.

If harnessed properly, UGC can be a huge asset to content marketers. Smart marketers have recognized that UGC is hot—with good reason. According to the Nielsen Consumer Trust Index, 92% of consumers trust organic, user-generated content more than they trust traditional advertising.

And according to Curata research, content marketers consistently cite insufficient resources as their greatest content marketing challenge. UGC can save your organization time, financial resources, and boost your credibility, by outsourcing content creation to users.

But wait, there's more. Here are six other benefits of user-generated content, and what you can do to profit from them.

1. Take advantage of content curation

Good news: UGC falls within the content curation family. A content curation strategy involves sourcing, annotating, and sharing the best and most relevant third-party content with your audience.

If you're not already familiar with some of the benefits of content curation, here are a few to get you up to speed:

  • Build brand awareness
  • Establish credibility as a thought leader
  • Streamline lead nurturing
  • Boost social media metrics
  • Support lead generation

2. Boost social media reach and growth

Social media platforms and UGC campaigns go together like peanut butter and jelly. When combined, their strengths create something magical. Executing a UGC campaign on social is an excellent strategy for strengthening your brand and building customer relationships.

Among the tactics that encourage user-generated content on social are the following:

  • Creating a custom hashtag or photo contest on Instagram
  • Asking a question or creating a challenge on Twitter or Facebook
  • Launching a video contest

Examples of standout user-generated content on social include Aerie's #AerieReal campaign on Instagram, and last year's Starbucks #RedCupArt contest.

It's crucial to respond to user content. Once you've asked for people's input, you've got to acknowledge their efforts. Doing so facilitates more meaningful interaction and encourages other users to submit content.

Those interactions are mutually beneficial for brands and customers. Sprout Social reports that "75% of people are likely to share a good experience on their own profile."

Moreover, designing a social media-based UGC campaign increases social traffic, which results in...

  • A higher follower base
  • Extended reach
  • Increased brand awareness
  • Boosted social metrics, such as likes, shares, comments, retweets
  • Greater website traffic/pageviews

3. Get SEO perks

UGC can help your SEO efforts in several ways. According to Kissmetrics, "25% of search results for the World's Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content." Positive customer reviews can also raise your SEO ranking.

If your users are publishing content on their own blogs, backlinks to your website can also improve its SEO ranking. And analyzing the most frequently used words and phrases your audience itself uses can improve your keyword optimization research.

4. Gain audience insights

User-generated content is a gold mine of data—and an advantage that's often overlooked. Analyzing the content your audience shares can generate key insights, helping you better understand your audience and what they find engaging. And when applying the principles of a data-driven content marketing strategy, these insights help generate leads and increase sales.

The first step is to conduct an audit of the content your audience generates. If they're writing reviews, notice what customers are complaining about, and then improve. Is there a discernible theme in the photos Twitter followers are uploading? Do they align with how your organization or brand wants to be perceived?

When launching a UGC campaign, don't forget to align your audience, channel, and format to ensure your users are motivated to contribute. For example, B2B companies will probably find a Twitter chat or online suggestion box work better than an Instagram photo contest.

5. Find unique content

Your audience will produce content that's different from your marketing team's. Take advantage of this "outsider" perspective. Their photos, videos, reviews, blog posts, and more offer a fresh take and a varying point of view. UCG keeps content interesting. It also encourages new audiences to join the fun and loyal users to stay engaged.

6. Increase personalization

Personalization is another key advantage of UGC. Michael Brenner of Marketing Insider Group argues that the only way to get your target audience to notice and engage with content is to understand what resonates with them.

Discover what makes your audience excited to create content and engage with your company, and use this knowledge to bake personalization into your marketing initiatives. It'll help you develop an online community that strengthens the customer/brand relationship.

* * *

When used properly, user-generated content encourages engagement and helps grow your audience. It improves SEO, boosts your lead generation efforts, and most of all, it's cost-effective.

To plan a user-generated content campaign, you'll need a documented strategy, such as our Content Marketing Pyramid: A Framework to Develop & Execute Your Content Marketing Strategy. It will ensure you seamlessly align UGC with your overall content marketing strategy.

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Six Reasons to Hire Your Audience: The Benefits of UGC

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image of Pawan Deshpande

Pawan Deshpande is the founder and CEO of Curata, a leading provider of content marketing software. He is an accomplished entrepreneur, marketer, and technologist.

LinkedIn: Pawan Deshpande