User generated content is everywhere. On social media, in blog posts, and even on billboards, brands are racing to tap into the power of their users to bring a human and authentic feel to marketing campaigns.
Reaching out to fans and customers isn’t just for global brands and advertising agencies. In fact, any marketer can leverage this type of strategy and use it to create blog posts that offer insights and advice from real people in the industry.
This approach isn’t just a huge time saver for us marketers – since the content is basically handed to us (save for edits and visuals), but it also drives social sharing.
The secret is to follow-up with each one of users who contributed to your content marketing efforts. Once you let them know the blog post is published, they’ll be much more inclined to share it because their personal contribution is featured.
What is user-generated content?
For anyone who’s new to the concept of “user generated content” (UGC), here’s a basic definition to make things clearer. UGC is any type of information (comments, images, videos, social posts, audio files, etc.) created by users, which is available online. In most cases, it’s safe to say the information is publically accessible.
With the recent surge of content marketing, it’s become increasingly harder for brands to generate eye-catching and captivating blog posts. Most readers are tired of reading promotional content from brands, and are looking for genuine articles that are very relatable, have added value, and feel personal – not corporate.
Image source: Fox Tail Marketing
That’s where UGC steps in. It enables marketers to create engaging blog posts, based on conversations with real people, customers, or even influencers.
What are the main benefits of UGC?
- Produces genuine, authentic, content
- Adds credibility to a brand’s reputation
- Reinforces relationships with customers
- Encourages customer loyalty (and in turn, sales)
- Fosters a personal connection with the brand
- Empowers users by giving them a “voice”
- Saves marketers time on content writing
Top 3 resources for user generated content
Marketers can turn to multiple resources to collect user content, and then leverage its potential to promote their company online. Below is a detailed description of three great resources to start gathering content from.
Whichever one you choose, remember that asking permission to use someone’s comments or images can go a long way. It can be time consuming, but at the end of the day, fostering good relationships is very important.
1. Facebook or LinkedIn Discussion Groups
Whether you’re a B2B marketer and prefer LinkedIn, or a B2C marketer who’s more familiar with Facebook, the groups on both networks are a UGC goldmine.
Before you start posting to Groups, follow these tips:
a. Post a Short, Open-Ended Question
If you’re really looking to engage users and get the comments going, ask an open-ended question, or alternatively, use a fill-in-the-blank statement. Don’t include any links to content that might divert people’s attention. Just ask the question, and get the conversation started by offering your personal opinion first.
The question needs to be short, attention grabbing, thought provoking, fun, or even a bit controversial. Research a few popular groups in your industry to get a feel for what’s appropriate to ask, and or to find some inspiration.
Image source: LinkedIn Marketing Communication Group
Here are a few examples of marketing-related questions that were successful:
- Thoughts on cold calling?
- Should B2B marketing appeal more to our emotions?
- What’s the meaning of “social media” to you, in one word?
- You know you’re a marketer when ___________.
b. Choose a Large, Relevant Group
From our experience at Oktopost, we’ve found that posting to one Group, and not several, is the right strategy. It makes the comments and interactions much easier to manage, and if enough people comment, there’s no need for multiple posts.
Also, people are often members of several groups on the same subject. If you post the same question in several Groups they’re part of, and they notice this, it may actually discourage them from responding since the unique appeal is lost.
Quick tips for choosing the right group:
- Make sure it’s 100% relevant to the question you’re asking
- Select a large group with at least a few thousand members
- Check that members are actively engaged and leave comment
c. Select the Best Comments and Reach Out
Now that you’ve posted your question, it’s time to wait for the comments! Do your social listening, check back daily, and like or reply to certain comments. After roughly three days, if you haven’t generated at least a dozen comments, it’s time to reassess the Group you’ve selected, wait a week, and try a different one.
Image source: LinkedIn Marketing Communication Group
If you see that your post is gaining traction, read through all of the comments, and select the best ones based on the post you’re writing. Create a separate document with your top choices, along with the name of each commenter.
The next step is to personally reach out to each one, and ask for permission to use his or her comment. Don’t over-think the message, it can be as simple as:
Subject: Comment in [Name of Group]
Message: Hi [Name of Commenter],
Following the question I asked in [Name of Group]: [Question You Posted], I’ve decided to write a blog post based on the responses. I’d really like to incorporate your comment; would that be all right? If so, please send me your title and which company to link to, and I’ll let you know when it’s published.
From our experience, it’s actually surprising – but every single person we have reached out to in this context, at least on LinkedIn, has responded positively.
Sending personal messages might be cumbersome, but will earn you respect and attention. People are usually delighted to be featured in a blog post, and quite happy their company website will be linked to.
In LinkedIn, even if you’re not connected to the commenter, as long as you’re both members of the same group, you can send that person a direct message.
In Facebook it’s bit more complicated. Although you can send anyone a direct message, if you are not friends with the person, it will reach the “Others” folder, which people tend to check less frequently.
d. Put Your User-Generated Comments to Work
After selecting the top comments and receiving approval, think about how to best incorporate them in your blog post. For each comment you use, remember to include the person’s name, title, and a link to their company website.
The first option is for the comments to comprise the entire blog post. For example, with responses to statements such as: “You know you’re a marketer when…”
The second is to write a few supporting paragraphs, cite research statistics, and then use the real opinions you’ve collected to back up your points in the post.
e. Update Each and Every Commented
Once the blog post is published, the most crucial part is to update everyone who contributed to the effort. Use the same channel you initially contacted them through, send them the link, and ask them to kindly share it with their networks. On your end, use you a social media marketing tool to create a campaign around the specific blog post, and promote the content across your networks.
To make it even more engaging, you can select or create an original hashtag, and ask the commenters to include it when sharing your blog post.
2. Your Company’s Consumer Base
What better source to turn to for UGC, then your own customers? Since you’re already in touch with them, it’s very likely they’ll respond to your request and happily cooperate. In addition, your customers will remember you for personally reaching out to feature them, which will likely boost their brand loyalty.
Similar to using Facebook or LinkedIn Groups, before contacting a client, think of a great question or idea. Although you can promote your brand in the blog post itself, avoid ideas that put your brand front-and-center in an obnoxious way.
For example, choose a theme – such as geographic location, company size, age group, pose a question tied to recent industry trends, or launch a contest where each company has to submit photos or an idea.
Once you have a concept in mind, put together a list of relevant customers (and backup candidates) and contact each one with a personal e-mail or call to discuss the idea. If they agree to take part, send them a request for all the info you need.
Best Practices for Consumer-Generated Content:
- Set a deadline for when the content is due
- Incorporate a visual element in your idea
- Offer an emotional appeal, but provide value
- Send the final content to the consumer for approval
- Reach out personally when the content is published
One idea we used here at Oktopost, was selecting one company we work with from nine different countries, and creating an “around-the-world” post. We asked each customer team to send us a dozen photos that illustrate a typical day in their office culture, and created a slideshow for each one.
We also sent five industry-related questions to every customer, to ensure that the blog post offered educational value – and not just amusing photos to look at!
3. Industry Thought Leaders and Influencers
In the past, it was nearly impossible to connect with C-level executives, industry experts, and thought-leaders. Then came Twitter.
With the advent of social media, it’s become extremely easy to contact anyone, even if you’ve never spoken to that person before.
The major benefit of influencer-generated content is the huge follow base that you’ll have access to. Once an influencer shares your blog post, it can target a substantial online audience that would otherwise be nearly impossible to reach.
Hilarious throwback photos here > 16 B2B Marketing Gurus Share Advice to Their Younger Selves: http://t.co/nPunl4uLJ9
— Ann Handley (@MarketingProfs) November 17, 2014
As with the previous resources, avoid approaching anyone – especially if it’s on social media, before you’ve decided on an idea first. Afterwards, curate a list of thought leaders who would be most relevant, and contact each one personally.
Chances are you’ll be reaching out to someone you’ve had zero contact in the past – but don’t let that deter you. As long as your idea is a great one, regardless of what company you work at, influencers will be happy to contribute their part.
How to Identify Industry Influencers
- Search through existing Twitter Lists
- Research thought leads and interview them on MyBlogU.
- Use Followerwonk, Klout or Kred
- Find LinkedIn Influencers on Pulse
- Talk to your sales, marketing, and PR staff
- Last but not least, Google is your friend
We’ve found that the best way to reach influencers is by tagging them in a tweet, or sending them a personal email. No matter which one you use, don’t give up if you haven’t heard back after the first try. Feel free to send a follow-up email or a second tweet, but it’s probably best to stop after that if you haven’t heard back.
Unlike contacting consumers, who know your company and have an existing relationship with you, when it comes to influencers, don’t ask for too much – especially if you’re speaking with them for the first time.
With the exception of a 1:1 interview, if your blog post that will feature several influencers, avoid any time-consuming requests. To increase the chances of a positive response, ask for one quote, or brief answers to a short list of questions.
One example of a great influencer question we asked was: “If you could give one piece of B2B marketing advice to your younger self, what would it be?” We made it more fun by asking each influencer to send us a photo of their “younger self,” so we could put it side-by-side with their current headshot.
Image source: Oktopost Blog Post
With UGC, you can save yourself a ton of time, foster stronger connections with existing customers, and create new ones with influencers. Feel free to share any other ideas you have for incorporating user-generated content!
Guest Author: Valerie Levin is the Marketing Manager at Oktopost, the social media management tool designed for B2B marketers. Follow @Oktopost on Twitter.