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The Rise of User-Generated Content

“The next wave of the Web is going to be user generated content.”  – John Doerr, Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist

It simply makes good sense that user generated content would be effective as a content marketing tactic. Content marketers already know that people trust other people, not marketers, and are much more interested in hearing about the experiences and views of fellow users than clever brand-generated copy. In a global digital world where authenticity reigns, the user will almost always be viewed as more authentic than the brand itself.

What is User Generated Content?

User generated content is exactly as you might imagine—any type of content created and posted by unpaid contributors. It can take the form of reviews, testimonials, photos, videos, tweets, and more. It is the process of users promoting a brand instead of the brand itself.

Why is User Generated Content Successful?

User generated content is powerful because it builds connections between like-minded people, whether the opportunity is to share a common experience or win a prize.

Remember the ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenge? Not many people were aware of ALS before this challenge, but it catapulted awareness (and contributions) of this terrible disease. It all began with former Boston College baseball player, Pete Frates, a young man diagnosed with ALS. He challenged some friends and celebrities to pour a bucket of ice water over their heads or donate to ALS. It went viral, raising $115 million for the ALS Association.

While the ALS Association had no hand in creating this user generated content, there are many ways for brands to purposefully integrate user generated content into their content marketing strategies. These ways range from the simple—adding a social media feed to your website—to ingenious campaigns, such as that created by Loews Hotels.

Loews searched Instagram for images taken by real guests at Loews hotels. They aggregated them into the brand’s own social media channels and even added the images to the hotel’s website. Loews called the campaign, Nobody Tells Our Story Better Than You. Each photographer gets credit for his or her photo, and potential guests can see what a Loews Hotel experience is like through the eyes of real guests.

It’s a Win-Win-Win

The consumer wins because they get a better understanding of a product or service from other consumers. Content marketers win because user generated content is a proven tactic in which the brand doesn’t have to create the content. And the brand wins, as awareness and preference for their offerings grow.

From Starbuck’s White Cup Coloring Contest to Sales Force’s IdeaExchange calling for users to suggest what new features it should add to its product, brands are bringing customers closer to the fold, letting them be part of the brand experience.

As user generated content gains traction, recent statistics mark its worth:

  • A study run by brand builders Cohn & Wolfe, shows that 63 percent of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic.
  • found that brand engagement rises by 28 percent when brands employ a mixture of user generated content and their own marketing content.

So, next time you’re at a content strategy meeting, bring some user generated content ideas to the table to explore how this strategy can help expand social reach, build trust, and increase sales.

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Deborah was the kid who would rather write book reports and essays than play ball during recess. Although she didn’t score many points with her peers, it did lead to her career creating content for TV, radio, print and new media for companies as varied as Dooney& Bourke, Panera Breads, Visa, SUNY Ulster and Hudson Valley Federal Savings Bank. She is also a principal of small packages – a digital design company, and past partner/marketing director of, the world’s foremost reference on information technology. And, her love of food enabled her to become a contributing editor of both Gourmet Retailer and Food Distribution Magazines. Deborah has a bachelor degree in fine art from the Hartford Art School, University of Hartford and a masters in higher education administration from Stony Brook University. When she’s not writing, her love of quilting, furry animals, friends, and family sustains her.

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