User Generated Content (UGC) is a concept that most of us as marketers and brand teams understand. We know what it is and why it’s important. When users create and share content, be it photos on Instagram, tweets, YouTube videos, blog posts, etc., they are helping to build a community around your brand while engaging on a deeper level. This engagement shows other consumers, perhaps those less familiar with your company, what you are all about. It allows them a sneak peek into the experience of your brand in the real world, which helps them picture it in their world.

The biggest roadblock when talking about UGC is not why to use it, but how to get it. So…how do I encourage user generated content?

Ask for the share

Unfortunately, people do not tend to hand out buckets full of unsolicited content. They need to be told, with clear direction, what you are looking for and how to get it to you. Hashtags are a simple and effective way to do this. #OptOutside from REI was originally designed in their opposition to Black Friday but has thus far received over 1.4 million posts, including over 100 in the last 15 minutes. I just checked.

In-store signage and branded events are great ways to help your customers understand what you are looking for. By providing a hashtag, a backdrop for a photo, or a submission form for a contest, your users will know exactly what you want and what’s in it for them.

Make it worthwhile to share

At the Denver Digital Summit yesterday, John Thies (@johnethies) from Email on Acid spoke about a shift in the brand cycle to a stronger influence of the consumer. He described a brand as “a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company.” This means that the content your users are putting into the world has a greater influence on how your brand is defined than your own established definition. This makes it even more important to make it worthwhile and add value for your loyal customers to share their high quality brand content.

To add value for the user you could offer a future discount in exchange for a review on the jacket they just bought or for uploading a photo of themselves modeling their new dress or top. This not only helps them engage more, but also allows potential buyers to get a better feel for a product before committing to it.

Contests may require more legwork yet will allow you to engage your fans as well as their networks. Ask your customers to take a photo of themselves in one of your locations, with one of your products, or living out one of your brand values, tag the brand, use the hashtag, and share out on all of their social media. Provide relevant prizes to the top sharers and their motivation to get your name out there is destined to increase.

Engage with the content

To show users that you value what they are sharing, tell them. Respond to their tweets, feature their photos on your website, link to their blog posts and re-share their videos. You will get greater use out of the content and demonstrate how important your brand community is to you. Show that you value their engagement and care about their experience with your products, and mean it. John Thies said that if a customer is loyal to your brand, they spend 33% more making it worthwhile for not only the brand managers but the higher ups focused on the bottom line.

John Thies closed his presentation with the following quote and I will too. “Enable your tribe.” Enable your customers, fans, and shoppers to create, share and build your brand through their own experiences. Your future fans trust them, and so should you.