User-generated content (UGC) is like gold hidden in the rubble. Its potential value is great, but you'll need to do a lot of navigating to unlock its true potential. Content marketers have already weighed in on the benefits that can be derived from UGC, and many brands have made the move to make it part of their content-marketing strategy.
The reason? Improved search-engine optimization wins UGC approval from marketers and brands alike. It also brings enlarged capabilities to win over millennials and unlocks an obvious source of promotional opportunity for businesses to tap into.
But, like every other form of marketing, user-generated content can be tricky if not handled well. This is why it's important to ensure content marketers implement best practices when using UGC as part of their overall strategy. Here they are:
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1. Define the legal angles.
The legal aspect of user-generated content is not to be overlooked. Your company should consider issues such as copyrights, responsibility for stolen content and ownership of content. Bigger brands are quick to sort this out before launching their UGC campaigns because they have the advantage of a more powerful and well-sized legal team behind them.
Smaller businesses must invest to get it right from the very beginning, even though they’re exploring UGC to decrease their content-production costs. If yours is one of those small businesses, you need a well-defined legal document that your contributors can access.
This should spell out roles and responsibilities regarding the content they share. The agreement also must state the content’s ownership conditions, after you upload it on your servers.
"Clear up any doubts about what your user expectations should be," says Marc Smith, founder and CEO of Top 10 Digital Agencies. "Your users have an expectation of how their content may be used, and for what. Your intentions with the content may be different from theirs. It is the job of well-prepared terms and conditions to clear this up."
2. Optimize content for quality.
Regardless of what else is in the legal agreement, it’s your company’s responsibility to ensure that the quality of user-generated content meets your brand’s quality standards and satisfies your business needs.
For instance, most small businesses rely on search engines such as Google to attract customers. This means that the website hosting the UGC content must include material worthy of Google rankings.
"Google is increasingly toughening their stance on what the definition of high-quality content is," says Guy Sheetrit, founder of Over The Top SEO. "Your users may not be paying attention to the little details that will make their content stand out. You should wade in to improve the quality of the content from your users and make it more suitable for consumption on your website."
Sheetrit also cautions companies not to diminish the true value UGC contributes to the authenticity of your marketing efforts. "While your team works on improving the quality of your user-generated content, it's important to make sure their message is not lost,” he says. “This is the essence of using UGC to begin with.”
3. Portray your band with the best user content.
Not all content you receive deserves a spot in the limelight.
Whether the content you publish is user-generated or self-sourced, know that everything you publish affects customer perceptions of your brand. Unless you're Facebook or Instagram, you need filters between what users submit and what your audience sees.
"Bringing the best content in the glare of your audience has a double effect,” Smith says. “It encourages users to keep producing top-notch content, as they also aim to be noticed; and it also keeps your audience satisfied.”
As brands continue to benefit from UGC in advertising and awareness campaigns, the rules that guide the process will progressively be reshaped to define clear best practices. In the meantime, these strategies can help ensure you don’t go wrong in your push to connect with users and your broader market.