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What Every Business Should Know About User-generated Content

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User-generated content is like a lot of social media buzz words. It's a term that's lost almost all meaning because of its repeated use without any practical application.

The purpose of this post is to change that. One great way to involve your fans is to get them to share their thoughts, photos and recommendations with you, the brand. With that, you will receive two things: 1. "free" content to share that will encourage even more fan engagement and 2. valuable insight into fans' habits and preferences.

4 Tips on Gathering User-Generated Content

Although this getting-fans-involved thing sounds easy, it's not. Asking fans to do you a favor, then to make sure you can find that favor, is already more steps than most people are willing to do.

Use these tips to get started in building user-generated content:

1. Have a great idea

It's not enough to say "Okay, share stuff with us!" You need to have a theme or a reason behind asking fans for their photos or input. Is your purpose to gain more company awareness? Or, do you want more feedback on a new product, promotion or service?

Have a reason and make it good.

HelloGiggles, the "positive online community for women," has a Tweet of the Day feature that takes one of fan's tweet and illustrates it. The illustrations are shared on the website, and the tweeter's account is tagged.

It's simple and fun, and it encourages community involvement by allowing fans to just be themselves.

2. Create an incentive

Always ask, "What's in it for me?" That way you'll understand your fans a bit better. Because ultimately, that's the tipping point. If you offer a sweet enough incentive, then maybe your post will transform your question into their answer.

That incentive typically takes the form of contests offering either a cash prize or the chance to be in the spotlight. Although starting a contest on social media sounds straightforward enough, be very careful -- there are a lot of rules about how contests can be run on each platform. Be sure to double check with your legal team before moving forward.

After doing that, take a look at Chick-fil-A's #FreshMade contest on Instagram. The official rules are posted as a TwitDoc, and the fine print is included at the bottom of the photo.

Plus, how to enter is easy. Upload a photo to Instagram and add the appropriate hashtags. Bam, you've entered for the chance to win a free fast food meal.

3. Organize an easy way to keep track of posts

You could go the "old-fashioned" route and ask for participants to email in their submissions, but doesn't that defeat the purpose? You want your activity to become viral, and the only way that can happen is if content is shared via social media.

So set up your pre-chosen hashtags as a way of tracking posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (be sure to use the same hashtag on every site). For Pinterest, consider setting up a community board in order to keep things nice and tidy.

Whatever you choose, make sure you can track it, and fans can participate by following one or two steps.

Take a page from Starbucks' book. The Starbucks Frappuccino page made their #Sipface campaign fun and popular by asking followers to take a picture of themselves (or of an inanimate object) sipping from a Frappucino.

Although the contest has ended (participants were entered to win a $100 Sbux giftcard for their efforts), the movement has taken hold. Every few days, the Facebook page is updated with funny and clever #Sipfaces.

4. Use the content

You've got this great content... now what? Sort it, file it and use it. Don't let it sit in a "Project Completed" folder. Repost what followers submitted and share it everywhere.

Check out what Target did for its #KidsGotStyle bonanza for back to school fun. Target took the hashtag-ed photos of kids that were submitted and turned them into fun, colorful videos that were then reposted on Target's Instagram account.

Example:

There was no direct selling of Target's items, but it was the timing that was key. The back-to-school season is huge for kids of all ages, and Target made sure their brand was at the forefront of parents minds.

What challenges and benefits do you see from building user-generated content?

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