09/30/2012 07:15 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2012

Three Rules for Earning Quality User-Generated Content

Today's consumer is both over-stimulated and overwhelmed by content. The online world, in particular, is exceedingly cluttered and marketing messages are easily lost and actively avoided. Therefore, marketers today face an incredible challenge -- cutting through the clutter to capture the attention of the most highly fragmented audience in history.

Campaigns that allow the consumer to create content are proven solutions to this issue, and the best brand marketers are carefully building opt-in experiences to earn this user-generated content (UGC). The results of these types of campaigns are staggering: Brand lift metrics increase between 300 percent and 450 percent (VivaKi research division, the Pool, 2012).

But with engagement rates so low online (roughly one percent of people who "like" Facebook pages return to the page), how can marketers create action from new and existing followers? By launching hundreds of user-generated campaigns for some of the world's largest brands, we've learned that three rules apply to every successful UGC campaign:

Prepare your audience

In a world where social media channels have broken down barriers between brand and consumer, the best way to produce an army of brand advocates is to cultivate customer relationships over time, priming them to engage and create.

You want a significant commitment from your audience to create around your brand, so develop positive sentiment first. Let's face it; nobody marries someone they just met. Your initial goal shouldn't involve user-generated content, but rather content your brand provides to create positive sentiment. If you commit to posting more than just press releases and photos of your product, you become a resource and trusted media outlet for customers. The content you share to the world must make followers feel good about interacting by aligning with their beliefs and passions.

To avoid a ghost town when you finally do ask for user-generated content, be sure to lower the barrier to entry in your request (e.g., don't ask for beautifully produced videos). In addition, we've found it's helpful to show them what their peers are creating to start users off with some ideas to build upon.

Empower the user

If "content is king," then buzzwords, slogans and finicky brand guidelines can sometimes be king-slayers. They prevent some brands from creating an experience wherein a user feels empowered and confident.

In other words, the most successful UGC campaigns are the best at teasing out content from customers, not the best at positioning a slogan or product benefits. Successful UGC campaigns are about the user, not about your brand. They also offer simplicity by conveying what you want the user to do without using too much marketing speak.

When empowering the user, constantly seek to enable consumer self-expression. A UGC campaign requires creators, which is a time-intensive, high-quality engagement between brand and consumer. And since creativity is a form of self-expression, start by knowing and creating a narrative around customer passions (rule No. 1, above) before empowering them to create around that passion and your brand. For instance, a car company striving to bring stick shift into mainstream focus again might tap into users' passion for their earliest driving experiences, allowing them to tell their stories via text or video. The more excited a consumer is to express him or herself, the better your UGC campaign will be.

Use game mechanics in the right way, at the right time

Much like the arms race for "likes" on Facebook and followers on Twitter, "game-ifying" a branded experience has become cliché and misused. However, by applying the right game mechanics at the right time in an experience, you can create social actions and gain UGC at scale. People who engage for the sake of an experience are much more qualified leads and customers.

There are several mechanics that are among the more effective in a marketer's toolkit when trying to cultivate UGC. These include: creating social pressure by introducing an element of community that either works toward something together or creates friendly competitions among users; using rewards and incentives, which when used correctly (to attract users, not to enhance the experience) can drive significant activity; and applying time pressure such as countdowns and deadlines to create a sense of urgency that will foster a flurry of buzz.

Faced with the monumental task of corralling a fragmented audience into active, loyal customers, successful brand marketers will create digital experiences yielding user-generated content. These campaigns produce minutes on end of brand-consumer interaction, in addition to memorable, interactive "impressions" that leave a visible footprint. Customers create around things they love and share that with like-minded peers, while brands receive reusable content and an army of loyal brand advocates.

For more in-depth information, including concrete tips and tricks to apply to your campaigns, you can download Dailybreak's UGC guide.