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The Dos and Don’ts of User-Generated Content: Avoid Unnecessary Risks

March 23, 2016
By Phil Davis

user-generated-content-seo.jpgYour brand followers are pretty amazing. They have great taste (they’re into your brand, after all). But they also have smart ideas, witty quips, stay on trend and often, can be downright inspiring.

For these reasons, user-generated content shouldn’t be overlooked as part of your marketing strategy. When correctly implemented, it’s a great way to fortify the bond between customer and brand, and to help audience members feel that they’re being heard. At the same time, user-generated content increases SEO traffic and helps your business collect invaluable intel.

There are many benefits, but there are also risks.

The Positive and Negative of User-Generated Content

Sometimes, consumers help brands come up with innovative new products. Take Oral-B for example. The company launched the world’s first digitally connected toothbrush in 2014, but not before they did a great deal of crowdsourcing to find out exactly what consumers had in mind for the project. To inspire input, they held a competition and within three weeks saw 67 unique ideas from 24 countries. The top three ideas (including an app that syncs with the toothbrush to provide the user with vital oral care instruction) completely revolutionized how consumers approach their oral care regimen.

But user-generated content doesn’t come without risks. Some well-meaning brands have seen their Twitter hashtags become “bashtags” in which unhappy customers and former employees hijack the campaign in an effort to discredit the brand and spread their displeasure.

To ensure your attempts at user-generated content don’t flatline your brand reputation, here are some dos and don'ts to follow:

Do Ask for Permission

While you must ask for permission to use a follower’s content, the way you ask and the information you provide is also important. Be clear about how the content will be used, and be friendly.

If user content is being generated via a brand competition, incorporate a hashtag into the campaign. When audience members share content that includes the campaign’s hashtag, it implies consent and makes organizing user-generated content easier (you can assume the majority of contributions stem from the campaign).

If you plan to use a follower’s content for more than a single campaign, request all rights to the content to avoid any obligations or legal issues down the road.

Do Not Request From a Personal/Unbranded Account

Asking for permission to use someone’s personal collateral can be tricky. When reaching out, always do so from your brand’s authorized account, or as someone clearly and closely associated with the brand. Don’t use a personal account or, worse, a generic one.

Do Give Credit

User-generated content is no different from any other use of content. Source the original author by publicly giving them credit. Whether it’s a shout-out or a link back, the gesture will help increase their online visibility and support the development of an authentic customer-brand relationship.

While we’re on the subject, be careful about sourcing content. Do the proper research to ensure the person claiming to be the original author is true to their word.

Do Not Be Spammy

Avoid sending high volumes of similar messages, and make sure your communications don’t sound like spam or they’ll likely go ignored. Beeketing shared an extensive list of email marketing words that will undoubtedly make you sound spammy. Cut these out of your subject lines and body text. And if you must use default messaging, create many variations to reduce the risk of being viewed as spam.

Do Ask the User to Share Once You’ve Published

Part of the reason you incorporate user-generated content into your marketing strategy is to bolster SEO and reach new audiences. Ask your contributors to share the featured piece of content with their networks to expand reach. More often than not, they’ll be more than happy to show friends and family how their work was featured by a well-known brand.

Do Not Over-Manipulate Content

When you repurpose user-generated content, respect the contributor’s thoughts and experiences. We all want that one piece of content that could go viral, but over-manipulating someone else’s content isn’t the way to do it. Never alter a piece of content to the point that it’s taken out of context. And, of course, steer clear from content involving nudity, trauma or illegal activities.

Do Create Contests to Drum Up Interest

One of the best ways to encourage followers to participate in a user-generated content campaign is by turning it into a competition. Starbucks, Oral-B, Target and Old Navy have all experienced great success garnering user-generated content through contests. For best results, share contest details across multiple channels, including email, social media and your website.

Of course, there’s plenty more to keep in mind when tapping into user-generated content, but these dos and don’ts will help get you started. Our final piece of advice: Reach out to all of your contacts when seeking user-generated content, not just social media (which tends to be the most popular). Your email lists are equally valuable and all followers deserve the opportunity to participate and share their work.

Looking for more ways to build an arsenal of user-generated content? Get the conversation started by getting to know your customers. Get your free email intelligence test now!

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