One of the hardest tasks for a social media / content manager is creating content that adds value 365 days a year. No matter how appealing of a brand you work for, it’s not easy to ALWAYS be relevant, interesting and worthy of your consumer’s attention. It’s easy to spend the majority of your day trying to create the perfect graphics and craft catchy copy. While the content journey is often long and tiring, there’s some good news: You don’t have to go through it alone. More than likely your company has thousands- maybe millions- of people who are willing to create content for you. Yes, I’m talking about leveraging user-generated content (UGC). And while I know the concept of user-generated content is nothing new, I still believe it’s hugely undervalued. We often see UGC thought of as a “one-off” opportunity in the form of campaigns and contests. Let’s shift this perception:It’s time social media managers start thinking about how they can integrate consumer-generated content into their regular routine. Let’s start leveraging the power of our consumers on a regular, perhaps even weekly or daily, basis.“Why?” you ask. There are a lot of reasons why it makes sense to incorporate UGC into your weekly content plan. User-generated content is affordable, helps to build a strong sense of community (consumers trust it) and allows the consumer to feel connected to the campaign / brand. But don’t take my word for it, trust the stats:Brand engagement rises by 28% when consumers are exposed to both professional content and user-generated product video (Source: comScore)92% of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising. (Source: Nielsen) User-generated content is 35% more memorable than other media (source here)User-generated content is 50% more trusted than other media (source here)As you can see, it’s hard to argue against user-generated content. It almost seems like a “no-brainer”, which makes me wonder why all brands and companies have not jumped on the user-generated train.Getting the user-generated content.One thing that is often overlooked with user-generated content is all the ways it can be gathered. Besides the typical call to actions we see from social contest / campaigns (yes, like tagging photos with a hashtag for a chance to win), there are two other ways brands should be getting UGC:Leveraging owned channels. Soliciting user-generated content on owned channels is pretty common among apparel companies. Many of my favorite brands allow consumers to upload photos of them in the item and leave a review of the product. It allows people to understand how the clothes fit and also inspires new ways to wear the outfit. Free People is a great example of this:It’s not just the fashion world that could benefit from soliciting user-generated photos on their owned channels year-round though. This is a great way to build a community on owned platforms, while also generating new content for social media. A win-win! If you are afraid asking for UGC on owned channels year-round might get stale then think about setting themes of what you are looking (like seasons, holidays, product launches, ad campaigns etc.). Don’t forget to “thank” your fans and surprise / delight them too. It will encourage them to share again and again. Actively seek it out.One of the many benefits of social media is the ability to listen, see conversations and engage with your consumers in real-time. Take advantage of this opportunity and set up searches (any and every keyword / hashtag relevant to your brand) to watch for user-generated content.Let’s pretend I run the social media accounts for Brooks Running. I need some content, so I do a simple search for “Brooks Running” and #RunHappy. Here’s just a small snippet of what I found. There is so much free and good content floating around for Brooks right now:Just like we see with Brooks Running above, there is good content out there being created for brands and companies across industries. If you see something that strikes your fancy, ask the consumer if you can use it for your platforms. Most of the time they will say yes and even be honored. Have the content? Now make it your own.One of the biggest mistakes brands make with user-generated content is simply retweeting it, regramming, etc. If you have permission to the use the content then don’t be afraid to make it your own: Repurpose the photos / videos with your brand’s look and feel and craft clever copy that will appeal to your entire audience. This is the key to using UGC on a more regular basis and making sure it resonates with your community. Just be sure you always thank and call out the fans that helped to make the post come to life!Here’s an example of what could be done with the simple photos found for Brooks Running:If you want to think really big, you can turn the great content into a video or commercial like Coke did here. This is the bottom line: Empower your fans to help source content, make it relevant to your entire community and always be thankful for your contributors. I hope this post has left you feeling inspired to leverage user-generated content, but in case you need a little more convincing, I’ll leave you with some brands who are doing it right now. Just remember, you don’t have to take this content journey alone: Main image courtesy of unsplash.com.