Harnessing the Power of User-Generated Content (UGC)

The best content informs, entertains or solves problems, and creating the best content marketing campaigns takes serious research and planning. But the most effective way to offer useful, relevant and engaging content is to encourage users to create it themselves.

User-generated content (UGC) can give brands exactly what they need to attract and maintain current and potential customers. It can serve as the glue that holds a brand’s community together because it necessitates a give-and-take: By participating in a brand’s community and creating content, a user gives a brand permission to advertise. Users also take control of the type and frequency of brand interaction, which requires flexibility and a level of trust from the brand to the user. From crowdsourced Doritos Super Bowl commercials to Ford’s all-UGC campaign for its Fiesta, UGC is changing the inbound marketing game. And its power touches more than just products and services—it touches the way people communicate with their favorite brands, as well as with each other.

Food for thought

As more industries identify digital marketing as their most effective advertising channel, we’re beginning to see how content marketing can use the medium to enhance the message. For the food industry, that means fostering communities that share more than just brand information–it’s about forging real bonds with their communities around preparing and eating good food.

Condé Nast’s popular food website Epicurious recently introduced their Community Table, a site that allows members of all ability levels to share recipes, recommend destinations for culinary tourism and participate in various challenges built around home cooking. For beginners, it’s a place to get new methods for taking control in the kitchen. For more experienced home chefs, it’s a treasure of recipes and new tastescapes from big names like chef Michael Ruhlman and cookbook author Amy Sherman. As a well-seasoned cook myself, I’ve found a host of enthusiastic foodies and daring ideas that inspire me every time I visit Community Table. Epicurious is building a food community that’s both vast and close-knit, giving foodies a new way to connect with the meals and the people they enjoy.

MOOCs and the new heights of higher education

User-generated content can be powerful for brands that sell tangible products and services, but UGC can also help existing communities harness the power of its members. The concept of massive open online courses, also known as MOOCs, isn’t new. Distance and correspondence education has been popular for decades, gaining steam when colleges and universities developed their own online course management systems for faculty and students.

But courses offered by prestigious schools like Stanford and MIT, and initiatives like the Khan Academy, offer more than the chance for millions of online denizens to learn new skills and concepts. Khan Academy features a community where members can ask questions about a variety of subjects, and MIT’s creative learning course uses emails, Google+ hangouts and code sharing site GitHub to guide subgroups of students through coursework, lectures and other discussions.

By relying on large groups of students to create smaller learning communities, the Internet provides both the resources and the scale to make MOOCs more than just a thought exercise. Through sharing knowledge online, millions of people can create content that has a real impact on the future of learning. They can revolutionize higher education, as well as the communities who participate in it.

The future of content marketing and UGC reaches far beyond the confines of a brand and its loyal online communities. Giving users the power to influence the way they interact with a brand establishes a relationship that can help brands improve their products and services, serve their audiences in new and innovative ways, and shape the way brands do business. In digital marketing, the next big thing is always around the corner–and for user-generated content, the next big thing is already here.

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