How to Create Content with Your Customers

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Rosemary O'Neill
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Copywriters were once glamorous folk.

I know that for sure, because I’ve watched Darren Stevens on Bewitched, Michael and Elliot on Thirtysomething, and all of those sharp-suited Mad Men.

They’d hole up in a conference room, sometimes overnight, they’d drink martinis, they’d pitch crumpled balls of paper into a wastebasket net, and then emerge triumphantly with a beautifully designed campaign.

The copy they generated would be presented like holy tablets to the masses, and that was that. End of story.

Those guys wouldn’t know what hit them if they landed at my desk.

Your website, your advertising, your social campaigns…they can’t be created in a vacuum (or a smoke-filled room), and they certainly can’t be set in stone.

How are you going to create fresh, relevant, and credible content on a routine basis? Invite your customers into the creation process.

User-generated content (UGC) is web content including posts, photos, videos, and comments that are contributed by non-employees.

User-generated content:

  • Is good for your quality ratings (good for SEO)

  • Brings prospects and customers back again and again

  • Gives your customers a voice and an ownership stake

  • Spreads the content creation workload

Google Likes (Most) User-Generated Content

Google looks for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, according to their latest quality rating guidelines.

How do you ensure that your UGC is Google-friendly?

  • Build a deep resource of quality blog posts and/or forum topics surrounding your subject area.

  • Make sure your forum members are shown to be experts; reveal their profiles and credentials more explicitly.

  • Be diligent about removing spam or nonsense posts. Even better, prevent that type of content from being posted on your site by using moderation tools. Most community platforms and discussion engines have built-in moderation tools that will help.

According to an Ad Age report on Content Marketing, big brands like SAP and American Express are investing in infrastructure, and then turning over much of the content creation to customers, subject-matter experts, and freelance writers. This strategy allows them to provide a valuable resource at minimal direct cost.

Sure, you could generate all of that valuable content in-house, but why would you want to?

Invite Your Customers to Co-Create the Experience

According to an IBM Institute for Business Value study: CMO Insights from the Global C-Suite, ”companies that invite their customers to play a part in shaping the strategic direction they take and the products and services they offer are 59 percent more likely to be outperformers.”

Where can you invite your customers in?

The most common forms of UGC are:

  • Communities, Forums

  • Blog Comments

  • Interviews

  • Guest Posts

  • Shared Photos/Videos

The problem with content marketing that leaves out UGC is that it’s all about the brand, and not about the customer’s problems. Who better to write about that than the customers themselves?

Forrester VP Laura Ramos was recently interviewed by AdAge and said 80% of the companies were primarily focused on themselves, with information on products and features but little in regard to the issues their customers might be facing.

The IBM study also stated that, “The customer lifecycle has conventionally ended at the point of sale. But in the online world an enterprise can forge lasting connections with its customers by communicating with them regularly and encouraging them to share their experiences. The trouble is, most CMOs still concentrate on sealing the transaction rather than cementing the relationship.”

It’s time to let the customers’ own voices take the lead.

Key Considerations Before Including User-Generated Content

Establish ownership (especially for ideation) – Use your terms of service or community guidelines to explicitly state who owns the content, and for how long. Do you allow members to re-post their articles? Do you have the right to delete inappropriate content? Are you committed to responding to product ideas that are submitted?

Make sure it’s original – You don’t want to be hosting re-treaded content. If you have any suspicion that the content is not original, run a key phrase through Google or a tool like Copyscape.

Use moderation  – Spam or nonsense posts will not add value to your community. Don’t let weeds grow in your garden—be proactive about preventing and removing spam from your site. Better yet, designate a human from your team to actively manage the community and promote good content.

Orbit welcomes your user-generated content in the comments below!

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Rosemary O'Neill

Rosemary O'Neill

Rosemary O’Neill is Pres. of Social Strata, makers of the Hoop.la online community platform. For 15 years, she has helped customers like Rodale and HarperCollins grow thriving communities. She was named one of the Top 100 community managers on Twitter by Little Bird. You can find her online via Twitter and Google+.

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