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User-generated content—what is it, and how can it help drive sales and online engagement for your brand and business? Well, it’s all in the name. Users (your customers) generate (share on social media) content (word-of-mouth about your brand). With us so far?

When working with clients on social media marketing campaigns at Clearbridge Branding Agency, we leverage user-generated content as a way to connect with different audiences. It pulls back the veil between consumer and seller and creates a common ground where both parties meet in the middle.

From mom-and-pop shops to big-budget brands, user-generated content has become a staple of marketing success—but it’s nothing new to the marketing scene. Remember the Love, Sleep, and Play campaign that Pampers rolled out in 2013? They asked customers to submit videos of their little ones on Facebook and created a feel-good video featuring happy, chubby babies laughing, crawling, and clutching their mamas. A video that had nothing at all to do with diapers, but everything to do with their customers and their lifestyles.

It garnered very positive reactions and proved that user-generated content connects with consumers on a visceral level—because it’s real.

But how does a small business garner enough user-generated content to kick off a campaign or punctuate their current marketing strategy?

Sometimes, it’s as simple as asking a customer for permission to use a photo they’ve posted on social media with your product or brand. If you’re a car dealership and a customer bought a new vehicle and tagged you in a post, what better way to display the reality of your service?

Using positive reviews in creative, eye-catching ways can also be effective. Be sure to check in with your Google and Facebook reviews on a regular basis, and encourage your customers to share their experience with your brand by leaving a review.

There are times, however, when small businesses just don’t have enough to go by to leverage user-generated content in their marketing strategy. So what’s there to do?

Identify who in your audience is most likely to share content about your product or brand. Are they moms? Fashion bloggers? Teens or local influencers?

Keep these customers in mind and host an event where they can sample free products or get an up-close look at what you provide. Consider hosting a raffle or contest to get people in the door to your event. Offer refreshments. Brand a hashtag and post signage throughout the event to encourage event-goers to share photos and their experience. Everyone loves a freebie—and you could end up with new or returning customers just by thinking outside the box.

Want to learn more about how user-generated content can help your brand reach new markets online? Contact Clearbridge Branding Agency to learn how we can help you find a winning strategy to drive more sales and online engagement to your business.