User generated content (UGC) is a buzzword making the rounds through marketing circles lately, but the concept is as old as they come.  Simply put: UGC is word-of-mouth marketing which spreads across social media channels and it’s powerful.  User generated content  get 4x higher click-through rates and a 50% drop in cost-per-click than average.

The users responsible for user generated content for UCG are active on Facebook, Instagram, Google, and the app store on their iPhone. The content they create ranges from overly-detailed Yelp reviews to photos of their latte art.  Every ‘content creator’ is a customer first and their posts, free advertisements. That is, if their content is positive.

Here’s three surefire ways to tap into the users at large and actively sharing your brand with their friends. After all, they’re the key to improving your in-house marketing efforts.

Know your Audience 

Your audience exercises complete control over your brand messaging when they post images of your clothing line with a caption or review your coffee shop on Google Maps.  Do you know what they like about you or what type of content they share daily with their friends? Identifying your customer preferences and how they engage with your business will help you refine and articulate your brand identity.

Once you’ve tapped into their platform of choice, evolve your messaging to indulge their interests and habits. Piggyback off the hashtags they use. When you operate on their level and speak directly to them, you’ll find an audience more apt and willing to create their own content pertaining to your brand. as soon as open the line of communication.

If you find that your fans are on Instagram, ask them to include a hashtag of your own devising the next time they post about your coffee! User generated content goes both ways. It’s up to you to open that direct line of communication.

Offer up Brand Guidance.

Remember that every customer of yours is a potential collaborator. Anyone who writes an online review of your business is a user generating content. If they’re already on their way to post a picture or opinion related to your brand, why not guide them along? If you’d like them to review your restaurant, send them a link to your specific review platform of choice. Make the process of user generated content even easier by including a link to that platform when you email their receipt. Better yet, take it one step further and incentivize that review by offering a discount upon it’s completion. Take the lead and your customers will follow.

Indulge in Creativity.

The staying power of social media is no secret. It’s fun. Unfortunately, too many small businesses and companies excuse themselves from social platform because they don’t consider their brand, likewise fun. That faulty logic overlooks the experiential element of social media. Your brand doesn’t have to embrace whimsy and scavenger hunts to activate your audience. You just need a little creativity.

Chinese tech giant, Huawei hosts regular philosophical and future prediction discussions via Twitter. Round up a few experts and have your customers chime in on the difficult questions like: “will AI ever fully function like a human?” So long as you’re true to your brand, loyal followers will engage with you. It may a little thought on your part to get ideas rolling—why not ask them for ideas?

Content may be king — but only in the decorative sense. In the world of content marketing, the real power lies with the people. We post opinions,  reviews, product images, and send links to our friends every day. We market our favorite businesses to our friends for free.  The content we create is authentic and trusted. Our engagement is unforced. That’s not to say that traditional advertising is ineffective, but in the world of social media user generated content will always reign supreme.

Your customers are online. No question. They’re talking about you. Likely. It’s time you tuned in.

For a detailed look on Instagram’s algorithm changes or for general engagement tips, check out these posts:

Colleen Patterson is the content marketing manager for Muses, the only digital growth app focused on building long­-term relationships. She’d love you to get involved.