As more and more content is required to populate a growing number of channels, marketers must find new ways to source high-quality content efficiently. To keep up, brands are increasingly turning their social media platforms over to fans, letting them drive content creation in ways unheard of a few years ago.
Take Warby Parker’s Home Try-On campaign. Customers try on new eyeglass frames at home and upload photos to Warby Facebook and Instagram pages for feedback. To date, Home Try-On users have posted some 25,000 images to the company’s Facebook timeline and more than 40,000 to Instagram.
But what about brands that need more than customer snapshots? Content-heavy brands — particularly those that lean heavily on blogging — can learn a lot from digital publishers. Faced with a growing challenge to develop more editorial despite shrinking staffs, publications such as Forbes have created dedicated digital channels for reader contributions — and in doing so expanded their reach at a fraction of the cost of hiring in-house writers. Forbes relies on hundreds of guest columnists for its online magazine site, spread across a variety of verticals and disciplines. Once selected and vetted, these columnists have broad leeway to publish on a wide range of topics (though they submit to editorial oversight to ensure quality and consistency across the platform).
These types of brand–contributor collaborations offer both parties tremendous benefits. Brands benefit from low-cost or free content from contributors who, in many cases, already have large followings and influence; and contributors gain the reach and amplification only a big brand can provide.
The value of contributed content
But does it work? Fan-generated content creation can yield big increases in the metrics marketers are most obsessed with: time on site, followers or page views, SEO, and bounce rates.
As an example, Lucky Magazine launched a community-driven content section called Lucky Community in mid-2012. The Lucky Community features advice and style tips from bloggers and influencers around the world, and is intended to encourage print readers to go online and read more. It aims to give readers their own voice via photo and blog content contributions. Since launch, Lucky has seen readers spend twice as long on the site, increasing their stays from an average of 2 minutes to approximately 4.5 minutes.
In case you think this content creation strategy only works well for publishers, think again. Pepsi relaunched its official Tumblr with a similar approach. Instead of recycling marketing content on its Tumblr, the brand aggregates photos and blog posts from summer music festival attendees. So far more than 100 music influencers have participated in the site, contributing hundreds of posts. Grassroots content by those with a vested interest to share it has multiplied Pepsi’s Tumblr followers by more than 20 times, shares by 90 times and views by 100 times.
Still not ready to launch a community-driven site?
Brands can lean on publisher know-how to get started by applying a brand–media collaborative approach to user-generated content. Last year Mountain Dew partnered with Complex Media, a digital media site that targets young men, to jointly launch Green Label. Rather than seek guest contributors one by one, Mountain Dew borrows guest writers and editors from Complex Media. The duo creates a schedule of content to support upcoming sponsored events and related marketing initiatives.
For example, the Green Label site may introduce an upcoming X Games competition with an article about the world’s best motocross riders and what music they love to jam before an event. The Complex Media editorial team already has expertise on extreme sports and how to pull in a particular audience with content, and Mountain Dew gets great content supporting an event it sponsors. As ad-unit revenues for digital media sites come under pressure, we expect these types of content collaborations to become more common.
More than metrics
For marketers ready to relinquish some control, fan-driven content can be more genuine and engaging. Contributed content lets brands get closer to fans and opens up a new population of influencers as brand advocates, while contributors are excited to see their content featured on other sites, and tell their fans and followers about it. With a little work and guidance, it creates sustainable, virtuous cycle.
When to seek community-driven content
While marketers can almost always benefit by adding contributed content into the mix, certain events lend themselves better to contributed content than others.
- Brands: Offline events are great ways to get content submissions flowing for brands. Festivals, sporting events, product launches — all of these have a very specific, set theme that contributors can understand easily. In each instance, contributors should be given a specific call to action for the type of content needed (e.g., send us a photo of the best sunglasses you saw, submit your best dance Vine, tell us your favorite play of the Super Bowl and why).
- Publishers: Publishers benefit from having a set editorial schedule in place so content can be molded to supplement planned editorial. If your magazine plans to cover the best whiskey bars in town, ask readers to submit their favorite whiskey-based recipes.
- Retailers: Seasonal cues work best here as more and more readers will go online seeking insight on the season’s latest trends, or tips and tricks for back-to-school or holiday shopping. Readers benefit from other real world expertise on what to look for while shopping and, most importantly, where to find the newest looks, gadgets or amenities.