The growing popularity and use of social media has greatly expanded marketing opportunities for businesses over the past several years. Companies have joined the conversation by creating Facebook pages, Twitter handles, and Instagram feeds to reach people where they are spending time. Now, companies need to take the next step and harness the positive activity being spread about them on social media and integrate those messages throughout their other marketing channels.

We’re talking about user-generated content (UGC). That’s where customers make the content for the business. A family photo about a great travel experience, a wonderful dinner prepared with foods from a specialty market, a quality garage door installation, all shared on social media, which is now has the potential to be used in your marketing efforts as UGC.

With the rapid expansion of social networks and enabled technologies like smartphones, a great combination has been established for sharing thoughts, photos, experiences and reviews quickly and easily. This has caused a definite shift in consumer behavior. Customers sharing their stories have created more genuine and believable brand experiences that are inspiring action by others.

So in a sense social media has transformed how and what people consider as trusted information. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, six in 10 Americans trust social media as a news source. And friends and family are at the top of the list of trusted sources on social media as found in Nielsen’s latest Global Trust in Adverting Report. A 2017 Consumer Content Report: Influence in the Digital Age further found that on average, 60 percent of people (and 70 percent of Millennials) said social media content from friends and family impact their purchasing decisions.

There’s clearly a good business case to curate content vs create it. Marketers understand that customers today see it as the most authentic form of content. Plus, it offers personalization at scale and reduced marketing costs as you don’t have to pay for its creation. When you consider that social networks have doubled in size over the last five years you start to see how organic reach of content may be declining and the availability of UGC is abundant.

To that point, The 2017 Consumer Content Report found that over 50 percent of consumers say they post on social media at least once a month about products they’ve purchased, and people are even more likely to post about experiential purchases. That’s a lot of online content to tap into.

You do need to be cognizant of how you use UGC. Marketers refer to Digital Rights Management (DRM), which companies originally used to protect their branded content from being shared from peer to peer. This is copyright protection for digital media including music, video, photos, and printed material. Now companies need to follow DRM to republish content from customers on their website or on paid media.

You need to rights-manage the content. Experts suggest requesting permission by reaching out to the originator of the content, such as leaving a comment that includes a specified hashtag for them to respond with. You then collect the rights and keep a rights-managed library.

The bottom line is that it’s worth the time and effort. User-generated content adds authenticity and has the potential to influence people’s purchasing decisions more so than most marketing tools. It’s hard to get customers’ attention today, so use the content that is most valuable to them to promote and sell your products and services.

Additional Content Resources

How to Create a Highly Visual Instagram Feed for Your Brand

Use Local SEO Content to Stand Out From the Pack

Why It Matters: Proving the Value of Your Content to Prospects