If your marketing strategy doesn’t include user-generated content (UGC), you’re missing out on some powerful stuff.

UGC gives brands a new angle to showcase their expertise while building trust and engagement. And as technology continues to evolve, it’s never been easier to gather this important resource.

What exactly is UGC? It’s digital content (photos, stories, videos, opinions) publicly shared by your customers, followers, or users. These days, a lot of UGC is sourced from social media, but it can also include online reviews or testimonials.

UGC fills in content gaps

If you’re operating with a small team or your content library seems thin, look to UGC to fill in the gaps and keep your editorial calendar fresh. You can curate posts by setting up a unique hashtag for your brand or message and asking your followers to share their posts using your hashtag.

Gathering UGC with hashtags can work on multiple platforms, but regramming some of your followers’ Instagram content may be a good place to start. This proved to be a powerful tactic for Buffer’s Instagram account, which saw a 500 percent increase in followers after implementing a UGC strategy.

There are also many third-party services, such as Wyng (formerly Offerpop) or Shortstack, that can create UGC apps and collect UGC across several platforms.

Once you have a method to collect your UGC, it is almost like free content coming in to your content library. And what’s better than free content? Free content that is powerful and effective.

Read more: How to take advantage of your existing content library

UGC strengthens your reputation

Not only can UGC fill in gaps in your content library, it can also improve your brand reputation.

In fact, 76 percent of consumers find UGC to be more trustworthy than branded content. Consumers are also looking more to UGC for product or service recommendations, rather than relying on traditional ads or commercials.

In addition to your social media content, look to your online reviews for UGC to share. You can start by looking for feedback on Facebook and Yelp, or you can ask your followers and customers to submit their reviews through your website or email. If you want to share one of your customer’s reviews, ask permission and build a relationship – they may be a good source for more content down the road.

UGC improves your message and product

If you get UGC in the form of a bad review or criticism, don’t disregard it. Honest feedback – good or bad – is a great resource. Information you get from your customers can help you improve your product to better serve your audience or customer base.

Tracking feedback also gives you a view into what your followers and customers are talking about. What is important to them? What are their pain points? Use this to inform and guide your content strategy.

Read more: Why current patients are your best customers – and most passionate brand advocates.

Although UGC can be a powerful tool, it’s important to pause before re-sharing healthcare-related content. If you’re considering a UGC campaign at your practice or organization, remember to keep in mind patient privacy and HIPAA regulations. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Always check with the person who posted the content before re-sharing it on your organization’s channel. Ask them if it is OK to re-share the content as is, or if there is any information they would like to omit.
  • Do not re-share content that was shared privately.
  • If possible, get the user’s written consent. If your hospital or organization has standard consent forms, try to get one of these signed before re-sharing the content.
  • If you run a UGC campaign or contest, consider working with your legal department to develop a disclaimer or other language explaining the re-use of content and patient privacy.
  • Do not re-share content that includes medical information for someone other than the user sharing the content. For example, do not post a photo with a group of patients without getting consent from all patients in the photo.

Now that we have you convinced, it’s time to start curating. If you’re looking for ideas on where to begin, content and social marketing expert Aaron Agius has a few UGC ideas. And if you already have the UGC ball rolling, you may want to check out Kristen Strauss’ Five Habits of Highly Effective CGC Marketers blog post.

What are your tips for using UGC in a content strategy? Share your ideas in the comments section below.