User-generated content (UGC) is an important tool in the business world. Photos, videos and comments by fans and followers on social media can promote a product or company while reaching the target audience in a more natural, authentic way.

According to an infographic by Nicho, a visual marketing platform, 1.6 billion people use social media, spending 5.4 hours a day consuming content created by the accounts they follow. Platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr are where most of these engagements take place.

So what can UGC do for your business? Nicho reported that UGC is:

Promotional. Consumer input is a great promotional tool for companies. For example, a fitness model with thousands of Instagram followers may advertise a specific protein powder to recruit buyers.

Trustworthy. People trust their connections on social media. In fact, 92 percent of social media users trust UGC more than traditional advertising. Oftentimes, consumers are not even paid for their promotions, thus adding to their credibility.

Relevant. Just like the fitness model advertising the protein powder, most people promote products or services that are relevant to them and their followers.

Influential. The influence of UGC on consumers is very clear: 59 percent of all respondents consult social media before making any purchases, and 84 percent of millennials say UGC specifically influences their purchases.

Memorable. These promotions stick. People remember UGC for all of the reasons above, with 35 percent finding it more memorable than any other form of media. [See Related Story: Social Media Marketing Solutions for Small Businesses]

Making the most of UGC

If businesses want to boost their sales, they must work to build engagement and connections with their audience through consumers’ own content. A survey found that consumers are eager to have their content featured by brands. On the other hand, brands are often afraid to be “pushy” and therefore do not provide clear instructions for submitting content.

Marketing experts agreed that visual-media contests, such as those seeking photo or video submissions, are an effective UGC strategy because they empower customers to be your brand advocates. You can also ask customers to tag photos or posts of themselves interacting with your products or company, which promotes your brand in a more personal, thoughtful way.

On-brand UGC won’t create itself, yet it’s one of the most valuable tools a marketer could have, when 85 percent of consumers say they find UGC more influential than brand-created content, it’s time for marketers to listen. It’s more important than ever for brands to have a proactive strategy for connecting with consumers, inspiring UGC creation and leveraging that content to increase performance across all of their channels.

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