How to Use User-Generated Content to Inform Your Content Strategy

January 19, 2017 Kyle Harper

A craftsman works in a workshop

It’s been nearly three years.

Three years since your brand took a leap on this crazy thing called a “content strategy” and started eliciting blog, videos, user-generated content, and other material to cobble together into what would eventually grow into your brand’s platform. The results were slow at first, and as a middle manager looking to prove your stuff in more strategic role, you had to continually reassure your leadership team that this would work, was working, and that they just had to give it some time.

And then, a little over a year later, your plan came to fruition. Your brand’s website was flooded with traffic from ever-more visible search results, your social platforms swelled under community interaction and interest, and your content platform went from being simply a blog to being a lean, mean, lead-generating machine.

So what went wrong?

Now pushing three years, using the same honed work flow and talented content creators you’ve invested so much time into, producing the same content that should be interesting people, you’re watching your growth rates plateau. Traffic is coming in, leads are being generated, but nothing is moving past yesterday, last week, last month. Did your formula fail?

This is an occurrence that happens for many brands, some within a year, others further down the line. It’s the point at which your excellent content engine reaches saturation due to audience limits, digital competition, and general development of your audience’s needs. It’s the point at which, if you don’t change, you’re likely to begin seeing declines that your brand can’t afford.

New Angle

Commit to a New Angle

At this stage, there are essentially two things that your brand can do. You can find a way to push your content into the world with more force, often at the expense of additional ad spend in any number of arenas. But this is an approach that not only provides diminishing returns (there’s always a limit to your audience, no matter how much you spend), but also doesn’t scale effectively as a long-term plan as your costs get higher while results grow thinner.

The other alternative, then, is to pivot your creative engine to either grow your audience or to meet a new need of your existing one. Simple enough with some research, some tweaks to your content strategy, and a new round of assignments to your content creators.

If only it were so easy.

Discovering and committing to a new angle on your content formula is hard work. If you’ve reached a true saturation point where you’re seeing growth slow, it’s more than likely that you’ve already developed on search terms you care about, covered your bases on topics that connect your readers to your brand, and have a lengthy list of areas that just didn’t seem interesting or relevant enough to cover. But rather than trying to dive into a pile of discarded key terms and off-brand topics to reach your readers, the solution to your brand’s problem may actually lie in going to your readers first.

Research

User Content as Stop-Gap and Research

If you’re looking to find out what’s actively engaging your audience today, user-generated content is a great first stop. Here’s how to use this type of content to help update your content platform:

  • It can help you redefine your keyword topics. One of the most confusing elements of content stagnation is seeing growth plateau while search authority stays strong. It’s also one of the reasons why marketers are so reluctant to pull effort away from established keywords in lieu of new target key terms. Rather than flipping your search strategy on its head, take some time to read material related to your already authoritative key terms and see if your audience’s needs regarding those terms have changed. Finding out that your audience is relating to a common question about your brand in a new way can help open up avenues for new content, or even secondary keywords to nurture for an expanded search strategy.
  • It allows you to audit your aesthetic. Just because your brand is talking about the same things as your audience doesn’t mean that your brand is talking about those topics in the same way. Changing attitudes, opinions, or sensibilities might be the reason that your brand has seen a recent slow down.
  • It can serve as stop-gap or strategy: In the absence of content you can create on your own, embracing a user-generated content strategy can help fill the gap as you pivot your strategy, while also giving you an easy way to test new styles, topics, and platforms to find a new way to appeal to your market. Perhaps most importantly however, the trust and authority that comes from regular people speaking to regular people contributes an authenticity to your brand’s conversations that can help improve growth in a slow time, and sustain growth in better times.

Content saturation is a good problem for your brand to have: it means that you’ve reached the peak of something good, and that it’s time to reorient your attention towards the next challenge. User content is a powerful way to keep a finger on the pulse of your audience, and can serve both to support your ongoing content efforts or as a source for powerful research that will always scale into the future better than any advertising spend your brand can muster.

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