Mad Men is fascinating, isn’t it? Not just the personal journey of Don Draper or Peggy Olson, though the drama is what keeps people tuning in year after year. No, from a marketer’s point of view, the process of creating marketing campaigns during the 60s is absolutely fascinating.

Here in the era of digital marketing, it’s hard to nearly impossible to believe there was once a time when entire marketing and advertising decisions were left in the hands of one team. How could four or five people know what the collective buying public wanted?

This is the true beauty of user-generated content. Consumers not only tell the marketers what they want, but they also share their wishes with the rest of the world. No other marketing is as strong as word of mouth, and collecting user-generated content lets you harness that power.

Now, how can you go about collecting and sorting through user-generated content? Let’s start with getting what you need.

Calls for Content

Find where your buyer personas live.

We don’t mean gathering home addresses. That’s just creepy. Instead, discover where they spend their time online. Do your buyers prefer the relative anonymity of Twitter or the very visual Instagram? Will they spend hours on Facebook or is their free time spent watching videos on YouTube?

Once you’ve determined where they live, you have your platform.

Find out what your buyers love.

No two buyers are ever the same. Lovers of your brand will, however, have many things in common. It’s your job to discover those commonalities. Does your brand lend itself more to laughter, or do your buyers react to tugs at the heartstrings? Do they love sweeping declarations or simple statements?

If you don’t discover what your buyers love, how will you know what to ask for?

Find out what your buyers will part with.

Asking your buyers to supply you with content means asking them to give up their time, talent, and money. Will your buyers spend the necessary time and money to develop something epic and creative, or do they only have a few minutes to spare?

Keep in mind that many of your buyers may be professional creatives, whether writers, photographers, videographers, graphic artists, and even painters or sculptors. Your goal is not to get free work out of professionals but rather to give buyers a voice.

Time to Curate

After you receive piles of submissions—and you will—it’s time to dig through for those true gems. It’s important to respect the hard work of every single person who contributes and send effusive thanks to all who participate. If they love your brand enough to do the work, love them enough to acknowledge it—even if you can’t use it.

After showing your gratitude, it’s time to get down to work. How can you determine which pieces of content best serve your brand and particular marketing campaign? Here are some guidelines.

Does the message fit your brand?

You know your brand vision, mission, and voice better than anyone. Your biggest brand advocates will probably hit that nail right on the head, too. Select the content that best fits your brand standards, and set the rest aside for later. You may have some way to use those later.

Does the message serve the purpose?

When you made your plea for user-generated content, you had a particular outcome in mind. Did you want to make people laugh or draw a tear? Did you want to empower people in some way or just entertain? It’s time to set aside those submissions that missed the mark in some way. Remember, they may be valuable later, so don’t hit the delete button just yet.

Is the content suitable for your audience?

Even with a very liberal view of salty language, suggestive images, and over-the-top sarcasm, you’ll still find some of the content you receive goes a step (or twenty) too far. Unless you’re ready to push your boundaries just a little bit further, go ahead and eliminate those, too.

Now you’re ready to get serious about selection. If you have a manageable number of submissions left, release them to the world. Otherwise, call in everyone you trust to help you choose.

What to Do with the Rest

If you have some submissions that just barely missed inclusion, you can still honor the creators. A page on your website, Facebook, or blog that features the submissions that didn’t make the cut for your larger marketing scheme could still help you gain a lot of traction. If nothing else, you’ll keep your fans engaged.

Now, the real details are up to you, but this framework can help you organize your first foray into user-generated content. We wish you luck.

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