The Content Corner: How to Leverage User-Generated Content to Resonate With Your Audience

Jul 11, 2016

User-Generated Content (UGC) is a buzzword as of late, popularized recently due to the ever increasing demand for new content. To define the phrase, let’s look to a shining example of it,Wikipedia, as a source, “any form of content such as blogs, wikis, discussion forums, posts, chats,tweets, podcasts, digital images, video, audio files, advertisements, and other forms of media that was created by users of an online system or service, often made available via social media websites.”

Communication concept network.

VLADGRIN, iStock, Thinkstock

Whether it’s sharing relevant content to your brand with your audience, or posting guest blogs from influencers or subject matter experts, we probably all implement user-generated content into our strategy in some way these days. Well, at least there are many reasons we should be.

Across all sectors – state, local, federal governments, NGO’s, non-profit, private sector – if you are in the communication business, you are in the content-creation business. Websites and social media channels that we use as a vehicle to get our message across, constantly demand updating. But in an effort to constantly feed the content machine, we can sometimes get caught off message.

Recently, Newscred, a content marketing software company, held the #ThinkContent Summit 2016, and discovered from a survey of 463 attendees that there is a major disconnect between what marketers spend their time, budget, and resources creating compared to what they themselves actually want as a consumer.

This How Marketers Create and Consume Content infographic on their website says it all – Keep the CONSUMER first.

So why the disconnect? It seems that, perhaps, sometimes when we get so involved in “doing our job” we can forget the point of “why” we do it. Using UGC you can get audience participation, and hope to have loyal brand followers as a result. At the core of its definition, user-generated content is about being audience-oriented, involving them in expressing the interests of your brand. And isn’t that what we should all strive to do – connect better with our audience to drive actionable results?

Just a few other benefits of UGC include:

  • Additional streams of content to populate your content calendar
  • Learning about your audience
  • Staying relevant to your audience

Influencer marketing is one example of UGC that is trending, especially in the private sector with large companies seeking YouTube influencers, for example, to develop branded videos. But, keep in mind, whatever the tactic—

Authenticity is key – if you don’t believe what someone is telling you and you don’t think they are being genuine or telling the truth, then it means nothing.” – Dan Neale, Social Media Today

As previously stated on The Content Corner, “users (especially Millennials) demand authenticity from any brand/entity/agency they interact with.” So, whatever the tactic, be genuine!

There are many ideas for how to implement user-generated content into your content strategy. I’ve gathered several case studies from across the government, to provide a glimpse at some of the many ways agencies are seeing the value in UGC.

To highlight community policing efforts in action, the Community Oriented Policing Services Office hosts a Community Policing in Action photo contest to celebrate examples of community policing and showcase the work of American law enforcement.

Community Policing 2016 Photo Contest banner.

National Archives, through the National Archives Foundation, hosted a #ArchivesJuly4 Transcribe-a-thon where participants using their computers on site, helped to unlock info to put in the records on the National Archives’ online catalog.

National Archives and Records Administration graphic for the July 4th Transcribe-a-thon.

Earlier this year, the National Institutes of Health held a data call highlighting NIH-funded scientific research to help populate their centralized image service for the dissemination of primarily scientific, biomedical, and disease related imagery. Their efforts were deemed successful as they received over 50 image submissions from 24 different funded institutions.

NIH image gallery photo montage.

Crowdsourcing can be another tactic to reach out for user-generated content. has many good examples of successful crowdsourcing efforts to accomplish solutions to problems, and leverage the talent of the citizens we serve.

By providing an incentive, in this case cash and other prizes, receives useful solutions:

Last week, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration completed a challenge for participants to create a mobile app to provide opioid recovery support for patients. They provided tiered prizes for up to eight participants, with the top app developer receiving $15,000.

SAMHSA Opioid Recovery App Challenge banner.

The National Park Service and National Capital Planning Commission recently completed an ideas competition called Memorials of the Future, with the goal of site-specific designs for memorials in Washington, DC. One submission virtualized National Parks using ultra-high definition videos and audio recordings through an interactive, immersive installation.

Similar to, is designed to accelerate the use of crowdsourcing and citizen science across the U.S. government. At the time this piece was written, 301 projects represented by 25 agencies are live and mapped in their virtual catalog.

In an effort to increase “surface observations” NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory recently announced, “Summer Spotlight: mPING!” a crowdsourcing project to collect public weather reports through a free app available for smartphones and mobile devices.

The U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture host many projects in the catalog that collaborate with NGO’s, schools and state and local governments, that, among other things, support conservation goals/policy and research advancement, build new technologies, and gather or classify data.

There are many more examples of effective user-generated content. How have you, or can you, implement it into your content calendar? Please share your thoughts in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter @SSgtKRich.

You’ve just finished reading the latest article from our Monday column, The Content Corner. This column focuses on helping solve the main content issues facing federal digital professionals, including producing enough content and making that content engaging.