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But what if someone else developed that content for you? That's the idea behind user-generated content. Put it to work for you and it could elevate your brand to new levels -- but there is no guarantee of success.
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By now, most entrepreneurs are familiar with the tenets of . You write, record or produce content from scratch, promote it, then reap the rewards of higher brand visibility and traffic.

But what if someone else developed that content for you?

This beginner’s guide will have you creating Google Forms in no time! Whether you need a survey to find out what everyone’s bringing to the BBQ, or a quiz for your physics class, Google Forms is an easy-to-use, powerful tool. And it doesn’t cost a dime.

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Related: How Do You Improve Email Marketing? Start by Improving Your List.

That’s the idea behind . Put it to work for you, and it could elevate your brand to new levels — but there is no guarantee of success.

What is user-generated content?

In case you aren’t familiar, user-generated content is any content that’s created by your users (including customers, fans and followers).

These include things like:

  • Social content. If someone makes a comment about your brand, posts a review or shares a video of them interacting with your product, it’s a form of user-generated content.

  • Forum posts. Some brands explicitly try to cultivate a brand community by launching forums, where users can ask questions, make comments and talk to one another. Sometimes, this is to solve issues. Other times, it’s just to engage about the brand in some way.

  • Blog comments. If you write new blog posts regularly, this is a great opportunity to collect comments and facilitate more discussions in thread form.

  • Photos, videos, etc. Visual forms of content, including photos and videos, can be used to promote your best products.

  • Reviews and testimonials. Of course, even user reviews and testimonials can count as user-generated content — and provide you some of the best benefits.

Why is user-generated content valuable?

So why is this strategy so valuable to brands?

  • Minimal manual effort. For starters, if users are generating this content, you won’t have to do the dirty work. Instead of paying a full-time employee or hiring a content agency, you can recruit your users to do the work for you. Obviously, this is a bit of oversimplification — but user-generated content is still highly cost efficient.

  • SEO benefits. User-generated content also carries SEO benefits. Any content you produce for your blog and website will serve as a way to boost your authority and get new pages ranking in search engines. Assuming the content is high-quality, new and relevant, its SEO ranking power can be substantial.

  • External trust. Customers are much more likely to trust the word of an existing customer or fan than they are the word of a company they’re unfamiliar with. Reading a review posted by a previous purchaser is going to be much more persuasive than reading advertising copy. Accordingly, user-generated content can help you build external trust.

  • New voices. If you have an in-house content team, even if they’re extremely talented, eventually their work can become stale. The voice they’ve created can get repetitive and uninteresting to recurring followers. Allowing user-generated content can help you get an influx of new voices and perspectives, adding to the diversity of your blog, website or social media platform.

  • Brand community development. This is also an opportunity to develop a brand community from the ground up. If you nurture your top content generators and get involved in conversations, you can improve public perceptions of your brand and increase customer loyalty simultaneously.

Tips for cultivating more user-generated content

What steps can you take to cultivate more user-generated content?

Related: How You Should Be Evaluating Your Content Marketing Success

This is arguably the most important element of your strategy, because users don’t typically generate content for your brand on their own.

Investing For The Beginner

  • Ask. One of the easiest ways to get more content is to directly ask for it. Ask your followers to leave reviews or write testimonials for your brand. Open up your blog to accept new guest submissions. Tell your fans you’re eager to see their best photos of your product in action.

  • Run a contest. You can also attempt to run a social media contest, incentivizing participation further. For example, you can ask followers to post a photo or video of themselves that enters them in a drawing for a $100 gift card in exchange for their submission. It’s only a mild form of bribery.

  • Incentivize with other rewards. It’s also possible to incentivize user participation with other rewards. For example, you can have a kind of loyalty program or rewards program for your forum participants.

  • Promote your best examples. When you come across a piece of user-generated content that rises above the rest, such as an interesting video or an excellent guest post, make sure you promote it. The increased visibility might motivate other users to follow suit.

  • Get involved. Finally, get involved in conversations and engage your users directly. It will build stronger brand-consumer relationships and make people more comfortable providing submissions.

With the right user-generated , you can get more visibility, develop a better reputation and generate more traffic for your brand. It takes time to build momentum, but with the right investment and enough patience, you’ll stand to benefit enormously.

By Leo Babauta

A lot of our troubles could be solved by one simple practice.

A lot of joy could be found with the same practice.

And it is simple: practice seeing life with a beginner’s mind.

I’m stealing this of course from Zen Buddhism’s shoshin and Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, and I’ve written about it numerous times. But it’s more fundamental than most people realize.

It’s not just something you practice when you’re learning something — though dropping the “expert’s mind” and seeing the learning as a beginner is an important practice in learning. It’s something you can practice every single moment of the day (if you can remember to do so).

What is beginner’s mind? It’s dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas about something, and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner. If you’ve ever learned something new, you can remember what that’s like: you’re probably confused, because you don’t know how to do whatever you’re learning, but you’re also looking at everything as if it’s brand new, perhaps with curiosity and wonder. That’s beginner’s mind.

But imagine if you could apply this to every activity. Take eating breakfast, for example:

The Beginner's Goodbye PDF Free Download
  • You start by seeing the activity of eating with fresh eyes, as if you don’t know what to expect, as if you hadn’t done it thousands of times already.
  • You really look at the food, the bowl, the spoon, and try to see the details that you might not normally notice.
  • You truly notice the textures, tastes, smells, sights of the food, pay close attention as if you don’t already know how the food will taste. Everything seems new, perhaps even full of wonder.
  • You don’t take anything for granted, and appreciate every bite as a gift. It’s temporary, fleeting, and precious.

As you can see, this practice of beginner’s mind transforms the activity.

Why It Matters

When you practice beginner’s mind with an activity:

  • Better experiences: You aren’t clouded by prejudgments, preconceptions, fantasies about what it should be or assumptions about how you already know it will be. When you don’t have these, you can’t be disappointed or frustrated by the experience, because there’s no fantasy or preconception to compare it to.
  • Better relationships: If you are talking to someone else, instead of being frustrated by them because they aren’t meeting your ideal, you can see them with fresh eyes and notice that they’re just trying to be happy, that they have good intentions (even if they’re not your intentions), and they are struggling just like you are. This transforms your relationship with the person.
  • Less procrastination: If you’re procrastinating on a big work task, you could look at it with beginner’s mind and instead of worrying about how hard the task will be or how you might fail at it … you can be curious about what the task will be like. You can notice the details of doing the task, instead of trying to get away from them.
  • Less anxiety: If you have an upcoming event or meeting that you’re anxious about … instead of worrying about what might happen, you can open yourself up to being curious about what will happen, let go of your preconceived ideas about the outcome and instead embrace not knowing, embrace being present and finding gratitude in the moment for what you’re doing and who you’re meeting.

As you can see, the practice of beginner’s mind can transform any activity, get rid of a lot of our difficulties, allow us to be more flexible, open, curious, grateful, present.

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I’m not saying all of this happens automagically. It takes practice, but it’s worth the practice.

How to Practice

Beginner’s mind is what we practice in meditation. Instead of sitting in meditation and thinking you know what your breath will be like, or the present moment in front of you will be like … you pay attention. See it with fresh eyes. Drop your preconceived ideas and just look clearly at what’s in front of you.

A daily meditation practice is extremely useful in developing this beginner’s mind. Here’s how to practice:

  1. Sit comfortably and upright in a quiet place.
  2. Pay attention to your body, then your breath, trying to see them clearly and freshly.
  3. When you notice yourself having preconceived ideas, wandering from the present moment, thinking you know how it will be … just notice that.
  4. See if you can drop the ideas and thoughts and fantasies and stories that are filling up your head. Empty yourself so you can see what’s actually in front of you. See what your breath is actually like, right now, instead of what you think it will be or what you’re thinking about.

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Repeat the last few steps, over and over. See the thoughts and fantasies, empty yourself and see what’s actually there with fresh eyes.

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You can practice this right now, with whatever is in front of you. With how your body feels, how your breath feels, whatever else is around you.

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You can practice whenever you do any activity, from brushing your teeth to washing the dishes to walking and driving and working out and using your phone.

You can practice whenever you talk to another human being, dropping your ideas of how they should be and instead emptying your mind and seeing them as they are. Notice their good heart, their difficulties, and be grateful for them as they are. Love them for who they are and find compassion for their struggles.

The Beginner's Goodbye PDF Free Download

This is the practice. Do it with a smile, and with love, with fresh eyes and gratitude for the only universe we’ll ever get — the actual one in front of us.