People share stories, and they’ve been swapping them about brands for decades.

But word-of-mouth messages are no longer the storytelling norm. Social media and mobile have ushered in a proliferation of content types and an improvement in the quality of user-generated content (UGC).

Today, stories take the form of rich, multimedia experiences, effortlessly created by technology-empowered consumers.

And user-generated content marketing is proof that sharing content this way is storytelling for the future.

Putting users in the content driver’s seat allows businesses and brands to grow content, develop and strengthen consumer relationships, and improve their SEO. The result? Maximized conversions and plenty of sales opportunities.

Allowing your audience to engage with other like-minded consumers in your brand’s corner of the internet can be a huge marketing win.

Here’s how user-generated content works and why it deserves a go when you develop your business’s digital marketing and search strategies.

What the heck is customer-generated content?

User-generated content, commonly known as UGC, refers to any form of content created by unpaid contributors.

In a nutshell, it’s the strategy of combining brand-sponsored marketing alongside customer content to increase brand loyalty, customer retention, word-of-mouth marketing, engagement, and more.

This form of content can take on many forms, such as pictures, videos, tweet, pins, reviews, and unique posts. Most of the time, UGC gets created and shared on social media, which tends to help it spread like wildfire.

According to a social influence study done by Ipsos, Millennials consider UGC to be 50% more trustworthy than other media—and they think it’s more memorable, too.

Basically, whenever individual users are creating their own content on behalf of your brand—whether it’s a full tweet, an Instagram photo for a contest, or just a comment on your Facebook page—it’s UGC. And it’s valuable.

Aside from creating rich content your audience will identify with, the point is to allow them to collaborate in a way that helps connect them with your brand in a more social, but real, way. But there’s no denying that this kind of buzz also enhances your site.

Why users create content

Online users create content for a multitude of reasons, from self-expression and personal fame to rewards and engagement incentives. Smart marketers are leveraging UGC across their channels to improve engagement and drive higher levels of revenue.

A study done by Nielsen revealed that “92% of consumers trust online content from friends and family above all other forms of brand messaging.” And they trust strangers second most—far more than content pushed out by campaign managers and ad pros behind the face of that brand.

Here are two reasons that highlight the biggest incentives for users to create content.

To express themselves

UGC allows online users to speak up and promote their personal values and opinions with other like-minded consumers.

Instagram is an excellent example of this. Through the platform, consumers illustrate their personal interactions with products and experiences, which often involves linking back to the original product or company.

The person doesn’t gain anything from the brand by sharing their perspective, unlike an affiliate ad. The purpose of this organic post is to inform, inspire, and influence other like-minded consumers. Sure, some serial Instagrammers and YouTubers hope to become an influencer, but the road to that status typically starts with sharing what you love.

To earn rewards

The second reason online consumers often create content is to reap rewards that brands offer to help spread the word about a product or service. In this scenario, the consumer develops new content or expands upon existing posts based on the rules and expectations of the brand offering the incentive.

For example, a campaign may reward select content creators with a prize if they document participation in a contest.