User-Generated Content Extends Your Marketing Bench

If the quest for fresh content for your content marketing efforts exhaust you, ask for help. You can ask for user-generated submissions you can share or for user participation in project partnerships that create new content.

If the quest for fresh content for your content marketing efforts exhaust you, ask for help. You can ask for user-generated submissions you can share or for user participation in project partnerships that create new content.

The constant quest for new content can exhaust brand managers. Sometimes the answer is to ask for help.

Here are two imaginative examples of how help in content creation can be found:

Making songs out of interviews

The manager of the Blind Boys of Alabama, a Grammy-winning singing group that made its debut album, 70 years ago, decided to look for new lyrics in the reflective words of the group’s founding members. He arranged for interviews of Jimmy Carter and Clarence Fountain, then sent transcripts of their interviews to some songwriters.

He got back 50 submissions, which became the foundation for the musical group’s latest album, Almost Home. One of the songs Carter performs on the album, Let My Mother Live, contains lyrics that were direct quotes from his interview – “Let my mother live ‘til I get grown.”

The inspiration for the interviews and the outreach to songwriters had a simple origin – Carter and Fountain had long, colorful lives. “The arc of their lives,” explained executive producer Charles Driebe, “mirrors the arc of some very important and sweeping changes in American and the American South.”

Driebe added, “They have a unique experience with those changes, and the things that they’ve lived through, which are very good fodder for songs.” The new album is proof. The songs are fresh, while the lyrics are authentic.

Hope Is Project

Sarah Takako Skinner, who goes by Takako, is a photographer who has made her mark with something called editorial portraiture. She seeks to blend emotional and artistic risk to produce pictures that expose risk, fear or passion. Takako’s work is visually challenging.

Now she is applying her photographic technique on a project to help people “photograph hope.” Takako arms subjects with a camera to capture pictures that express how they feel.

One project participant tracked his daily ups and downs of being transgender. After initial reticence, the man warmed up to a camera perpetually in hand and began capturing candid and revealing photographs, some pedestrian, others swirling with emotion.

“The Hope Is project is a project of change and impact focused on the discovery and harnessing of the power of hope – via an inspiring photographic process,” according to the project’s website. The ultimate goal is a “global conversation about hope” based on a “partnership between art and purpose.”

Both examples are imaginative forms of seeking user-generated content. You don’t have to produce an album or a multinational photo exhibit to recognize the value of asking for help to power up your content.

The ask could be as simple as inviting customers to suggest brand-related topics they would like to learn more about, share their experience with a brand or tell a personal story that connects with the brand.

Our firm proposed and helped stage Mac and Cheese contests that invited Tillamook Cheese consumers to show off their cheesy creations. Well known chefs judged the entries. The contest created buzz and provided grist and human-interest stories for earned media and social media that centered on the Tillamook brand.

Jimmy Fallon asks his followers to provide tweet-sized stories in response to weekly “hashtags” such as #MomQuotes, #HowIGotFired and #MyFamilyIsWeird. The submissions Fallon airs are hilarious, with strange stories even deranged comedy writers couldn’t come up with. Many of the tweets are posted on Fallon’s website.

Another approach is to invite others to partner with you on a project, much like in the two examples. Writing music to go with the words of singers or shooting photographs that express personal emotions are content creations in their own right.

When asking for user contributions or partners, make sure to go all-out in publicizing your request. Asking for user-generated content is part of the new wave of content you get when you ask for help.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.