Think about the last time you made a big or unfamiliar purchase. What kind of research did you do first? Whose opinion(s) did you trust the most?

Qualitative membership research expert, speaker, and author of the Smooth the Path blog Amanda Kaiser recently outlined three “decision to join ‘myths,’” followed by the one actual reason to join that she’s found to stand the test of time: each other.

“Over and over,” Kaiser says “members share how peers, managers, and others in the profession or industry prompted them to join.”

Word-of-mouth has always – and will always – be a vital marketing tool for any organization. And thankfully, the Internet made it easier to harness that tool through the concept of user-generated content (UGC).

What is user-generated content?

UGC is exactly what it sounds like: any form of content (blogs, posts, chats, tweets, images, video, etc.) created by the users of an online system or service, that is publicly available for other users to see. This kind of content occurs naturally, of course – you’re creating UGC every time you Tweet or post on Instagram. But, integrated wisely, it can be an extremely effective tactic for achieving your marketing goals.

How do brands use UGC?

The ultimate goal is to connect your audience to your product or service through people they follow and trust. That’s basically all it is – finding the right people to authentically amplify your message, and capitalizing on the current customers who are already spreading the good word.

The extreme version of UGC is when a company pays an “influencer” to create content about their product or service for the sole purpose of sharing with their huge social media following. This is more commonly known as an “endorsement.” On the other hand, some companies will simply ask their customers to leave a public review online.

And there’s a ton everywhere in between – but wherever you land on that scale, the key to success here is authenticity. The content should make sense for both you and the member, so the viewer (aka potential new member) has a genuine experience. You want them to enter into membership already loyal and knowing what to expect!

How can my organization use UGC?

So now that the gears are turning, how can your association use member experiences as user-generated content? Here are a few thought starters:

1. Dedicate a part of your website to member testimonials.

2. Ask members to be guest bloggers.

3. Allow a member to “take over” one of your social media channels one day.

4. Create educational videos featuring members who are experienced on certain topics.

5. Create a year recap compilation video that shows members experiencing various benefits and giving their testimonials.

6. Host member Q&A sessions on Twitter where prospects can ask questions about membership.

7. Ask your especially active members to tag your organization on social media when posting industry-related content.

8. Create a unique hashtag and encourage members to use it when posting about organization activities. Then, repurpose the content posted under that hashtag on your website and at events.

9. Host a contest on Instagram asking members to submit pictures at an event or of a certain membership theme and tag you in order to enter.

10. Add an “Ask a Member” feature to your website where both prospects and other members can submit questions to be answered by a member.

As long as it’s created by a member and shared publicly for the world to see, you’ve got yourself some user-generated content! It’s usually easiest to start some kind of UGC initiative on social media, given the access to a large audience and quick sharing capabilities. Are your social media chops up to the task? Our Small-Staff Guide to Social Media is full of tips for engaging both members and prospects on these platforms – check it out!