by Michael O'Neill
February 13th, 2014

Brands finds themselves at a challenging crossroads in their evolution. For decades, companies have utilised a command and control model as it pertains to their brands. Billions of dollars have been spent to carefully craft specific messages and deliver them via campaigns. However, as consumers continue to create and promote their own stories, brands now must decide how to integrate that content into their own stories.

At the heart of the matter is control. Brands are accustomed to crafting their message and controlling the way that message is delivered to the world. In fact, the entire marketing vehicle is hardwired to function on this very specific level. The quality of any campaign has become a metric of success, both financially for the business and as industry recognition for the agency.

Forward-looking brands, however, see a different opportunity in letting go of some of that control. Social networks have already proven an effective platform for distributing media. At the same time, consumers continue to demonstrate their creativity and capability to produce authentic, engaging content. The combination is hard to ignore, but the question of quality still persists.

Quality is like a prism – what you see is highly dependent on your vantage point. For marketers and publishers still constrained by their own idea of quality, the value of customer-centric stories is still impossible to see or understand. Others understand that customers are now telling interesting, relevant stories, but they cannot get past the lack of polish and quality. A growing minority, though, have learned the secret to unlocking this content.

Quality must be viewed through the lens of the consumer, not our own. If we focus on our own internal standards of perfection, we miss out on the opportunities to promote and leverage authentic content. The test of quality isn’t the aesthetics or production, but the value it creates. To that end, encouraging your customers to co-create with you provides you a broader base of content to draw from

Here are some tips on how to get started:

1. Boost customer contributions

Your customers may not be professional photographers or writers, but they’re out there making content for you nonetheless. These contributions are real-time, authentic, and engaging – even if they don’t meet the same standard of quality brands are accustomed to publishing.

2. Incentivise

Getting quality content sometimes means rewarding the creators. This doesn’t mean you have to start raffling off huge prizes. Engagement in and of itself can be a reward – interact, retweet, compliment and promote.

3. Minimize risk

Create your brand voice and stick to it – even if it means you have to skip a meme, viral sensation, newsworthy moment or customer content. Keep it light, keep it classy. When it comes to tragedy or sensitive topics, if you’re unsure, just don’t post. It’s easy to fall into a scandal when rushing to jump into the discussion around a sensitive topic.

4. Move fast, (don’t) break things

Taking inspiration from the famous Facebook mantra, the cycles between iterations needs to be shortened. Often, the latest on Buzzfeed is already old news to Tumblr users, and what’s new on Tumblr is often already old news to Reddit users. And this transition from funny to old? That can happen in the matter of a day, which is also why real-time content from fans is so powerful. However, keep in mind point #3: faster publishing doesn’t mean the values or identity of the brand should be compromised.

The ultimate measure of how successful any tactic is remains the same: does it align with your goals and deliver as expected? There will always be a need for high-quality, professionally crafted marketing and branding. However, as consumers continue to tell their story with greater fidelity, there is an additional source of content (or minimally inspiration) to leverage for your brand.

Greg Narain is co-founder of Chute

This article first appeared at BrianSolis.com. Re-published with permission.

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