For marketers working to deliver consistent, relevant brand experiences to their audiences at scale, user-generated content can be an efficient way to source authentic and timely media directly from fans. But despite the fact that friend recommendations and online consumer opinions are the two most trusted information sources for consumers making purchases, only 3.3% of online retailers use user-generated photos as part of their content marketing strategy.

With digital content volumes continuing to grow across networks like Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, the pool of potential UGC available to marketers will be even richer and more diverse in 2014. So why is UGC marketing so difficult for brands?

The first obstacle for brands working with UGC is legal rights; brands need the appropriate permissions to use third-party content without the risk of copyright infringement or other mis-use. The second complexity is managing UGC at the speed of social. Often, even when marketing teams can get permission to use third-party content, obtaining the necessary media releases and legal approvals takes too much time.  Finally, marketers need tools and processes to consistently curate UGC while maintaining brand voice and content quality.

So is real-time, safe and scalable UGC a possibility for content marketers? Absolutely, and we’re building the marketing technology at Percolate to enable it. Here’s a recent example of how Shinola, a retailer of high-quality watches, bicycles and leather goods built in Detroit, is using UGC sourcing and approval tool FanBranded as part of their social monitoring and content strategy to quickly activate UGC and forge closer connections with their customers.

Shinola’s Twitter feed is full of examples showing how UGC can be a conversation opportunity for a brand to engage and acknowledge its fans in real-time.

Shinola activating UGC in real-time on Twitter

Backed by FanBranded, Shinola curates UGC imagery straight from followers who include the campaign hashtag #MyShinola, using Percolate’s integrated media release software to obtain image rights to the content. FanBranded lets Shinola secure full legal rights to user content in minutes, eliminating the need for repeat social media compliance checks.

Getting Legal Approval for UGC with Percolate

In a short amount of time, this new workflow has helped Shinola grow its media library without costly photo shoots or recurring legal reviews, increase visual post frequency and engagement on its Facebook page, and show thanks to its fans by publicly featuring their signature looks.

Shinola Facebook Page UGC Examples

For your brand to have the same real-time success with user-generated content as Shinola, it’s important to align your UGC strategy with these five recommended best practices:

1. Set internal, agreed-upon UGC guidelines that determine the quality and types of images that meet your brand’s content standards. It may also be helpful to create up-front goals for the amount of different types of content you want to procure.

2. Be an attentive social listener through the use of monitoring tools. Cultivating dedicated campaign hashtags like #MyShinola can help focus social listening at scale.

3. Use sincere, transparent communication when you interact with your fans and followers around UGC.

4. Set up a streamlined process for securing legal rights to digital assets directly from Twitter, leveraging cost and time-saving technology like FanBranded and the Percolate Photographer app for iOS and Android.

5. Have a plan for where and how you’re going to deploy your brand’s new UGC assets.

When Shinola’s customers show their pride for their favorite products on social, not only is the brand listening, its also using Percolate to save its marketing team time, energy and resources, while delivering consistently great, real-time content to its followers.

Follow @Shinola on Twitter.