Urban Decay's Eyeshadow Primer Potion.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the more than 22,000 images uploaded to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, WhatsApp and Snapchat every second speak volumes: consumers are creating and sharing content at ever-increasing rates, and brands have taken notice. As such, digital marketing is in the midst of massive changes — and the beauty industry is well-positioned to take advantage of these changes.

With some strategic maneuvering, cosmetics, skin care and hair care retailers can ride the wave of user-generated content to enhance and develop powerful earned content platforms. Doing so not only brings value to consumers by offering authentic content that deeply resonates, but alleviates the burden of content production on the brand, which was named by 73 percent of marketers as a top priority.

Earned content gives consumers the opportunity to control the brand conversation, showcasing how everyday shoppers have made beauty brands part of their lifestyles. With 43 percent of Millennials prioritizing authenticity over content, such an opportunity is invaluable, especially when brands consider how interwoven authenticity and femininity have become within the beauty industry.

In the past, beauty was tied to specific standards but now, new generations are redefining its meaning. From fitness fanatics who find femininity in strength, to those embracing the #nomakeup movement, to others who have expressed themselves by rejecting stereotypes, there is no longer a “one-size-fits-all” definition of beauty. Rather, what is beautiful is expressed through authenticity and the experiences of real women. Increasingly, women have aligned with brands like Aerie, who resolved to stop photoshopping models, and Dove, who launched an emotionally driven #realbeauty campaign — the brands that actively listen to and embrace consumer preferences will emerge on top.

Further, incorporating authentic images not only truly resonates with potential shoppers, but can effectively demonstrate how a particular shade of lipstick or eyeliner looks across age groups, hair colors and skin tones. Doing so allows consumers to better envision themselves interacting with products, further bridging the gap between brands and consumers while capturing their personal styles.

Develop a Branded Hashtag

Beauty brands looking to activate an earned content program must first devise a branded hashtag for consumers to utilize. Ultimately, hashtags should be straight-forward and easy to remember. Take NYX’s #NYXCosmetics, for example. Before deciding on a specific term or phrase, marketers should research the usage and popularity of their idea to ensure it’s not already widely used — and shy away from generic terms such as #makeup and #beauty.

Once a hashtag has been decided upon, distribute it across all relevant channels, including e-mail newsletters, shipping inserts and packaging, in-store locations and within branded web sites. Beauty marketers should also remain cognizant of timely events when creating calls-to-action. For example, Urban Decay adopted an additional hashtag, #UDHalloween, in advance of makeup’s biggest season, effectively inviting audiences to transform from average fans to beauty ambassadors. A highly visual industry, beauty brands can also invite consumers to share a selfie showcasing their favorite looks to create powerful new ambassadors and solicit highly authentic content.

Collect, Curate, Tag Content

For beauty brands with a loyal digital following and exciting calls-to-action, proper hashtag strategy and promotion will yield impactful images. By nature, beauty is emotional and highly personal, attributes that spur meaningful content. Dove’s #RealBeauty initiative is “Exhibit A,” encouraging consumers to love their bodies and celebrate what makes them beautiful — inside and out. For beauty brands to leverage this gold mine of content, marketers must implement a three-tiered process: curation, tagging and acquiring permission.

From the onset of an earned content program, marketers should set guidelines to identify compelling user-content. Then, tag images by various characteristics, including the specific product showcased. Doing so will help drive purchase traffic and determine which products are gaining the most attention, as well as how they are being used by consumers.

Finally, when marketers have identified images they’d like to leverage, they must request rights from content creators, securing permission to utilize submissions in future marketing initiatives. By following these steps, beauty brands can effectively engage content creators, turning them into brand advocates while acquiring the materials necessary to begin a two-way dialogue with customers.

Broadcasting Earned Content

Once equipped with visually stunning content, beauty marketers must devise ways to share these images across marketing channels. Ultimately, earned content should become part of a brand’s DNA, fueling real, authentic marketing experiences. To shed light on ways everyday consumers are leveraging products, images should be integrated into branded social media accounts, displayed on web site homepages and galleries, amplified within digital advertising and showcased across traditional marketing channels — from print catalogs and commercials to billboards and taxi cabs.

Coupled together, these placements can help lead potential shoppers down the path to purchase. With an omnichannel earned content strategy, marketing organizations can better ensure they’re consistently engaging consumers with new, relevant content at every touchpoint.

With consumers being heavily influenced through digital channels, the presence of authentic assets is playing a vital role within the shopper journey, inspiring purchases. In fact, the percentage of in-store sales influenced by digital has gone from 12 percent to 2012 to a staggering 64 percent in 2015 — and the projection is set to climb even higher.

Earned content gives beauty brands an invaluable opportunity to spotlight diverse product offerings across a wide range of demographics. This extended stage places a greater emphasis on the colors, styles and overall utility. Beauty brands should continuously measure engagement across branded hashtags to evaluate its performance and optimize future campaigns, honing in on growth of followers, engagement with specific pieces of content and even top images.

Ultimately, earned content will become the connective tissue that threads across branded marketing channels, creating a consistent and meaningful experience for consumers. The customer life cycle doesn’t end after the point of purchase — in fact, post-purchase is the biggest marketing opportunity in the entire life cycle. If properly executed, beauty brands can use earned content to empower loyal, authentic marketing relationships with customers that drive increased lifetime value and meaningful engagement.

Pau Sabria is cofounder of Olapic.