Social proof has become such a powerful tool in today’s world where people have become increasingly wary of branded content. And apart from user reviews and recommendations, user-generated content (UGC) has become one of the most powerful of this kind.
In fact, studies have shown that 90 percent of shoppers’ purchasing decisions are influenced by user-generated content.
With that in mind, this article aims to be your guide on user-generated content – its power, types, and how you can utilize it to create an effective strategy.
What is user-generated content and why should you utilize it?
In its most basic sense, user-generated content is anything on the internet that users had a hand in creating. Essentially, any type of content (including reviews, gifs, and memes) not made by a brand falls under this umbrella.
The continually growing clamor by customers for authenticity and trust has given power to UGC. And while there has been a slew of studies that present varying figures on how UGC resonates with consumers, there’s a simple explanation—consumers understand what they want and how they want it better than any marketer does.
Here are some figures:
- 54 percent of adult internet users regularly create and share visual content
- User-Generated Content are viewed 10 times more than brand-generated videos on YouTube
- 51 percent of Americans trust UGC more than what’s on a brand’s official website
- 73 percent of shoppers say UGC increases their purchasing confidence
Another important element of user-generated content is that it’s created in virtually every communication channel. This means that you can also leverage its power across all of your marketing channels, making it a strategy that’s a must for every brand.
How to go about UGC
1. Establish goals
As with any content marketing strategy, establishing a clear set of goals should be your starting point. And while there is a plethora of things brands can look to achieve, here are three goals that you can aim for:
Search engine optimization
User-Generated Content can help in this area by improving your website’s relevance. It does so by giving you an idea of what it is exactly your audience is looking for, alleviating the need to constantly tinker with your SEO strategies in line with the constant algorithm changes.
UGC common phrases also give you an idea of what long-tail keywords to use in future content. You should take note of the topics your users frequently discuss, and expand on them in blog posts, email campaigns, and other content forms.
Not every brand can be thought of as a leader in a particular field, but what UGC brings is the trickle-down effect of the trust people have in their peers. The more social proof (existing user content, number of followers, etc.) they see, the more you develop trust, and ultimately, authority.
This goes without saying, as being mentioned or having content shared by a brand is usually an exciting proposition for customers. As noted by SproutSocial, their shares would not only help you reach their network; it also enables you to expose your audience as well.
2. Choose your platforms
Just as not all social platforms are created equal, not all brand audiences are the same. This is why it’s important to know not only where your audience spends their time, but where they could potentially have the most influence.
For instance, Instagram Stories’ daily active users may be soaring, but if that’s not where your target audience is, then there’s no point in jumping on the bandwagon.
Take note that choosing which platforms to implement your strategy on should be closely aligned with your goals.
Here’s a guide on what works where:
It’s been called the mecca of User-Generated Content, which is why it is often the go-to for this kind of strategy. It’s also where the highest levels of engagement can be enjoyed for photos and videos related to your brand. So if that’s the goal, and if you have a younger audience, then Instagram is the perfect platform for your UGC strategy.
Additionally, its Stories format provides a space where raw (albeit more authentic) content can be produced – making it ideal for product demos and behind-the-scenes UGC.
Pixlee points out a Google study where YouTube users agreed that if there’s a brand they love, they tend to tell everybody about it. Unlike the raw nature of Stories videos, YouTube content has an inclination for production value and is perfect for longer form videos.
If conversion is the goal, this just might be the best platform. As noted by Pixlee, the main difference between Pinterest and Instagram is that Pinners are looking to spend. People referred to a product by Pinterest are found to be 10 times more likely to purchase, while 93% of Pinners were found to have made purchases during a six month period.
The social media giant has the most evenly distributed demographics of any social platform. Facebook also makes it easy to search for on-brand photos. All you need to do is conduct a broad search for your brand name, filter by photos, and you’ll find all the UGC related to you.
And with 2.23 billion monthly active users, Facebook also provides the highest likelihood of going viral.
How to appeal to consumers for user-generated content
1. Ask for it
‘You won’t get what you don’t ask for’ applies with UGC, particularly when it comes to reviews and customer feedback. This is, in fact, something that they like to do. A 2017 survey by Bright Local shows that 68% of consumers will leave reviews when asked.
The key here is making it easy for them to leave reviews.
For starters, don’t force them to give you their emails. You can connect your pages to other social platforms, so they can instead post their feedback and comments using their social accounts. And when you do get user feedback, showcase them.
As pointed out by Bright Local in the same survey, 85 percent of online consumers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations. In fact, it takes seven positive reviews to generate trust in a potential customer.
2. Everybody loves contests
The prospect of their content being featured by their favorite brands would thrill most people. And everybody likes to get free stuff. This makes combining contests and UGC a win-win for both brands and audiences.
Brands like GoPro and Starbucks have made a killing using the simplest contests to encourage people to create UGC. The former entices people to film their adventures with their GoPro and enter a challenge where the best videos win cash. With that proposition, people don’t even mind that GoPro gets to own the rights to their content.
Starbucks, for its part, has their red and white cups contest. The mechanics involve asking customers to doodle on cups and share their artwork online—a perfect way to entice seasonal buyers. The coffee shop chain rewards the best designs with gift cards, and gets to keep the rights to the designs just like GoPro.
3. Incentivize it
Understanding your audience has always been a crucial part of marketing; it’s no different with User-Generated Content, when it comes to thinking of what to incentivize your audience with. Rewards do not always have to be in cash or in kind.
Take Pepsi’s “Max It Now” campaign for example. Challenging NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon fans to submit content over a 24-day span, Pepsi offered the winners a chance to win a trip to Martinsville Speedway to meet the iconic driver. The campaign’s goal was to raise awareness, and that’s exactly what they got because they understood their audience.
It resulted in over 40,000 visitors to their microsite (who spent an average of six minutes per visit), and generated 16,000 social media posts.
4. Encourage sharing
Hashtags are great tools for user-generated content. Simply encouraging customers and fans to post content of their experiences with your products can do wonders for a campaign.
Clothing company Madewell appealed to their customers’ ego by encouraging them to share their stories through images of them wearing Madewell products for a chance to be featured by the brand.
Again, people love to be featured by their favorite products, so this approach has become quite popular, especially with fashion brands.
Avoiding potential backlash
Of course, there’s always a risk when you leave it in the hands of the public. So while a UGC strategy may seem appealing because of its low cost, you still need to put some thought into it.
Here are some of the ways you can reduce the risk of a potential user-generated content backlash:
Preparation is key
It’s very easy to lose control of things in a public domain. That’s why careful consideration is necessary before you dive into a UGC campaign. And should you decide to push through with it, it is advised that you go slow.
You can start with gauging the initial comments that you get. If you find that it’s mostly positive, then you can take it up a notch. It’s better to take it slow than jump right into it and spend exponentially more time and resources trying to repair potential damage.
Keep some form of control
If you’ll be asking for submissions, it’s best to do it on a platform that you can control. This includes your site, a microsite, or a specially designed platform.
This gives you a chance to filter out potentially damaging content that could become a PR disaster, like what happened with McDonald’s.
Their #McDStories hashtag campaign on Twitter—initially aimed at sharing stories of farmers who supply for the fastfood chain—was hijacked by users who then shared their negative experiences. As a result, McDonald’s pulled their campaign after only two hours.
Be quick to respond to negative feedback
Negative feedback is inevitable; this is part of what gives UGC authenticity. But while a customer’s initial interaction with your brand may not be the most pleasant, addressing that concern promptly could make the difference between appeasing an agitated customer and going viral for all the wrong reasons.
As you’ve probably seen from a number of brands, user-generated content can be a great tool that’s not only cost-efficient in terms of getting unique content, but also allows you to boost your social reach and gain audience insight. Just make sure that you proactively prepare for any risk involved with the platform of your choosing.
If you’re looking to get into this with your brand, make sure you develop good social listening skills, so you can understand your target audience and get a feel if UGC campaigns will work for you.
Jolina is a marketing strategist working with several startups and websites based in the US, UK, and Australia. She is currently working with top SEO Specialists from the Philippines with Avaris.io to formulate new and innovative SEO strategies. Follow her on Twitter!