If the last 10 years have taught us anything, it's that virtually anybody can be an author, photographer, videographer, voiceover talent, or subject matter expert-thanks to ubiquitous tools like smartphones, blogs, and social media sites that allow everyday people to post and publish text, photos, video, and audio galore. Which begs the question for companies: Why not tap into these public resources more often as a free and valuable source of content for your brands and products?
Smart companies are doing exactly that, increasingly relying on user-generated content (UGC) to interest prospective and repeat customers alike with a fresh, genuine appeal that can only come organically from real people and nonprofessional content providers. And research indicates this is the right tactic: Consider that, according to a 2014 study by Ipsos Media CT and Crowdtap, entitled Social Influence: Marketing's New Frontier, millennials spend approximately five hours a day - 30% of their media time - engaged with UGC; this demographic also trusts information received via UGC 50% more than info from other media sources like newspapers, television, and magazines.
Lyle Stevens, cofounder and CEO of MAVRCK, says trust, authenticity, and engagement are three components that make UGC such a powerful tool. "People are up to six times more likely to engage with UGC than brand-generated content," says Stevens. "Think about it - are you more likely to try that new latte from Starbucks because your friend recommended it or because you saw a sponsored post about it scrolling through your newsfeed?"
Another plus: UGC often conveys real-life emotion that can't be replicated or faked.
"For that reason, UGC makes your brand more relatable and experiential. Using UGC in your marketing demonstrates that you value empathy, trust, and the relationship with your audience," says Jake Athey, marketing director for Widen.
Deborah R. Goldring, assistant professor of marketing at the School of Business Administration, Stetson University, says UGC is great for all types of companies/brands, but is particularly well-suited to products that are higher involvement products, such as those that require more shopping and research to make a choice. "UGC has now become a powerful force, especially in business-to-business marketing, where products and services as well as the process to sell these offerings are usually more complex," says Goldring.
Eager to inspire and motivate users to contribute UGC? Try these tips:
- Ask your customers for their ideas. "Find out what kind of content they would like to contribute and on what topics. You'll be surprised how many great ideas you get," says Cassandra Jowett, content marketer for Influitive.
- Target past and existing customers, fans, partners, and influencers. "Send personal emails to influencers in your industry and ask them to write a post or content for you," suggests Ishan Mathur, content head for Indusface.
- Encourage the sharing of tips, advice, best practices, experiences and personal success stories. "Ideally, these are stories where your brand has solved a problem, which is what prospects want to read," says Mathur.
- Promote contests, challenges and events to leverage frequency and regularity, notes Athey. Good examples of brand-sponsored promotions that generated ample UGC (and publicity) include Starbucks' White Cup Contest and Coca-Cola's Share-a-Coke campaign, says Jowett.
- Use hashtags across all customer touch points - digital, print, social mobile, etc.
- Conduct interviews with existing customers over the phone or email and "use the answers to compile a post, testimonial or other type of content," Mathur says.
- Incentivize by offering a coupon, promo code or free sample of a product. "This is a small gesture that goes a long way to inspire posts, reviews and conversion," says Stevens.
- Make it easy. "Ask for user feedback and input and make it easy for users to submit it," recommends Nicholas Einstein, vice president and principal analyst with The Relevancy Group. "Often, users are required to wade through a lengthy registration path, needing to reconfirm email addresses, etc., before responding to a post or commenting on an article. Remove friction from the process by improving the experience for the user."
It's also important to give clear directions and parameters to users when requesting UGC to ensure that users submit usable and appropriate content. "Reserve the right to disqualify UGC as a result of suspicious activity, obscene or distasteful content," says Athey. "Also, facilitate consents to use their image or video and the people in them, and provide a means to verify that they are the owner of the content and have the right to share it."
Be careful, however, not to put too many restrictions on users when it comes to content submission. "Provide advice on size, length and format - such as .jpg or .gif files - but strict guidelines often discourage creativity," says Einstein.
(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)