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A Practical Guide to Leveraging User-Generated Content

They say people are a company’s greatest asset. This is true about employees, and it’s extra true when it comes to a loyal, engaged customer base.

When someone really loves your brand, they’re more likely to talk about it—that’s obvious. From a marketing perspective, this can be an incredible boon, as it opens the door to a valuable form of content: user-generated content.

User-generated content (UGC), simply put, is any content created and distributed by unpaid fans of a product or service. It very often comes in the form of social media posts, either organically created or prompted by the brand itself.

To understand the significance of UGC, it's important to understand its origins. Brand marketing is completely different from what it once was. A lot of that has to do with an evolving audience as tech-dependent Millennials and Gen Yers step into some of the most sought-after buyer demographics.

The influence of the Web on these generations’ buying habits—and, let’s face it, those of their predecessors—plays a huge role here.

In fact, 71% of people say customer reviews make them more comfortable about buying a product. For brand marketers trying engage audiences more authentically to nurture sales, it’s a no-brainer to foster the creation of UGC—and use it wisely.

So, how exactly do you leverage UGC to turn customers into full-blown brand ambassadors? And why should you invest time and energy in this trend?

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The Psychology Behind User-Generated Content

The effectiveness of UGC comes down to social proof. Social proof is a psychological concept which states that people emulate the actions of others in order to be like them or reap similar benefits.

The most effective social proof strategy is using peer examples. By playing into peer representation, you can create FOMO—the Fear of Missing Out.

Remember, people buy things for a few reasons:

  • To solve a problem
  • To fulfill a need
  • To support a cause
  • To say something about themselves

Seeing large groups of like-minded individuals with similar pain points or goals benefitting from a product or service can be incredibly convincing. UGC creates the perfect opportunity through testimonials, blog posts, video reviews, and more.

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It's a Matter of Trust

It all boils down to one large issue that a lot of us don’t like to admit: Consumers don’t trust marketers. It’s not an easy pill to swallow, but it’s why some brands who try too hard ultimately fail hard.

That’s why when customers find a brand that they believe to be authentic, it can override common objections like price point. According to a Cohn & Wolf study, 63% of consumers would rather buy from an authentic company vs. a less authentic competitor.

CohnWolfe-Important-Behaviors-Company-to-Display-Nov2014

More than ever before, consumers take to heart how the brands they support reflect on them as people. This study showcases this perfectly. When issues like honesty, integrity, and communication are topping the list of things consumers are looking for, it becomes clear that they want to associate with brands that have the same values as them.

UGC allows a business to showcase authenticity because it’s a form of communication that exists outside the chain of corporate command, i.e. not created by copywriters and CMOs. It’s content created by people for people. As such it, allows prospects to connect with the brand on a more human level.

Think of it like dating. If someone approaches you in a bar and starts chatting with you, there may be some skepticism at first. But when someone you know or trust approaches you and says, “Hey, come meet my friend, I think you’d hit it off,” it can make the interaction more genuine.

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The Most Effective for User-Generated Content

The beauty of modern technology is that there are so many venues available for people to advocate for their favorite things. By understanding which platforms are the most effective for organic sharing, brands can find positive content generated by their audience, receive permission from the creators, and share it.

Instagram

This platform boasts the highest engagement level for photos and videos. Companies can search for their own username or hashtags related to their brand or product, and then reach out to users to share their content.

How you share UGC on Instagram depends on how you use the platform in general. There are apps like Repost that allow you to “regram” a post with an attribution on the image, or you can simply share a user’s post to your Instagram story.

UGC_Starbucks

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Some brands even create whole interactive (i.e. “swipe up”) stories and ad campaigns using fans’ Instagram photos and videos (with permission, obviously).

This comes with two benefits, as you can save on creative production costs and have one-on-one engagements with those users.

Twitter

A whopping 326 million people use Twitter every month, making it one of the best places to find UGC. When people have an experience with a company, there’s a good chance that they will tweet about it (for better or worse) right then and there.

You can collect UGC by doing a broad hashtag search having to do with your business. You should also be pushing out hashtags in your marketing materials to encourage users to submit feedback via Twitter.


The retweet function is super useful here, as you can share people’s interactions with your brand or hashtag in real-time. And of course, as with Instagram, you can DM participants for permission to use their contributions in larger campaigns.

Pinterest

Pinterest is a fantastic place both for branded marketing and finding UGC. A massive 93% of Pinterest users make online purchases, and people referred by Pinterest are actually 10 times more likely to buy a product they saw on the platform.

Pinterest_statistics

(image source)

This platform differs slightly from Instagram and Twitter in that the focus isn’t on content creation so much as it is on content curation. As users carefully curate their boards, whether for inspiration or planning, they are amplifying the brands whose products they’re pinning—not to mention, lending those products a certain air of aspiration.

Basically, Pinterest is a veritable goldmine for UGC, especially in specific industries like home and garden, fashion, beauty, and luxury goods. In fact, 98% of Pinterest users report that they try new things that they discover on the platform.

YouTube

More than 75% of YouTube users share videos of products and services they love, according to a report generated by Google. YouTube content is highly effective and easily shareable, and the platform has an entire network of influencers with massive followings.

You can reach out to content creators for sponsorships, of course, but that will always lack the authenticity that makes UGC so valuable. And for the most part, people aren’t going to YouTube for the ads—aside from being entertained, they often search to learn something, solve a problem, or see something in action to inform a decision.

YT_statistics

(image source)

If you’re lucky enough to have people making videos featuring your products or services without prompting, you can reach out and ask for permission to feature their work on a blog or on your website. It’s also a good idea to share these videos on your social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

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Find Customers Sharing User-Generated Content

User-generated is only effective to your marketing efforts if you can find it. The most effective means of doing this is through social listening, wherein you monitor social media and do periodic searches for mentions of your product or service.

Don’t just grab content and share it without permission. This could anger the user and make your brand look like it’s taking advantage. It could even open you up to legal issues if you’re using original content in marketing campaigns without consent.

Engage with these customers and ask for their permission to share their content. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also opens the door to have a positive, one-on-one interaction with them. It’s a great customer experience that they’ll be likely to share with their own followers.

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Invite Customers to Share More

Of course, you shouldn’t just sit around and wait for customers to start creating content about your brand—you might be waiting a long, long time.

Luckily, there are some creative ways to encourage them to start producing it.

The most straightforward method is to launch a contest where users must include a specific hashtag on their post about your product or service, which makes it easily trackable and shareable. You can sweeten the deal by offering giveaways to those who create the best content.

You can then curate that content with permission and fold it into your existing marketing campaigns.

Speaking of which...

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Using UGC in Larger Campaigns

User-generated content can indeed be used in larger campaigns that go beyond retweeting and regramming. In fact, some of the largest brands in the world have leveraged user-generated content for massive marketing ventures.

One great example is Netflix. The streaming giant encouraged users to create Instagram posts hyping up some of their original programming to show what they were excited about. They then curated the best of the best and shared them.

Here’s an example from the revival of Gilmore Girls:


Then there was Starbucks and their #WhiteCupContest back in 2014. The company asked people to send in photos of their original decorations on a reusable white cup.

More than 4,000 customers entered, and the winning design was made available for a limited time purchase.

Starbucks_UGC

(image source)

This campaign occurred more than five years ago and people still talk about it. That's perfect proof that you can leverage UGC and the creativity of your fans to create a truly memorable experience.

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Conclusion

Today’s consumers don’t want to be talked at—they want to be talked to, and they want to take a more active role in how brands intersect with their lives.

Giving them the opportunity to talk about their experience with your product or service allows them to feel both seen and heard while also connecting other like-minded individuals doing the same.

User-generated content can inspire brand loyalty and act as a tipping point for purchase decisions, allowing users to envision themselves benefitting from what you have to offer and lending a human touch to their interaction with your brand.

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