It might be hard to imagine, but there was a time when people got the bulk of their news and information from one primary source. Whether that information came from your daily newspaper, favorite radio station or TV channel — you had limited options for content consumption. Back then, user-generated content was unheard of. The centralization of information was, in part, caused by technological limitations that made it difficult and costly to create and disseminate content.
That paradigm has shifted drastically over the last decade, and more people than ever are creating, sharing and engaging with content across the endless spectrum of mediums.
For instance, ESPN was widely considered the leader for breaking sports news — however, people are now going on Twitter to get the latest updates from reporters in real-time. ESPN was also known for their detailed audio, video and web content. However, other niche blogs, podcasts and social media channels are gaining popularity as prime sports news and entertainment channels because of their ability to showcase a seemingly endless stream of diverse voices and viewpoints. You can now cut out the middleman and follow your favorite athletes directly on social platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
User-generated content is changing the way people create and consume content, and brands can either fight the shift — or embrace it.
What is user-generated content?
User-generated content is an ambiguous term. The simplest definition is content created for or about a brand by anyone other than the brand itself. These content creators can be consumers, internal employees, contractors, vendors or anyone familiar with the brand.
The content format and medium can be equally flexible. Users can create and share videos, reviews, images, social media posts, articles, or any other form of content — and they can distribute the content on hundreds of platforms.
To better understand user-generated content, simply look at Facebook. The entire platform is designed to leverage user-generated content. Once you create an account, you follow other users to see their posts, you create your own content and push it out to your followers, and everyone that’s connected can share, like or comment on each other’s content. It’s user-generated content overload — and it’s one of the most powerful brands in the world.
Why is user-generated content important?
Simply put, user-generated content is more trustworthy than branded content. As a brand, it’s extremely difficult for content consumers to trust what you say — no matter how objective the message or engaging the approach.
In fact, one study from Salesforce found that 54 percent of respondents trust content from their peers and only 20 percent trust information coming from the brand. Another study revealed that 85 percent of consumers prefer visuals provided from users over images or videos provided by a brand. And, a final study shows that 75 percent of respondents feel that user-generated content makes marketing more authentic.
The reason is not too complex — we’re conditioned to expect ulterior motives from brand messaging, but we let down our barriers for people with whom we have a rapport.
How can user-generated content help your business?
Because user-generated content is such a powerful way to engage consumers, it’s important for businesses to harness it. Knowing how to use user-generated content strategically to hit business objectives is challenging and will depend on a lot of variables — such as whether you operate an eCommerce store or brick-and-mortar business, whether you sell a product or service, and the size of your marketing budget, among others.
Generally speaking, here are three ways for businesses to harness the power of user-generated content.
1. Use reviews to provide more context
Reviews are arguably the most important form of user-generated content. In fact, 64 percent of consumers will seek out reviews before they make a purchase. Regardless of your industry, business model or offering, reviews of your business will affect public perception.
If they find several high ratings with glowing reviews, they will view your business in a positive light and expect a great experience. However, if they see a lot of poor reviews, they will be hesitant to move forward with your business.
Incentivize your customers to leave reviews — especially if you know they had a great experience. These reviews, along with photos if applicable, will help your business tap into the value of user-generated content.
As a side note, your employees can also leave reviews about your business on a site like Glassdoor. This user-generated content provides context to the work-life at your business and its management — which can be useful when recruiting quality employees or developing strategic business partnerships.
2. Use influencers to drive brand equity
Influencer marketing is an exciting online marketing discipline. Everyone from Nike to your local coffee shop is using this new strategy to get their business in front of more targeted viewers and break through the wall that comes with marketing communications.
Influencer marketing is a unique form of user-generated content because it typically involves some collaboration between the brand and the user creating or delivering the content.
This arms-length relationship does affect the content’s authenticity — but if executed properly, influencer-generated content can provide brands with incredible returns.
Businesses can leverage influencers to create and promote content through several formats. The easiest way to partner with influencers is through a monetized relationship. This partnership involves your brand paying an influencer to create a piece of content that highlights your product or service.
Another relationship can involve a quid pro quo. This partnership might involve your company sending an influencer a free sample of your product that they use / demonstrate on their social channels. One example is partnering with an influencer who features your product in an “unboxing” video.
Note: Make sure your influencer follows FTC guidelines for disclosures with any piece of content they post.
3. Use your loyal customers to build a community
One of the underlying values of user-generated content that is often overlooked is the impact it has on developing your brand’s tribe. Consumers have an innate desire to be loyal to brands that meet or exceed their expectations. In fact, 65 percent of your company’s business comes from existing customers.
Brands can harness this loyalty and empower their satisfied customers to become brand advocates. Provide your customers with the tools and resources they need to speak on behalf of your company.
For instance, Google recently added a Q&A feature. to their local business listings that allows potential consumers to ask questions directly on the listing. The most interesting caveat to this feature is that it’s not intended for businesses to answers those questions — it’s designed for current or past customers to respond. Try monitoring the Q&A for your local listing and reach out to satisfied customers when you see a question that they could answer.
Get creative with your loyal customers and incentivize them to become brand advocates.
Getting started with user-generated content
There are several opportunities for businesses large and small to benefit from user-generated content. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to get started — and you likely have users creating content about your brand already.
As you set out to harness user-generated content, remember that it starts first with delivering the value that you promise to your end users.
You can always use strategies to promote more favorable user-generated content, but if you are consistently exceeding your customers’ expectations, the user-generated content will occur naturally.