Content marketing is nothing new. At this point, content marketing is a defined part of many marketing strategies for existing organizations. While content marketing is important, it’s useful to step back and allow your customers to also contribute to your content strategy as well.
How does this work, and why does it matter? When your customers are involved in creating your content, it’s called user-generated content. The benefits can be enormous, especially for customer engagement.
User-generated content (UGC) is a catchall term for any content that’s created by a third-party with some connection to your brand. This could be anyone from a customer to a fan or someone who uses your products and services.
In most cases, UGC is not paid for by your organization. Although there are examples of paid content, such as sponsored social media posts or YouTube video reviews, these are not the purest form of UGC. When marketers talk about UGC, they are almost always referring to content made for free by people outside of your organization.
Whether you recognize it or not, you likely interact with UGC on a regular basis, possibly even daily. Some companies rely heavily on UGC by creating a place for people to share and consume information. Social media platforms are an extreme example of a business model that is entirely dependent on UGC to keep their audience engaged.
Most of the UGC you interact with is likely more subtle, but still highly important to the success of the company using it. UGC can be used in marketing campaigns, core to the business model, or even as a secondary service separate from the main service a company provides.
A few common types of UGC include:
People love to tell stories about companies, products, services, or brands that they feel connected to. Stories make great UGC because they’re very personal and relatable. Sometimes brands ask for stories and other times people post them without prompting.
People who purchase or use a product or service often have the option to leave a review about it, either on the site where they made the purchase or on a third-party site. Wherever someone leaves a review that talks about a specific company, product, or service, this is considered a form of UGC. Companies like Yelp and Amazon rely heavily on this kind of UGC.
If you’ve ever visited a blog, magazine, or other publishing platform and read or watched something that was made by another person, this is likely a form of UGC. The easiest example is guest posts on a blog. These are unpaid blog posts written by a third-party for someone else. Although the writer is often getting something in return, whether it’s exposure or “link juice”, they are willingly contributing a blog post to another site over which they have no control.
When your branded social media accounts make a post or you publish something on your websites, you might receive comments. Comments themselves are a form of UGC and can be utilized as a part of a marketing campaign.
Whichever category UGC falls into, it comes in many different forms. You can get:
Not all UGC looks the same, and it’s not all useful or relevant to you at any particular moment. The trick to harnessing UGC and getting some benefit out of it is directing the flow of information into something that emphasizes a specific message. Customer engagement is the easiest outlet for UGC and the area where you can often get the most relevant contributions from third parties.
Customer engagement happens when people, especially those who are your existing customers or your target market, interact with your organization. Interactions can be as personal as a direct conversation or as distant as a click on the “read more” button to see the entirety of a Facebook post. Someone listening to your podcast or tuning into your webinar would also be considered customer engagement even though you might not notice them engaging with your brand.
There is a whole spectrum of Customer Experience Management, all of which plays into your marketing and sales funnels. In the beginning of a relationship with a new lead, every interaction matters because it means that person is actively initiating a response or responding to something you do. What you offer them in exchange can help determine if they become your customer or not.
Similarly, interactions with people who are farther along in the funnel also have an impact on conversions, retention, and even the general public opinion of your brand (your goodwill).
No matter where someone sits on your radar, UGC can play an essential role in your marketing, PR, account management, and sales. There are a few significant ways that UGC impacts customer engagement.
UGC is a powerful tool for building long term customer relationships. People love interacting with brands that listen and boost their customer’s voices. UGC helps to strengthen the relationship between you and your customers by:
Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame. The feeling of being acknowledged by a company forms a positive connection in your mind, even if the brand is simply reaching out to say thanks for posting a picture with their product.
Coca Cola is a great example of how these emotional connections build brand loyalty. Their “Share a Coke” campaign generated enormous amounts of user content worldwide. This marketing campaign, launched originally in 2011, involved Coke bottles with common names printed on the label. People searched far and wide to find a bottle with their name on it, often posting pictures on social media when they found one.
People finding their names on a Coke bottle felt a moment of recognition. An emotional connection was formed or strengthened between Coke and their customers worldwide, which was reinforced over and over again as people continued posting pictures with their named bottles.
One of the most important parts of UGC is providing your customers with a place to be heard. By recognizing and boosting what your customers are saying, or by simply giving them a place to speak, you’re lending your platform to them and helping them to be heard. When people feel heard by a company, they are more likely to develop a positive association with that company that endures.
The other major benefit from giving your audience a platform for their voice through UGC is the validation you get in return. When you as a company promote yourself, the immediate reaction is one of mistrust from your audience. Marketing is inherently untrustworthy in the eyes of today’s consumers.
By boosting your customer’s voices, you’re benefiting from allowing your customers to speak on your behalf. Research from BrightLocal shows that 89% of people aged 35-54 and 81% of people aged 18-34 trust online reviews for businesses. Those aged 55+ are more skeptical of online reviews, with 39% saying they don’t trust reviews.
If your target audience is between the ages of 18-54, there’s a good chance they’re paying attention to reviews and information posted about your business by others. Having a good number of reviews, personal stories, recommendations, and mentions from your customers helps to add authenticity to what you’re offering. Outside voices are almost always trusted more than voices from within your company itself.
When you put together the emotional connection, the voice of the customer and the authenticity their voices lend to your brand, the relationship between you and your customers will grow.
There are countless studies done about the cost of retaining existing customers versus acquiring new ones. While the exact figures vary in every industry, location, and market environment, the consistent result is that it’s always more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to retain existing customers.
This makes sense logically. While existing customers already have some knowledge of your company, new customers must be identified and reached from scratch. It takes more time, energy, and resources to find and make contact with new customers, especially considering it often takes multiple interactions with a person to convert them into a new customer.
UGC helps you retain customers at a higher rate through two benefits. First, the connection people develop with your brand promotes repeat purchases and brand loyalty. When people have an emotional connection to a company, they are less likely to switch to buying from another company.
Another way UGC helps you retain your customers is by giving you insight into how they think of your products. Tapping into UGC is like getting access to free focus groups made up of the people who actually use your products or services. People will openly tell you what they think, including what they love and what they might change.
When you pay attention to what your customers are saying, you can refine what you offer to better match what your actual customers want. By allowing your customers to chime in and listening closely to what they’re saying, you can get valuable information while also demonstrating to people that you care about their opinions.
User-generated content has been used very successfully as a marketing tool for global brands and smaller companies alike. Dove is one of the go-to companies in terms of taking UGC and running with it. Their #BeautyStory campaign started out as a celebration of mothers for Mother’s Day and continued to evolve into something larger, building strong bonds with customers and making the brand personal.
In this campaign, Dove asked people to send a picture of their mother with a beauty tip passed down to them. Thousands of women responded, and Dove posted their pictures and stories on a dedicated gallery page of their website, highlighting some stories to share on social media as well.
This collection of UGC helped Dove to make a personal connection with many women around the world. People were touched by the campaign, it encouraged open conversations between customers and the company, and it allowed people to see Dove through the lens of personal experience and stories. Overall, this campaign helped Dove build up their reputation by emphasizing their focus on #RealBeauty while simultaneously strengthening their customer loyalty.
Customer engagement is a huge part of UGC. By its very nature, UGC is engaging because it comes directly from your customers, audience, users, etc. However, to really see the return on your investment you need to take steps to turn that engagement into action.
Customers engaging with your brand is a great first step. The more engagement you get, the more opportunities you have to draw people in and turn them from visitors to customers.
Take a few queues from SEO (search engine optimization) strategies and work on conversion before you get a larger audience through your customer engagement efforts. Focus on a few areas specifically:
If people engage with your social media content, ads, or other marketing materials, where do they end up? You should always have a purpose behind your UGC. If that purpose is to stimulate interest in a product, a specific campaign, a service, or otherwise, you should have a dedicated landing page for it.
That landing page should address your audience directly, providing clear information and bringing them in the loop. A well laid out landing page that gets the message across can help transform extra website visitors into customers rather than just idle onlookers.
UGC is a great addition to your marketing, relationship building, and customer engagement. It’s better if you call to do all of this while also providing some kind of value to you the people you’re engaging with.
If people come to you with complaints when you ask questions, are you addressing their complaints with excellent customer service?
When people tell their personal stories, are you offering them a gift to say thank you?
It’s not all about what you’re doing to reciprocate for the UGC, but also the value you’re providing as a company. Customers should be able to reasonably expect to receive a product or service that’s worth the value they’re exchanging for it. Make sure that however you utilize UGC, you never lose sight of providing value to your customers first and foremost.
During your communications with customers and after they arrive on your pages, are you using effective call to actions (CTAs) or opt-ins to get people more officially connected to your company?
Make it as easy as possible for people to do the action you want them to do. If they need support or further contact, streamline that process as well with useful live chat software, online calling options, accessible main phone numbers, and any other method of contact that makes sense.
The point is to make it as seamless as possible for people to do what you ask them to do. If your CTA is to make a purchase, let the associated button lead directly to a dedicated landing page or to your online shopping cart. If the CTA is to contact your company, let it immediately provide a way to get in touch. If you want them to sign up for your email list, give them a reason to do it.
CTAs and opt-ins are you asking something of your customers, audience, page visitors, etc. Because you’re relying on them to take the next step, it’s in your best interest to remove any obstacles that might cause them to reconsider.
Customer engagement is important. UGC can help you get more engagement, leading to more attention, interest, and loyalty for your brand over time. Take that momentum and put it towards transforming that engagement into conversions that add to your bottom line.
User-generated content is a great resource to help you build your company through increased customer engagement. Higher customer engagement leads to many different benefits, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish with it. Stimulate user-generated content to grow your customer engagement while simultaneously projecting authenticity and allowing your customers a place to speak.
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