Are you down with UGC?
It’s not just another content marketing buzzword. It’s naughty and unpredictable by nature. And it wants your brand to come out and play.
You don’t have to be naughty. But you do need to understand the nature of how it works and how it will evolve.
UGC is the acronym for user-generated content. But let’s be real: Can you say “user-generated content” aloud without squirming due to the tone that your all-knowing marketing mouth gives it?
So let’s swap the overly professional voice of “user-generated content” into what it actually means in today’s content environment: Undeniable, Glorious Connection. Say that aloud. You feel better already, right?
So, now that we’re on good terms with our fun new acronym, let’s understand the evolution of UGC – and how to make it work for your content marketing strategy.
Glorious (dis)connection: The early days
UGC was born into the mainstream around 2005. It gained rapid popularity among Internet users because of the instant gratification factor: It allowed users to quickly broadcast their text, audio, video, and images on large content platforms like YouTube and Facebook.
But the early UGC attempts by brands and publishers too often looked like the ugly Seinfeld baby – crying, ugly, and a little off. These companies would use UGC to start two-way interactions with customers, but the end result usually appeared as if they were trying way too hard (and executing it all wrong).
For example, some companies paid people to talk about their products or bought fake customer reviews (which still happens on user-review sites such as Yelp). They hoped the positive posts would create customer trust, but often experienced the opposite effect.
Liken a company that pays for UGC to that friend on Facebook who always shares information about nutritional shakes. More than likely, she’s sharing this information because she’s being paid by the company or receives income through affiliate sales. Either way, you know she’s not just sharing the information out of the goodness of her heart.
In other words, experience has revealed that sincerity isn’t just ideal for successful UGC; it’s crucial.
A major shift has started bringing about a new, prettier UGC. Now, customers are slowly beginning to trust UGC again, mostly because of a rise in transparency.
Also, not only are potential contributors less likely to accept (or be offered) payment, they are more likely to share their authentic ideas. This is especially true of commerce sites such as Amazon, Netflix, and Groupon, where user reviews are requested after almost every purchase.
Ahh, trust regained on the Internet. Now we’re feeling good. And the studies prove it: According to Nielsen, online consumer reviews are the second most-trusted source of brand information and messaging.
In other words, your best UGC should be front and center in your content strategy. For brands that don’t traditionally collect user reviews, consider obtaining a few testimonials from notable or loyal clients.
Power to the (pretty) people
Content marketers should take notice of this brave, open world. For example, UGC (aka undeniable, glorious connection) that comes from social influencers can be a huge boon to content strategy.
Why? Because content marketing isn’t just about content. It’s about connection. When influencers connect over conversations about your product or service, you’re more likely to make a sale at that moment or in the future when customers need your type of product.
Let’s take a look at how to execute UGC for your brand:
1. Answer the “how”
Before you start writing a UGC strategy, dive deep into your customers’ heads and figure out how you want to connect with them.
Here are some questions to get started:
- Do you want your user-generated content to inform or entertain? Hint: The best companies flawlessly inform while entertaining.
- Where do your customers hang out? For example, users hang out on YouTube for different reasons than those who hang out on Twitter or Facebook.
- Why will your customers be creating content? Product expertise? Self-expression? Social interaction? Or maybe they hope to win a prize?
Knowing the “why” behind what you’re doing will help you form a clear, effective strategy.
2. Focus on quality, quality, quality
After you determine how you want to approach UGC, quality is the next thing to evaluate.
Put on the shoes of your potential contributors. Let’s say you’re a professional photographer and a camera company is running a photography contest. The company wants its customers (you) to submit their best photographs. While you peruse the other submissions, you notice that the pictures are not beautiful. At this point, you assume that the contest is for amateurs and choose not to submit your photography. In the worst case scenario, you become turned off to the company entirely because you think it sells products for amateur photographers.
According to the Journal of Electronic Commerce Research, high-quality content strongly influences the undeniable, glorious connection that companies should strive to achieve. It may seem superficial, but the power of pretty pictures (and high-quality everything) should never be underestimated.
And while you can’t eliminate all low-quality photos in UGC campaigns, you can establish a few ground rules or tips to reduce the risk. For example, tell users to submit photos with only one main subject in them.
3. Create a holistic strategy
Integrating UGC into your social media maximizes brand loyalty. For example, eyewear company Warby Parker proactively listens to its customers on all social channels and runs multiple UGC campaigns in a year. It even encourages users to model their new specs and post to their social channels, creating fun and entertaining content.
You can also cultivate online conversations by using a hashtag on Instagram or Twitter. Just make sure that someone from your company is monitoring these hashtags and engaging with your customers. This will help you understand the motivations of your customers and what they’re saying about your brand, both of which are incredibly important.
Most importantly, UGC is one of the best options for adding some fun. Remember: If your customers perceive your content as interesting, they’re more likely to connect with your company (online and offline) in the future.
Whether your company is seeking to connect more deeply or bring in more sales, it’s undeniable: User-generated content is glorious for connecting.
Following best practices for your user-generated content is a must. Learn about other content marketing best practices in two free e-courses. These are part of CMI’s comprehensive Online Training & Certification Program, which contains over 19 hours of must-know strategies, tactics, and best practices, delivered by leading experts. Sign up now.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute