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The 4 Commandments of Socially-Created Content

In 2006, Carlos Terron was a cook in General Electric’s cafeteria. His wife, Alex, put in long hours as an office manager for a pediatrician. One night they were both recovering from a rough work day, when Carlos wondered out loud, Wouldn’t it be great if we could work for ourselves?” His wife didn’t take this idea lightly. They talked about the reality of doing something like this, and decided to go for it.

With dreams of great success, they invested $48,000 in a truck and opened the El Charrito taco truck in Stamford, CTselling delicious authentic Mexican food.

And the results? Unfortunately, it generated very little business.

Until one day a guy named Adam came to buy a taco. He loved it and wanted another, but he had one problem: He didn’t have the cash to buy another. Alex gave him another one for free and told him to just pay her back when he could. Later on, he paid her back, but he also did much more to repay the favor.

Alex didn’t know it at the time, but Adam was a well-known food blogger for Chowhound. He went back and blogged about El Charrito. The result? Lines of people began to show up. El Charrito is now a very popular destination in Stamford; it has been featured in local media and was even profiled on a ”Best Of” Foods show on the TLC cable channel (where I heard about them).

When we talk about content marketing, we usually think of content that is created by the business itself (the owner or someone on their team). But what we often overlook is some of the most potent content around: customer-created content, or what I would call “social content.”

In the awesome new book, “Grouped: How Small Groups of Friends are the Key to Influence on the Social Web,” author Paul Adams explains exactly why this type of content is so powerful.

He says:

“When people are unsure about how they should act or feel, they observe people around them. This is known as social proof. Research shows that when we observe others, our brains simulate what they are feeling.”  

Later, Adams explains that, “Social proof can be used to show people the preferred course of action or appropriate behavior.”

It reminds me of something Daniel Goleman said in his (also great) book, “Social Intelligence:”

Our brains contain recently discovered cells called “mirror neurons.” These cells act sort of like a neural-WiFi. They are what allow us to pick up on, feel, and mirror what others are feeling. When you observe one person telling an exciting story and see their friend’s face and body begin to respond with similar signs of excitement, that’s the mirror neurons in action!

The way Goleman describes this phenomenon is very powerful: Emotions are contagious.” 

Really think about what these two authors are saying: The most powerful type of influence is when a person shares emotions, actions, and feelings with another. It influences us on a deep, even subconscious, level.

There’s only one problem, though. When you, as a business owner, share something about your business, people aren’t influenced by it like they normally would be in regular conversation. Why? Because they know you want to sell them something, and this puts their guard up. It blocks (or at the least somewhat dulls) the natural influence that goes on between two people.

But, when you add social content to your strategy, things change:

  • When you share case studies, you are allowing prospects to vicariously go through the experience that someone else has had. They get to “feel” the same process and results.
  • When you ask customers to submit testimonials and then share them with your prospects, it will have a much greater impact than your own words about your business ever will.

Would El Charrito ever have become as famous if they just kept telling people their food was awesome? Maybe. But it probably would have taken much longer. One post from food blogger Adam and everything changed. His excitement for their food was contagious and it spread to his community of followers.

If you are looking to encourage this type of social interaction to generate excitement and enthusiasm for your business, here are four ways to prime the pump:

Ask, and you shall receive

Whenever I get an email from someone complimenting one of my products, I ask them if they would mind if I share it with my prospects. Surprisingly, most are glad to do it (in fact, I can’t think of anyone who has ever said, “No”). Social content works the same way:

  • If someone contacts you to compliment your product or service, respond by asking them if they would mind tweeting it out to their followers.
  • Likewise, if someone tweets a compliment to you, then reply or DM them and ask them if they would share the same thing with their friends on Facebook.
  • If they share with you how your product or service has helped them, get their permission to put together a case study about them, which you can post on your website, or submit as a guest post on other sites. As long as you explain how it helps others to see reviews and testimonials from your customers, most will be glad to help you out.

Do unto others

If you want people to tweet about your products or services, then you should make it a point to tweet about others’ products or services that you like. If you want testimonials, then give testimonials — it’s the “Golden Rule” in action.

It’s what Robert Cialdini calls the “rule of reciprocation” in his book, “Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion.”  When people see you do something like this, many people will respond and do the same for you.

Give thanks

When people actually make an effort to socially share their love of your product or service with others, then you better make sure to thank them, sincerely and appreciatively. When you do, it may just encourage them to “pay it forward” for you and others.

  • You can thank them privately (good), or you can thank them publicly (even better).
  • Thank them through your social media channels, or acknowledge them in your email newsletter. They’ll appreciate the acknowledgment, and others will be indirectly encouraged to do them same.

Do amazing things

The last thing I need to add is that if you don’t do something worth sharing, then don’t expect any of the above suggestions to produce any results. If all you do is the same as every other business in your category, then why would anyone want to share about that? You must find ways to impress and amaze people for the above three ways to work. (Remember why Adam blogged about El Charrito in the first place? It was the amazing food and the amazing act of kindness that inspired him.)

Your customers might not be famous bloggers, but they each have a social network they are connected to. When you ask and encourage your fans to share their love of your product or service with others, you’ll never know who or how many they can reach.

And when you get their permission to share their stories as case studies with your prospects, you get to share their excitement about your business with others.

Social content is a powerful tool that must be included in every content marketers toolbox. Make sure it’s in yours.

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Commandments image via Shutterstock