The world of digital marketing can be quite overwhelming at times.
There are dozens and dozens of tactics to potentially employ. There are dozens of channels to utilize. There are new tactics and hacks popping up every day. Social networks are full of self-proclaimed marketing gurus swearing by a certain course of action.
In this kind of an environment, it comes as no surprise that many brands and even many digital marketing agencies sometimes lose the plot and scatter their focus all over the place.
As an antidote to all the popular and over-promoted digital marketing strategies out there, let’s take an in-depth look at a slightly “older” tactic that is efficient, effective, measurable, trackable, and likely to produce some excellent results.
That’s user-generated content.
User-generated content (or UGC) is any kind of content that is created by regular people, as opposed to brands. These people are often fans of the brand and choose to post about it on social media, although posts and videos on their own websites can also fall into the UGC category.
These posts should not be confused with sponsored posts and paid promotion, where a brand pays a certain person to promote their product – UGC is not paid for, which automatically means it is more genuine and authentic.
Now that we know what user-generated content is, let’s explore why you should be using it as a part of your digital marketing strategy:
Internet users and consumers are 2.4 times more likely to consider user-generated content authentic as opposed to content created by brands. The reasoning behind this fact is clear: brands will only ever push their agenda and promote their own product or service. A customer who is sharing a photo or a video of a product is not paid to do so, has no personal interest in the promotion, and is therefore considered more likely to be truthful.
When a customer shares their personal experience with a brand, it is likely to be trusted. People like to see what they can expect to get before purchasing a product, signing up for a service, or visiting a certain location (whether it is a trip to Patagonia or a dinner at the local deli).
Again, as brand promotion is considered automatically skewed (after all, what brand would advertise the negative of their product or service?), user-generated content inspires more trust than the promotion done by that same brand.
As people spend more and more time on social media, and as social media has such an incredible impact on the decisions people make, it’s no wonder that the choice to make a purchase is easily made after seeing someone’s image or video.
A lot of social media influencers speak about the hundreds of messages they get from people asking them where they bought something (i.e., an item they are not paid to advertise). Regular people get the same questions from their followers, but they just don’t brag about the fact as loudly.
The logic is simple – we might glimpse the kind of mug we’ve been searching for in the background of a friend’s Instagram photo. We then simply shoot them a DM, get a link to the product, and proceed to place our order.
User-generated content comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Let’s look at the most popular among them, and how you can use them in your campaigns.
Reviews are the opinions of users who have purchased a certain product or service or have had a certain experience with a brand. They can be published on the brand’s Google profile (a very popular space to leave reviews), on websites that specifically deal with reviewing products/services/experiences, or they can even be published on social media, in blog form, and so on.
On the other hand, testimonials are the reviews published by brands on their own websites, profiles, and other marketing material. They are practically always overall positive, and serve to entice other consumers to make a purchasing decision or convert in another way.
The best way to use these reviews is to display them prominently on your website. This will allow every visitor to get a glimpse of how other people have found your product or service, and it will also give a bit of a boost to the people who’ve left you the review. Here is an example from Zoma, a mattress brand that does this very well.
Social media remains one of the most popular outlets for user-generated content, where it can take on practically any form: a tweet, an image, a story, a video, a live, a blurb.
This kind of content has the most spontaneous conversion effect. After all, a lot of conversions don’t happen because a person was looking for a recommendation (although that can also be the case), but simply when they were scrolling through their feed.
There are a couple of ways to make good use of these kinds of user-generated posts.
First of all, you can add a section to your website that showcases these photos. There are plugins you can use if you run a WordPress website to connect Instagram or any other social media platform.
Make sure to repost some of this amazing content your users are sharing. Most of them will tag you to get your attention (and to tell their own followers where a product can be found), but you can also just search for your brand name with or without a hashtag on the platform. Here is an example from Gili Sports, which showcases plenty of their customers using their boards in all kinds of locations across the globe. The customers tag the brand in their posts. And then the brand features some in their posts, and also on their website.
Although it’s technically a subsection of social media posts, video content is somewhat different from the usual social media post.
First of all, it is often longer (an IGTV post, a YouTube video), and it can talk about more than one product in the same breath. Think of the videos some people post on their channels, or the vlogs in which people mention a certain product or experience.
Sharing some of these formats will be easier (for example, you can easily do a story pointing to someone’s IGTV), but you may not find a more straightforward way to mention someone’s YouTube video than to actually post a link to it on your feed (or in a story).
For example, supplement brand Elemental Labs gets a lot of attention from various fitness videos on YouTube and Instagram. And they can then utilize these reviews on their own channels by sharing and mentioning them. This provides a bit more credibility, as they are not pushing their own brand message, but letting the product speak for itself.
While communities and forums don’t usually exclusively deal with the reviewing of products and services (although some certainly do), they are often a great place to ask for opinions before making a purchasing decision.
No matter what you are interested in (travel, skiing, weightlifting, gardening, collecting Mickey Mouse mugs), there’s most likely a forum or another type of community where you can chat with people who have similar interests.
As a brand, you can browse some of these communities and thank the people who are recommending and reviewing you. You can also ask them if you can post their review on your own website.
Let’s briefly mention another type of user-generated content, but this time one that you can inspire and kick off.
When running a contest on social media, a lot of brands choose to establish a hashtag that the audience will need to use to enter the contest. This is, first of all, a great way to keep all entrants in one place, making it easier to determine the winner. Better yet, it’s also a great way to inspire users to create unique content mentioning your product, which you can then also share and promote to your followers.
This not only helps your brand access new content that is trusted and considered reliable, but it’s also a way for these fans of yours to get some exposure. After all, you may have a much bigger audience than theirs, and one image can be all it takes for them to get noticed and grow their following.
Now that you know what formats and types of content you can expect and how best to use them, let’s share some additional tips for your next campaign to run as smoothly as possible:
As with any digital marketing campaign, you need to set a goal regarding your efforts to promote user-generated content. After all, this is not a format you will ever truly have ownership of, so knowing what you want to achieve and how is an additional must.
The goals you can choose to set include:
Increasing engagement – Getting more comments, likes, and mentions is a great way to track the success of your campaign.
Educate users – You can keep track of the questions people ask you before you begin a campaign, and see if these questions change after you have provided some answers.
Increase brand awareness – If your mentions, traffic, search for your name or associated keywords go up, you’re on the right track.
Save time on generating content – UGC can be a very useful way to get the chance to allocate the resources you normally spend on content elsewhere.
Since there are dozens of social media and other platforms you can choose to run a UGC campaign on, you don’t want to spread yourself thin in an effort to achieve the same results on all of them. Choose one and run a campaign there, and if that goes well, you can branch out.
Here’s a quick rundown of the most popular formats on all the major social media platforms:
Facebook is good for video content and video stories. This kind of content will usually get the most traction.
Twitter is great for images and punchy lines, and a campaign here can blow up quickly.
Instagram is the absolute best all-round. Both images and video go down extremely well, and the swipe up option is a great way to provide access to products directly.
LinkedIn is great for articles and opinions. Naturally, it requires a bit more work than other networks, in the sense that the content needs to be thought-provoking and well crafted.
When running this kind of campaign, it is paramount to set down some rules straight away. First, the internet is full of trolls, and you don’t want to attract any of them. And secondly, having specific rules in place will ensure you get just the kind of content you’re looking for.
Tell your audience whether you’re looking for images or videos. Tell them what hashtags to use to get your attention and which profile to tag you on. Tell them what to feature – reviews, products in action, product comparisons, and so on.
All of this will make your job of sharing this content a lot easier.
Yes, UGC is a great way to cut down on the costs of content production, but this doesn’t mean you can just blatantly use the work of others for your own ends.
If you have set out a clear way for users to submit content, make sure you also tell them how much of it you will be sharing (most likely, you won’t be able to share every post). If there are no clear guidelines, make sure you ask first whether you may reshare something. If you have clearly been tagged and mentioned, you can perhaps forgo the ask and just repost, but make sure you always tag and thank the original poster.
Some people will want something in return when you ask to post their content. This can be a product or a service (which you can choose to provide or not), or it can be a mention or a feature. Don’t rise to every bait, and don’t give away a whole lot of products for free if that was not your intention. You don’t have to work with everyone every time.
Finally, don’t forget that you also need to keep monitoring and reviewing your results. How else would you know if the campaign is working?
As you have set out some goals before embarking on this adventure, you need to remember to check how much progress you’ve made. Depending on the scope of your campaign and the size of your brand, once a week or even once a month will be more than enough to check in and see how the numbers are faring. Don’t become overly obsessed and keep looking at the results every day.
Also, make sure you are using the proper tools for the task. The analytics tool of the social network you’ve chosen will often do the trick, and you can always look in your Analytics to check how many visitors and conversions you’ve attracted. You can also use some third-party tools to compare results.
Now that you’re armed with plenty of knowledge about user-generated content, all you need to do is run your first campaign. Don’t give up if it doesn’t go exactly to plan, and keep testing and trying until you’re satisfied with the results.