​Why it's time your brand leveraged user-generated content

We look at how marketers serious about boosting customer engagement and brand loyalty are embracing the power of user-generated content

Today’s social media culture and the dominance of the online marketplace has seen customers no longer asking brands for information about products, but each other.

And as customers now turn to online product feedback and ratings scores, social media reviews, blogger reviews, forums and chat pages, brands are increasingly turning to user-generated content (UGC) as a way of delivering highly engaging, positive content that stands out from the crowd.

One of the more obvious reasons is because customers are switching off from traditional ads on social. According to managing director of brand communications agency Hard Edge, Andrew Hardwick, about $20 billion a year is wasted by marketers as social media turn off advertising that simply doesn’t interest them.

“The benefits of UGC are that you will have a more engaged audience than traditional advertising, as the audience has approved their interest,” he told CMO. “Your brand becomes customer-centric and builds a community around it, giving you the ability to make your customer the star and your biggest advocate.”

A recent study by Salesforce revealed 92 per cent of consumers trust online content from friends and family above all other forms of brand messages and 50 per cent of consumers find UGC more memorable than brand-produced content.

“UGC is a content strategy that encourages consumers to share their experiences with a brand, which in turn shares the experiences with other consumers through digital channels,” Australian Marketing Institute CEO, Lee Tonitto, said. “Consumers trust content produced by their peers far more than what is created by marketers, and they reward brands that deliver UGC with engagement.”

UGC content such as Instagram and Facebook posts are now increasingly popular way for brands to promote themselves, particularly on mobile devices, influencer marketing agency Hypetap’s co-founder, Detch Singh, said. Hypetap produces a platform to help marketers manage their influencers in order to shape authentic content.

“This is a popular best practice because it’s a useful way to bring products and services to life using real people and places, as opposed to overly manufactured promotional imagery, which consumers are becoming desensitised to,” he claimed.

Build direct, authentic and transparent relationships with customers

Experts agreed user-generated content has become vital in a world where brands are increasingly building direct, authentic and transparent relationships with customers.

“UGC is often found more trustworthy and memorable than other sources, so if you have an ‘always-on’ UGC strategy you will increase transparency and honesty that empowers your clients and users to have their voice heard,” local managing director of global production house Chimney Group, Bo Thorp, said. “Useful insights and knowledge, great content, increased dialogue and loyalty can also be some of the results. You will also reach and engage target groups that otherwise can be hard to attract.”

When customers look to each other for recommendations and guidance before making purchase decisions, it’s a wake-up call for marketers to refocus their efforts back to the customer, digital transformation consultancy Squiz’s global marketing director, Robin Marchant, said.

“Brands are no longer dictating the communication agenda - consumers hold the power,” he said. “That’s why customer advocacy, not satisfaction, should now be the goal for every organisation.

“With the popularity of review-based models, like Uber, TripAdvisor and Yelp, it’s increasingly evident that customers value other customers’ opinions, and they believe there is a greater sense of authenticity and transparency generated through the content produced by other users, compared to the content produced by organisations. This means businesses need to acknowledge and address this, and find creative ways to incorporate it into their marketing strategies.”

Speaking at the Online Retailer Conference 2016 in Sydney, cosmetic retailer Mecca’s head of digital, Anna Stockley, said leveraging content produced by consumers, such as videos, images, social content, as well as ratings and reviews, is a key part of how brands drive customer trust, engagement and authenticity.

“UGC influences behaviour across the entire customer journey, and today, people are engaging with and expressing their opinion about products and brand freely in social media posts, online ratings and reviews, blog posts, online videos and more,” she said. “At Mecca Brands, we are truly blessed to have a very engaged customer base that generates a lot of material and participates actively in our community.”

Stockley pointed out social media is transforming the market, with 3.5 billion people online and 2.5 billion with social media accounts.

“Brands are leap-frogging traditional media, and there is a direct conversation happening with the customer now,” she said. “UGC is very much driving customer’s decisions and purchase behaviour.”

Increased brand engagement

Cognizant Digital Works’ head of strategy, Susan Brown, pointed to a 2013 Livefyre’s Social Market Trends Survey, which looked at just how useful social content curation can be as part of a broader content strategy. The survey focused on social curation and the practice of finding, aggregating and repurposing social content to drive engagement and brand recognition.

It found 82 per cent of respondents reported an increase in user engagement on their websites, 55 per cent used social curation to connect with their audience directly, and 57 per cent reported an increase in website traffic as a result.

Given the proven benefits, UGC is no longer simply a ‘nice-to have’ but a must-have for all organisations serious about making a brand unique when engaging with their audience, Marchant stressed.

“It’s particularly crucial for those embarking on their own digital transformation journeys that digital content is of increasing relevance, and should therefore be a core business and marketing strategy priority,” he said. “The benefit of UGC is that, compared to content directly from the company, it is typically unbiased and objective. UGC makes up a great deal of online content nowadays, and presents a significant opportunity for marketers to enhance their strategies.

“UGC also often offers a unique perspective, unable to be acquired by the business themselves.”

Efficient content creation and deeper customer insights

Another benefit great UGC gives organisations is that it shares the burden of content creation, and if managed well, can make content marketing more cost-effective and efficient in the long-run.

“As organisations cater to more and more personas on the road to greater personalisation, the demands on content production have grown exponentially,” Brown said. “Correctly filtered and profiled UGC can help organisations cope with the increasing demands of feeding the content engine by augmenting their own content production.”

This creates less work for your content team, because you’re not constantly in ‘push’ mode, and ultimately, it can lead to more traffic to your owned channels, which is more cost effective, Singh said.

“The benefits of leveraging good user generated content from a brand or marketer’s point of view is the ability to build trust and a stronger community through fans interacting with each other,” he explained. “If the content being shared by people in the community is compelling, intriguing, and maybe even controversial, then it creates a snowball effect and people want to get involved.”

Lenovo’s A/NZ marketing lead, Sara Palmieri, agreed great user content has the ability to snowball and can, in theory, lead to infinite audience reach and impressions.

“It can also help brands understand their audiences better,” she said. “Examining the types of content users are creating and sharing can help inform a brand’s own content strategy, enabling it to create owned collateral that will better resonate with its target audiences.

“So it’s important to always invest in analytics, whether it be on the platform you are using or simply by increasing sharability via the use of hashtags, tracking pixels or UTM codes.”

For smaller brands with limited production budget, UGC can be particularly effective as a relatively cost-effective way of making more noise that you can afford to create yourself, Naked Communications’ strategy director, Craig Adams, said.

“For bigger, more established brands, it can also serve to humanise you and challenge perceptions of your brand as overly manufactured or superficial. This is especially important for those looking to connect with consumers who are sceptical of traditional advertising,” he said.

Keep it simple, relevant and fun

In order to keep your audience engaged, you need to first understand who they are, what they like and then make your strategy fun and informative, Thorp advised.

“Make sure they have something to win or gain by participating, such as winning a prize and something that it is relevant,” he said. “But at the same time, be honest and very clear with what you want to achieve. Make it fun, informative and useful for the target group. And it should be easy, not too much red tape, though be sure to have an editor or moderator on call to respond and inform and have the relevant legal disclaimers and affidavits. Finally, don’t forget to credit users and sources.”

While it’s important to keep the messaging clear, simple, and fun, Hardwick said you also need to make it easy for your audience to participate and encourage them to feel as though they are involved in something.

“The instructions or call-to-action have to be very clear, simple, and direct the user to a controlled place where imagination and interaction are captured safely,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be the biggest brands with the most complicated campaigns. I love seeing a restaurant giving a free drink for a hashtag on Instagram. It’s instant and effective.”

Best practice UGC marketing makes it easy and provides multiple ways for people to share and submit their content, Palmieri continued.

“Marketers doing well in this space are rewarding audiences by promoting their content and giving them a really genuine compulsion to share and create something unique,” she said. “You should also encourage UGC that is highly visual. People are more likely to engage with compelling visual content.”

Inspire creativity - don’t ask for it

What brands shouldn’t be doing, however, is begging for content. Experts agree the key to UGC is inspiring a positive environment that controls and encouraged creative content generation.

“Target your most engaged consumers with your activity, rather than chase for participation from the passive-massive who aren’t interested in being one of your creators,” Adams said. “And look to mimic behaviour that already exists, rather than create a new behaviour. Look closely at the consumers you would like to be involved, and ensure that their media behaviour and technical capability are aligned to your idea for UGC. In other words, don’t ask people to do something they aren’t already doing.”

Top tips for generating great UGC

1. Tap into online influencers

Every platform has its stars, as does every niche. Get in touch with influential creators and consider a cross promotion deal. Gain the advantage of tapping into an already cultivated following. Plus, these creators have a keen sense of what will work in the UGC realm.

2. Keep content range dynamic

Consumers get bored easily so don’t be boring. Use all the content forms available to craft a dynamic and consistent campaign. Use videos, gifs, photos, reviews and the rest whenever applicable. If you don’t understand a content type, learn more about it instead of skipping over it.

3. Make it interactive and personalised

Use the repost, like and comment features on social media platforms. Users want a personal connection with their brand. They also want the 5 minutes of fame that comes with a large or respected company reposting their comment or giving individualised attention. Give your consumers both.

4. Keep the key message in focus

Many ad campaigns try to get a laugh. Others focus on pulling heartstrings. In user generated content marketing campaigns, there is plenty of room for both. However, both don’t necessarily fit into one campaign.

5. New game, no rules

User generated content marketing is relatively new and it’s taking the marketing world by storm. When a niche is new, that means there are few, if any, rules. Furthermore, the age of the Internet highly applauds shocking and meaningful innovations. Look for something that hasn’t been done and adopt that strategy. Take advantage of creativity without too many obstacles.

- Tips offered by Australian Marketing Institute’s CEO, Lee Tonitto.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu

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