Word of mouth is arguably the most powerful marketing tool.
In fact, it’s so powerful that we’ve started to consciously rely on it. When we Google a product or search for it on Twitter, we are actively looking for what people are saying about it.
And notice I said “people.” Not reporters, not companies, not commercials…people.
We seek out consumers just like us who have tried the product we’re prospecting because those are the opinions we trust.
That trust stems from user-generated content (UGC), which is content produced by consumers and not brands. This can be anything from user reviews, testimonials, blog posts or social media posts about the products.
In fact, according to a 2012 BazaarVoice report (pdf), 51% of Americans trust user-generated content on a company’s website. Even when compared to info on a company’s own website (16%) and news articles about the company (14%).
That means it’s in your best interest to get people talking about your brand and products.
How to get people talking about your brand
Ads can only get you so far. They are expensive and, in my opinion, a short term strategy.
You know word-of-mouth is powerful and you know UGC is one of the most trusted forms of content marketing. So how are you going to make it work for you?
In a recent post on iAcquire, Joel Klettke nailed a few good points about how to get started with UGC. It got me thinking about what makes user-generated content effective and so, I present to you these principles of UGC:
- Use the medium your audience is already using
- Honor your best contributors
- Align the content with your product
- Put the spotlight on the customer
- Keep a low barrier to entry
- Target existing customers first
- Stay in it for the long haul and adapt
1. Use the medium your audience is using
There is a small percentage of people that actually create content on the web. Most people just lurk and absorb.
Your UGC campaign should focus on your target customers who are already creating content.
GoPro sells small, high quality video cameras that have become a staple among extreme hobbyists. They feature some of the best videos by GoPro users on their site. It shows off their product, add-on features and the number of different use cases.
Those customers were already making videos long before owning a GoPro. The company figured out how to make those creators work for them by featuring and promoting their incredible videos. Take the extra step and find out where and what your audience is publishing. There are plenty of free tools out there to help you research your audience.
2. Honor your best contributors
People like to feel special. They like to be recognized. You’re going to want to call out your best content creators and raise them up as an example for everyone to see.
This could be something as small as a Tweet that mentions your brand. Call them out on how awesome they are. Make a big deal out of it. They’ll feel great and it will encourage others to do the same.
The marketing software company, Moz, has a marketing and SEO blog that is partially fueled by UGC. They handpick the best posts from their community and republish them on their main blog. Not only does it honor the most dedicated users, it sets an example for everyone and instills a bit of friendly competition.
In the end the content only gets better because people want to be that next post that gets featured.
I’m not saying this is the only reason Moz does this. They have a lot of talent on their site and all the ideas are worth sharing. But I’m willing to bet that feeling of recognition plays a big part in the about of community content they receive.
3. Align the content with your product
The goal with your UGC is to get more people to talk about your brand but why not sell more products too while you’re at it.
Warby Parker started the Home Try-On program which allows people to test drive 5 pairs of glasses absolutely free.
The real win is most customers take to the social sphere with all 5 pairs to get input from their friends. That social input encourages a sale while raising awareness for Warby Parker’s program.
It not only creates great content for Warby Parker, but helps spread the word about their program as well. Your goal should be to cultivate an army of brand evangelists. Arm them with the materials to talk about your products and spread the word about your brand.
4. Put the spotlight on the customer
Google shows off how their wearable tech product Glass gets out of the way so that users can do their jobs better and live their lives. The use-case Explorer video series they came up with is a beautiful and captivating way to show it.
Google puts a spotlight on their customers which adds a personal and relatable touch to their products. It also makes those featured customers evangelists for life because they are so closely tied the brand. In fact, in their own study, Google found that consumers are 42% more likely to buy when brands engage them based on their passions and interests instead of just trying to sell them something.
5. Keep a low barrier to entry
Running a contest or asking people for product reviews are great ways to get UGC. But remember only about 1% of people online are creators. What!? …yes.
That means, you want the barrier to entry to be as low as possible to get the most engagement possible. Make submitting content the easiest thing in the world. In fact, make it so easy, the users don’t even know they’re doing it.
Starbucks “regrams” other people’s Instagram photos all day. I’m not sure about the legality of it ( Facebook owns them all anyway). They tag the photos #regram and add the user’s @name to give them props. The result is countless of photos from happy customers all over the world. It’s inspiring, it’s a community and it’s free content for Starbs.
Of course, you’re not at the Starbucks level (yet), but what else can you do? Maybe you’re a local flower shop. Can you look for people posting flower pics on Instagram and regram those? What’s the worst that can happen – they tell you to take it down? No problem!
Use this nifty tool called GramFeed to look up hashtags and save images. Then upload them to your own Instagram, tag #regram and “@” the person who originally posted it. You can even search for uploads in a certain geographical area if you want to get local with it.
6. Target existing customers first
The easiest people to sell to are the ones that have already bought from you.
If you’re rolling out a new UGC campaign that needs some buy-in from users, why not start with the customers you already have. They are clearly interested and might even be excited about it being your evangelists.
ModCloth’s product reviews are as robust as they come. Users write reviews but also have the option to upload an image of them wearing the product as well. They can rate the fit with a few different grading scales and can include their own sizes to give more context.
It gives the reviews a more personal touch and allows customers to tell a little story rather than just review a piece of clothing. It makes for a much more useful review and it gets people talking about the brand.
7. Stay in it for the long haul and adapt
Most UGC campaigns are going to take time to catch on. Giving up is not the answer.
Your campaign may even take many forms before people “get it” and buy into it.
American Express started Open Forum back in 2007. Do you think it had millions of users day 1? Nope. In fact, Open Forum started as a place to post live networking events. Then in 2008 it became a small business blog. In 2009, users could create more extensive profiles and procure leads through the system.
American Express didn’t know what Open Forum was going to be, but they knew they had an interested audience and they knew that audience needed a platform to publish on and convene with like-minded business owners.
Don’t count on your first UGC campaign being a total success. American Express won because they adapted to what their users wanted.
Make sure you learn from your shortcomings. Let your campaign adapt. Learn from how users use it or don’t use it. Ask them what they’d like, then build it for them.
More than anything, UGC is about empowering the users. Do that and they will support your brand for a long time.
Recognize your most devoted customers. Raise them up, show them off and you’ll slowly grow an army of brand evangelists that will do your marketing and content production for you. Can’t beat that, now can you?