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User Generated Content: How to Make it Work for Your Brand

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Who’d have thought back in the golden age of advertising on Madison Avenue that a grainy, self-taped video would have been 50% more trusted and 30% more memorable than a regular ad?

Thanks to technology and social media, the way businesses advertise has changed dramatically. Big shiny billboards and TV adverts aren’t as appealing as they once were now consumer attention has shifted online.

However, one thing has remained true and that is the power of word of mouth marketing. Whether it’s kids on the playground talking about the latest Top Trumps craze or a pensioner telling friends about a new salon they just have to try. Recommendations from fellow consumers work and so it remains an effective way for businesses to share their message.

Cue user generated content

This brings us swiftly on to user generated content or UGC – a hot topic for today’s marketers. Stripped back to its bare form, UGC is word of mouth marketing. It’s a person telling other people about a product or service they’ve experienced. This could be through a tweet, an Instagram post, a YouTube video or Snapchat – you name it.

When a post generates engagement, it can have insurmountable benefits for businesses. Sometimes these posts even go viral – just think of the publicity that creates…

One of the most famous and still most powerful examples of UGC was Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign. You remember seeking out a bottle in supermarket fridges with your name on? Well a lot of people went a step further and posted pictures of their namesake bottles on social media. Needless to say, this started a trend and dramatically increased the brand’s online presence.

USG is a great way to make your brand stand out from your competitors, but if you want more tips, why not check out our blog article on positioning your brand to make it stand out.

In fact, the campaign saw users share over half a million photos online using the #ShareaCoke hashtag and the official Coca-Cola Facebook page gained 25 million additional likes. Some serious results.

The reason the campaign was so clever and one of the best in Coke’s history was because it gave users brand ownership. It made people feel like they were promoting their own story, not the coca-cola brand in general. In giving this creative freedom to its millennial, social savvy audience, it empowered them to create content which surpassed the influence a single TV ad would have had.

A cost effective alternative

What’s great about this example of UGC is not only did it have a real impact online, it was also far more cost effective than running an ad campaign or hiring billboards. It’s therefore no surprise that brands are increasingly dipping their toes into this form of marketing which also plays seamlessly into the online world we now live in.

However, UGC isn’t as simple as the good old traditional marketing methods. You have to rely on consumers to do this for you, so there has to be a clear incentive or reason for them to want to. So, how do you make it work for your brand? Here’s an action plan to help.

1. Start with a clear plan

What product or service in particular do you want people to talk about? Don’t just focus on your brand as a whole – it’s too broad. Hone in on a specific, tangible part of your offering that users can interact with.

For Coke, it was 250ml bottles and cans – easy to buy and drink on the go – easy to take a quick snap of and share. It’s important during the planning stage to work out how you’re going to incentivise customers to generate their own content about your product. Now, this isn’t easy because if it was everyone would be doing it. So it does take some thought but the planning is worth it.

Here’s a few ideas:

Use the power of the hashtag: Getting a hashtag to trend is the ultimate goal with this one, so make it catchy and memorable. For starters, #Dontmakeitwaytoolonganddifficulttoshare. Secondly, try and make it actionable – Coke’s ‘#Shareacoke’ hashtag was a clever call to action that worked.

Run contests or quizes: Beauty brand Dove came up trumps with this one by enlisting Facebook fans to help promote its ‘Real Beauty’ message. Users were asked to fill in the names of their friends and include two things that made them beautiful. The campaign response was impressive with over 3,000 women across 10 countries responding to the initial survey.

Offer rewards: This isn’t to say you need to pay people to share content, there are plenty of other ways to reward them. It could be as simple as offering to share their post on your page or newsletter. You could even start an award like ‘customer of the week’ and share their picture on Instagram.

2. Pick your platforms carefully

Where do you want people to share their UGC? To help answer this, think about where your target market spend most of their time and which social media platforms lend themselves best to your product or service. For example, a swimwear ecommerce brand aimed at twenty somethings would most likely benefit from having a strong presence on Instagram.

3. Decide on the type of content you want people to create based on your chosen platform

When it comes to sharing content on social media its paramount that you understand what works well on each channel. There’s no universal one-size-fits-all with social content so really think about this.

Here’s an idea of what works best on each social network:

Facebook: It’s all about video now because Facebook’s algorithms love it. If you want UGC that has the potential to go viral on this network then encourage video.

Twitter: Images stand out on Twitter so encourage users to let their images do the talking.

Instagram: Dubbed as the ‘Mecca of user generated content’ by Sprout Social, Instagram is often the go to for consumers to show off new products. Before initiating a campaign make sure you’re clear on how to regram any UGC to enable maximum exposure.

LinkedIn: This is the go to place for engaging with professionals so UGC often has to be checked to ensure it aligns with business goals. To make it effective, brands often take content which fits their goals and promote it through targeted ads.

Looking for more information on how to boost your brand visibility on these social channels? Check out our blog post on 3 strategic digital marketing tips to boost your brand!

3. Be clear on your UGC goals

Like any form of marketing it’s essential that you have clear measurable goals. Think about what it is that you want to achieve and be specific. To give you an idea, here’s a few common examples of the type of goals used for this type of marketing:

To increase conversion rates: The powerful thing about UGC when it comes to conversions is that it can help to persuade people who are unsure about purchasing. Those who are on the fence often head online to check out product reviews or testimonials. If they stumble across a happy customer gushing about your product then it can help convince them to buy.

To build trust: What better way to bolster trust in your brand than an authentic, customer testimonial about your brand, right? UGC is ideal for building trust and credibility as it comes across as genuine and real.

To increase engagement levels: This is a common goal when it comes to UGC and it’s no wonder as engagement is what it’s all about! If you do set this as a goal, just be sure to have the right social analytics tools in place first so you can accurately measure success rates.

To save content creation time and marketing costs: A real benefit of UGC is the financial benefits it brings. When users generate their own content, it saves your marketing team time and money – just be sure you’re clear on how you’re going to aggregate the content so you don’t miss anything!

To educate: Got a service that’s particularly difficult to explain? UGC can help tremendously with this. Having real, relatable people talk about the benefits your product has brought them will make it easier for others to understand.

5. Be clear and tell your audience what content you want

This step is crucial. You might have come up with a clear plan, chose your channels, and set out some clear goals but if your audience don’t know what you want, your campaign will fall on deaf ears. Don’t fall at this hurdle.

People will happily send content to you but if you don’t specify what you want, chances are you won’t be able to use it. If you’re looking for holiday snaps of them wearing a specific line of your sunglasses in an Instagrammable spot – ask them for that. Set up a campaign purely focused on accumulating as many of those snaps as possible. Think of a hashtag for your customers to accompany their posts with and ask them to tag your brand.

It’s important to think about every step of the curation process during this stage too. Do you want them to tag you in their content on social media? Send it to you via email to share yourself? Upload it directly to your website? Work out a seamless system that makes the process simple. Otherwise you’ll end up spending more time finding and curating the content than you would have if you’d just created it yourself…

6. Engage with your audience

Yes, it’s a fundamental part of a successful UGC campaign. People don’t want to go through the effort of having a real positive shout about your brand only to be ignored. Yes, if you get an influx of content or something goes viral – it will be near on impossible to engage with every single comment. However, you must be seen to be making a clear effort and openy interacting where possible.

This type of content may lead to consumers asking more questions about your brand so be ready to answer them. It’s prime time for engagement, especially if your hashtag becomes particularly successful so don’t shy away. Embrace the attention and show you genuinely care.

7. Ask permission

Like anything shared online, it’s so important to ask the owner’s permission before splashing it across your latest ad campaign. It may seem obvious but brands have neglected this and faced the consequences. The chances are, if they’re sharing it on social media, they’ll be happy for you to retweet it or post their content in an ad. However, it’s so important to check – after all, they own that content and any misuse could backfire.  

8. Analyze

To really understand whether your UGC campaign was a success you have to measure and analyse the results. What worked? What didn’t? Did conversions increase? If so, by what percentage?

There are plenty of analytics tools out there which will help you to fully understand the success of your campaign. Sprout Social, Hubspot and Hootsuite all offer great in-depth engagement and audience reports.

To sum up

If you follow the above steps and work from a clear strategy, you’ll turn your customers into genuine brand advocates before long. With clear guidance and an incentive to share, consumers will proactively create UGC and provide a genuine insight into your brand for others.  

Be sure to plan and implement your efforts strategically and remember that this type of campaign doesn’t always work first time round. By measuring your success levels, you’ll be able to fine tune and tweak your efforts to develop a killer UGC strategy that will work wonders for your brand.

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