You know, User-generated content sounds like a twenty-first century buzzword, designed to be thrown around at marketing meetings by intelligent and busy millennials. Yet, despite its obvious contemporary wording, it is not a new concept at all.
We have always wanted to add our own voice to the choir. Fan fiction, stories or jokes sent into magazines, even the Oxford dictionary is a compendium of alphabetised slips of paper contributed to by a variety of sources. So, user-generated content is really a new name for something old.
Perhaps even biblical.
For centuries we have been creating Robin Hoods, Circular Tables, the Holy Grail and Bloody Mary’s. We have updated these stories, adapted them, and circulated them. The point is, user-generated content has been effective and desirable for about as long as there has been content. It is just that we have begun to draw attention to it and proactively chase it.
Because of them pesky millennials
No matter what your opinion is on one generation or another, you have to acknowledge that right now, millennials are likely to be your biggest customer pool. And, yes, in comparison to any other generation that has gone before them, they are different. They built, and populated, online worlds. They invented social media. Moreover, they have changed the face of marketing.
It is social entrepreneur Matthew Manos, that points out that you can’t put clever words on a poster any more. “You need to initiate a conversation” and talk with the millennials, not at them. They want to contribute to the conversations that you are having.
The largest target market you have doesn’t want to stand and listen to you waffle on about your great service. What they really want is for a company to value their needs more than the product.
User-generated content, then, serves both the needs of the company and the consumer. This one reason why it is the holy grail of marketing.
Just ask Starbucks
Starbucks demonstrated the power of user-generated content with their #WhiteCupContest back in 2014. By inviting their customers to decorate their Starbucks cups, they generated more than 4000 response over twitter. There was no large social media budget involved, but it generated a lot of content.
That’s 4000 people, each with their own followers. So, that’s 4000 people positively engaged with the Starbucks brand. More importantly, that’s 4000 people who advertised the coffee brand for free in front of their friends, family, and other followers.
Simultaneously, Starbucks made everyone a brand ambassador and influencer.
User-generated content builds understanding
In some ways, fishing for user-generated content kills a murder of crows with one stone. Not only are you marketing your brand, but it is useful in other areas.
Consider for instance how much easier your social listening, or sentiment analysis, will become. Your brand is going out of its way to get your audience talking. Your responses will give you invaluable insight. How is your brand received? What perceptions do non-customers have of your brand?
With every comment or post share that your campaign receives there is another opportunity for direct conversation with your buyer personas. What could you learn if you discussed with your audience directly? Harvesting such honest information is invaluable to the way you will build your next strategy and campaign.
A holy grail full of trust
Nielsen’s Consumer Trust in Online Social and Mobile Advertising Grows reported some very interesting results., After surveying more than 28,000 internet users they present that “92 percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising”.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. A half decent copywriter, some cracking graphics, and a good website might represent your brand in the best light. However, a savvy consumer isn’t expecting you to half-cock the job. It is not like you are going to hire a content team, just for them to point out the flaws in your system. What your customers will trust, are the voices of like-minded people.
There are some industries in which reviews are critical to a company’s success. Trustpilot, for instance, tell us that 77 percent of travellers rely upon positive reviews when deciding who to book with. In the travel industry that is a lot of money relying upon user-generated content.
Marketing often lives up to its reputation of being an “us” and “them” scenario. Brands, sometimes aggressively, attempt to hi-jack users from each other. It’s like visiting a market with everyone shouting at the top of their voices. Although your buyer personas are all in one place, they are being tugged from pillar to post.
User generated content avoids this by granting agency to your potential customers. They have influence over the product and the marketing campaign. There is a shared emotional connection between all those interacting with your brand. People will begin to speak louder and honestly when they see they are part of a wider community that has similar interests.
Conversations are important if you can have them. Too often a breakdown in communication is detrimental to the overall goals your marketing team has set. Sometimes even the most heavily researched plans can fail for unforeseen reasons. How many very public examples have we seen of this lately? Gillette and Nike are just two that spring to mind. But then again, in a sense, that was an exercise in user-generated content too.
Those campaigns, along with Greggs’ vegan sausage roil, sparked a lot of debate and discussion. Even though the content wasn’t always glowing, more and more people had become aware of these brands through social media. Everyone felt like they needed to have their say. So in some senses, user-generated content doesn’t always have to be positive.
That said, I wouldn’t recommend trying to sink your ship by jumping onto a political bandwagon needlessly.
If you can create user-generated content, it will save you money, and thus the ROI is high. It doesn’t need to be convoluted. A simple question on Twitter. A small competition maybe. Or you could simply ask people to comment on a blog and offer their thoughts to add to the conversation.
I think I will leave it there at that not-so-subtle hint.