Most brands go to great lengths to create original, exciting and valuable content for their users. From virtual content factories like Red Bull to subtle, funny social media content from Oreo to hilarious brand content from Old Spice, the battle of the brands is only heating up in the content space.
One of the fastest growing sources of content on the internet today, however is user generated content. With the proliferation of social media, blogs, online forums and more users have never had more options to express their views on brands, politics, the economy, life at large. From Wikipedia to Quora to Flickr, user generated content (UGC) is everywhere we go.
But what is most interesting is the gusto with which brands around the world are harnessing this tidal wave of user generated content for their own ends.
Why Brands Need User Generated Content
1. It saves money for the brand
As the name suggests, user generated content is created and shared by users and hence by definition, is free content. This saves a truckload of expenses for most brands – from curating good content or paying to source content or even creating your content from scratch.
Besides saving money on creating fresh content, user generated content like product reviews or ‘how to guides’ created by users on their own blogs increases the helpful material surrounding your brand online and reduces new users’ dependency on calling up customer care for basic problems that are easily fixable, hence reducing call center expenses. Think of it as a sort of ‘free FAQs’ section created by third party users.
2. It increases the variety of your existing content
Most brands that actively use content marketing have clear communication objectives and often a set style in which they create content. The tone of voice is similar across all content, there are specific platforms that different brands prefer over others, the timing of the content is pre-determined. User generated content comes as a breath of fresh air in this set up of calculated content creation. It adds variety to your branded content, making it richer, diverse more human.
3. it Offers a Voice to Users
User generated content is a great way for users of your brand to be heard and to share their experiences with the rest of the world. This is an increasingly important feature of user-brand interactions, especially in the case of the growing generation of millennial users.
This potential for users to create content on your behalf gives a new dimension to your brand’s relationship with its users, deepening engagement levels and increasing brand stickiness.
4. It Builds a Sense of Community
When users voice their opinions on your brand or services on social media, blogs or any other forum on the internet, they are essentially broadcasting their product preferences. Without you even asking them about their needs, likes and dislikes; they are actively offering this critical data to you which can help you understand them a little better. These user insights can be used to reach out to your users in a more effective way.
The interactions that users have with fellow consumers of your brand build a sense of community between them. Think communities like the Harley Davidson H.O.Gs that are legendary for their close knit group that has helped build Harley into the cult brand that it is.
5. it Improves Product Quality
User generated content can take the form of unadulterated (and sometimes unsolicited) user feedback. The content that is created is often not very complimentary and can sometimes be downright critical. However, instead of viewing this as a negative, smart brands take such inputs into their stride. They use such content as a guideline for improving their products and services. Imagine the surprise of users who see their recommendations actually being put into action to improve a product!
How to Get User Generated Content?
Well, by now we’re convinced that user generated content is not just for the big boys, but can benefit every brand big or small. But the key question is how does a brand source such creative, interactive and stimulating user generated content for their brands? Here are some quick thoughts:
- Invite user interaction on social media – User tweet of the day, Instagram pic of the day and so on
- Contests inviting users to send in great content – With creative ideas like Tourism Australia’s Best Job in the World contest, you can generate huge amounts (over 34,000 UGC videos) and astounding amounts of word of mouth publicity.
- Allow / invite guest blogs on your blog – get users to share their thoughts on your blog through guest posts, invite celebrity users to share their ideas on your blog
- Co-create products with user inputs – Join forces with users to create products / services that they would love to use e.g. ModCloth’s Be the Buyer program that invites users to vote on designs that will actually go into production.
- Invite product reviews from users – While this is standard practice for e-commerce sites, go ahead and solicit reviews from your customers even if you aren’t in the e-commerce business. A good word from a real user will go a long way in boosting the number of future users your brand will get.
- Feedback board in a store, User forums on brand websites – remember the little notice boards in your local café where people leave their comments and cute messages? Start a similar feedback board in your store, never mind if it’s not a café. Online businesses could opt to have customer forums for problem solving and discussions with users.
If Star Wars and Harry Potter can inspire reams of fan fiction, if Coke can have users ‘Sharing a Coke’ all over social media, if CNN can have ‘citizen journalists’ from around the world; why should your brand be left behind? Embrace the user generated content wave and get your brand closer to your customers than it ever was!
Simon Horton is the Founder of ShopIntegrator.com, a Hosted Shopping Cart Store Add-In. His years of experience has helped him setting up this platform. Feel free to reach him out on Google+.