Who’s responsible for creating your company’s most valuable content?
Your marketing team?
How about your customers?
Customers are generating quality content for companies all over the world around the clock. In my experience however, few companies have picked up on that fact – let alone realized how valuable this user-generated content can be.
In fact, user-generated content can be more effective at driving sales than the content you create. That’s because prospects are more likely to take their peers’ word at face value. To them, user-generated content is more authentic, more trustworthy. Don’t believe me? A study by Reevoo found that “70% of consumers place peer recommendations and reviews above professionally-written content”.
User-generated content can be more effective at driving sales than the content you create via @sujanpatel.
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That’s a huge help when it comes to driving sales.
What is user-generated content
UGC is content created by a brand’s audience (who may or may not be customers) – anything from reviews and social media or forum posts, to testimonials and blog posts. In short, UGC is any type of content that’s relevant to the company and created by the user.
UGC is any type of content that’s relevant to the company & created by the user says @sujanpatel.
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Of course, not all types of content – UGC or otherwise – helps drive sales. Content has to target users at a particular point in the sales cycle, and move to the next point (ideally, making a purchase or becoming a customer).
Let’s look at what types of UGC are most effective at driving sales and how you can leverage them in the sales process.
Using Content Marketing to Drive Customer Delight
Reviews have to be the most prevalent form of UGC, and when it comes to selling, the most important. According to stats reported by Econsultancy, “61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision” and “63% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site which has user reviews.”
61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision via @econsultancy.
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When it comes to encouraging customers to write reviews and incorporating reviews into your site, you have a few options. Services like Reevoo and Trustpilot ask customers to leave reviews and provide widgets that link to your company’s reviews page. These review-assistance providers also offer the benefit of acting as trust signals on your site.
They’re really useful, but they serve primarily as tools for reviewing the company as a whole. If you have an e-commerce store, you should provide a way for customers to review specific products and display those reviews on the product page. If you’re not, you’re missing a huge trick – it’s invaluable in helping reduce purchase anxiety, which is one of the “top reasons shoppers don’t buy.”
Regardless of the review platform (or platforms), one rule always applies: if you want reviews, you have to ask for them.
Sure, some customers leave reviews without being prompted, but you get far more reviews if you take the lead and ask.
The bigger review platforms (i.e., Reevoo and Trustpilot) can be configured to make the requests for you. Alternatively, most email marketing providers allow you to create automated workflows that trigger an email to customers shortly after they received their purchase and ask them to leave a review. If you’re a MailChimp user, you can read here about how that works and the benefits.
A testimonial is similar to a review – in fact, many testimonials start life as reviews. They are often more detailed than reviews, but what really separates them is that you choose which testimonials to display.
What separates (testimonials from reviews) is that you choose which testimonials to display via @sujanpatel.
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Here’s an example of a testimonial taken from ChargeBee.com:
The fact that you have total control over the testimonials can mean they don’t carry the same weight as unmoderated reviews or won’t be trusted by potential customers.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have them on your site.
Getting testimonials is easy. You can either take snippets from existing reviews or if you want a longer or alternative-format testimonial (like a video), reach out to your happiest customers or brand advocates and ask if they’re willing to create one.
Bonus tip: A small thank-you gift can boost the odds that you’ll get a yes.
You might not think of your customers’ questions as being a valuable form of UGC, but every time customers post a question about your product online, they’re doing you a huge favor.
First of all, if questions are being asked (and answered) on a public platform like a forum, that’s content – content that is crawlable, indexable, and has the potential to send you qualified traffic.
But there’s more.
Overfamiliarity with your own product makes anticipating customers’ questions difficult. Even more difficult is anticipating how your customers are going to word those questions.
If you’re writing your own FAQs or deciding on the topics of instructional blog posts based on what you think your customers are asking, you’re doing it wrong.
Pay attention, not just to what questions your customers ask but how they phrase those questions. Use this information to craft content designed to answer the questions your customers are really asking.
Does Your Content Answer Searchers’ Questions?
Competitions can be an excellent way to motivate your customers to create content. In exchange for the chance to win a prize, customers are asked to create and submit something – often a photo but it could be a video or even a written piece of content. Just remember that the more labor-intensive the “ask” is, the fewer entries received.
Let’s see an example.
To promote the launch of its $1 reusable cup, Starbucks asked customers to doodle on a white cup and submit a photo of the design using the hashtag #whitecupcontest on Instagram or Twitter. The winning design (below) was printed on a limited run of reusable cups.
Despite a relatively small prize (when you consider Starbucks’ resources) of a $300 Starbucks gift card and 25 of the limited edition reusable cups, more than 4,000 coffee-drinking doodlers entered the contest.
We can assume this contest succeeded in driving sales in a number of ways.
- Although entry to the contest was “no purchase necessary” (people could enter by submitting an image of their doodle on any white cup), that condition wasn’t widely publicized. It’s safe to assume that some sales were generated simply from people buying a cup (and its contents) so they could take part in the contest.
- The contest helped to publicize Starbucks’ reusable cup, which in turn helped increase sales of said cup during and after the contest when people would want to get their hands on a limited-edition cup.
- Anything that generates (positive) PR for a brand should naturally help drive sales.
User-generated social content (UGSC) is a huge win for marketers though there’s one big roadblock – consumers on social media are rarely looking to buy.
Admittedly, this is changing. Platforms like Instagram bombard consumers with native advertising, while remarketing ads are seemingly 10-for-a-penny on Facebook. Consumers must adjust to advertising on social media, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they like it.
You can get around this roadblock, and at the same time boost the effectiveness of your social media marketing by using UGC.
To do this, ask your customers to share relevant UGC socially, while tagging your brand some way (usually a hashtag).
Belkin did this when it partnered with LEGO to design customizable iPhone cases.
Customers were asked to submit photos of how they had customized their cases and to use the hashtag #legoxbelkin.
Remember Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke campaign? It resulted in a 2% increase in U.S. sales. Sure, a big part of that was due to the novelty factor of buying a Coke bottle with your name on it, but I don’t doubt the increased social interaction around the campaign played a role too. (Customers were asked to share a picture of themselves with their namesake bottle of Coke using the hashtag #ShareaCoke.)
These innovative campaigns are great examples of how UGSC can be used to boost awareness of a product and subsequently drive sales. It’s so much more effective than brand-generated content because each post is a genuine endorsement from the customer – there’s no other reason for customers to post these pictures other than the fact that they like the brand and the product.
Visual Realism: The Way to Build Trust With Your Audience
Dark side of UGC
User-generated content isn’t always positive, though. You run the risk that some of that content will be less than complimentary.
That risk increases when you’re running campaigns that ask users to submit content via a public medium (using a hashtag) rather than directly to you (emailing or direct messaging).
When McDonald’s asked customers to submit stories highlighting their “fantastic experiences” at their local restaurants using the hashtag #McDStories, the campaign was – perhaps unsurprisingly – hijacked.
The New York Police Department ran into similar problems when it asked the public to share snaps of themselves with the NYPD on Twitter, using the hashtag #myNYPD. It was hoping for pictures like this:
But what it got looked more like this:
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to prevent negativity from happening, but you can minimize the risk. Before executing a public campaign designed to engage customers and generate UGC, sit down with your team, brainstorm all possible negative outcomes, and if need be, edit your strategy accordingly.
Before executing a (UGC) campaign … brainstorm all possible negative outcomes via @sujanpatel
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UGC is an amazing tool for driving sales at little cost to your business. Have I missed any methods for utilizing it? Let me know in the comments.
When Content Backfires: How to Handle Negative Feedback Online
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute