Show, don’t tell: How to inspire your customers to create and share on-brand user-generated content
It's time to get your customers talking about your brand. Columnist Wendell Lansford explains how you can encourage users to share their stories about your business -- and grow your sales in the process.
How many times have you checked Facebook today? What about Twitter, Instagram or any other social channel?
If you’re anything like 71 percent of millennials, you log into a social network at least once a day. You scroll through photos, videos and posts from friends and family about events, kids, news and opinions.
If social media has taught us anything, it’s that people love to weigh in. That’s why some of the marketing tactics that brands once saw as reliable, such as TV commercials and print ads, are falling flat when compared with more engaging, participatory methods.
To reach your customers, you need to speak their language. Those posts and photos on your social feeds are forms of user-generated content (UGC), which is an authentic way for consumers to express themselves, and can be leveraged as a powerful marketing tool.
In addition to posts and photos, UGC includes product reviews, personal blog posts and any other kind of online expression from consumers. UGC can turn marketing messages into brand experiences — which can help reach new markets and inspire trust among your audience, all while engaging more deeply with consumers and lifting conversion rates.
And, since social media has made it easier than ever for consumers to share their opinions, it’s time to encourage your customers to talk about your brand — and pay attention to what they’re saying.
Why UGC? Send messages that stick
Last weekend, I was out of town on a vacation and was trying to decide what to do with myself. I loaded up Instagram and searched my local area to see what others were posting about.
One image caught my eye — a photo of an amazing brunch spread from a restaurant just down the street. The food looked delicious, and the captions raved about the place.
So, I took a suggestion from a handful of online strangers, walked to the restaurant and put my name on the list for a table, without once interacting with the restaurant’s own online properties or branded content. It was a great choice.
Interactions like this occur all the time. Consumers are 83 percent more likely to trust peer recommendations above branded advertisements.
The successful brands are the ones that encourage users to share these stories and highlight those experiences for other users to discover.
The ubiquity of social networks has made the buyer’s journey more complicated than ever. Most consumers consult various social channels and peer reviews before they ever visit a business or intend to make a purchase.
To create messages that resonate, brands need to prepare for this multi-step journey and tell their stories organically, giving consumers a chance to discover your brand, learn details and make decisions at their own pace.
Inspiring customers to create and share UGC aids this effort, as their content provides a direct view into their real-world experiences. As a result, 50 percent of consumers claim that they remember content shared by their peers more than sponsored messages.
UGC can help increase sales and build customer communities
Inspiring consumers to share UGC is easier than you think. If you already have customers who love your products, simply provide some examples and direction to help them express that loyalty.
A catchy hashtag, contest and interactive visual campaign might be all you need to encourage consumers to share photos, videos and other posts that align with your brand image, resonate with your ideal consumers and drive purchasing decisions for potential new customers.
Providing incentives for UGC creation also can go a long way, and they don’t always need to come in the form of coupons and giveaways. Simply showing customers recognition and offering an interactive brand experience are often the key to forming an ongoing brand-consumer relationship.
For example, McCormick (disclosure: client) created an interactive online community to support its launch of a new line of Filipino herb/spice mixes. The company knew it would be entering a crowded market filled with already established brands.
However, in its research, it identified a relatable market that was completely untapped — namely, second-generation Filipino-Canadians. Rather than fighting for market share by going after those customers’ parents, McCormick targeted the younger, more technologically savvy generation with its campaign.
The program McCormick launched was an online cook-off contest, which encouraged consumers to share their best Filipino fusion cuisine recipes. The brand then highlighted select customers’ recipes and photos in an online gallery and across its social channels, and invited viewers to vote for their favorite recipes. The winners would receive free McCormick Filipino mixes and a chance to win a monetary prize.
In three months, the campaign generated more than 25,000 views and 20,000 votes, while increasing McCormick’s unit sales growth by 37 percent from the previous year.
We’ve found that when brands inspire UGC and create communities around it, they see an average of 20 percent more visits to their websites, receive 25 percent more new emails and measure a 50-percent lift in social engagements. When it’s leveraged in ads, UGC performs five times better in terms of click-through rates, and if it’s placed during a buyer’s path to purchase, pages measure a 10-percent lift in conversion rates.
Smartphones and social channels give marketers an always-on connection to their customers, and a dramatic increase in chances to prove their brand’s ability to make those customers happy. The potential for UGC is everywhere, and smart marketers are already encouraging consumers to create it — then using their newfound enriched brand experiences to drive ROI and improve campaign results.
If your brand isn’t yet amplifying happy customers’ content to catch the attention of new prospects, it’s time to get started.