No matter which social media networks you use for consumer outreach, content is king. Even if the network has less elaborate content, like what you see on Twitter, what you say is important. Not only do you need to make a good impression, but you’ll want to keep your audience interested in the long haul. What makes this especially complicated is the stiff competition between brands, as well as the need for a human touch. Nobody likes to consume content that appears to be created by a robot.
One of the easiest ways to balance these priorities is by leveraging the power of user generated content (UGC). In this case, brands let consumers talk about their products and services, then showcase that content on their own social media page. Read on to learn how this can be done.
The Problem with Organic Social Media Content
Perhaps the toughest part of creating new, organic social media content is the fact that this task seems never-ending. According to the best marketing-industry knowledge, active social media accounts with the highest impact post every day. This “hamster wheel of content” requires endless creativity that can be challenging for brands, especially if they have a smaller marketing department that must develop all the ideas and implement them in-house.
Even worse, many customers have tuned out organic content that originates from brands. Not only have many network algorithms handicapped commercial organic content, but to many social media users, organic social media content looks like advertising. There are many reasons for this, but the “of course they’ll say this about themselves” phenomenon feeds the advertising impression.
Finally, the algorithms these days encourage brands to pay for sponsored posts and advertisements. These items are marked, meaning that users can consume them (or not) knowing that they are ads. But even though the ROI on social media advertising is good, authenticity is better. For these reasons, the best performing content on social media often come from individual influencers, not brands.
The Advantages of Using UGC
Of course, there’s a lot more of a benefit to user-generated content than the reduction in work for your marketing department. After all, choosing the best content to curate takes significant time on social media. Sure, social listening tools help find cool stuff, but much of the sifting through must be done by hand. Besides this, the content chosen must reflect brand values. Still, UGC has a lot of advantages for brands.
UGC is developed by people for people
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of UGC is that real-world people have created it. While nobody questions that a corporate marketing department is made of people, being an employee of a brand gives a narrower perspective on that brand. For instance, failed marketing campaigns or a social #fail can get them fired.
On the other hand, customers have a different perspective on products or services. For one thing, they can choose to purchase a product or refrain from doing so. In a highly competitive industry like beauty or fashion, customers often try many different products before deciding which one is best for them. And once they do, these customers are often happy to become brand advocates by sharing why that product is something that others should check out.
UGC is more authentic
Most people who create content about a product do so because they’re enthusiastic about it. Or, if they’re a paid influencer, the content is made because that item is relevant to their audiences. Despite compensation of influencers, this kind of UGC still tends to be very authentic. That’s because the reputation of an influencer is valuable enough to them that they’re unlikely to recommend something they don’t think is a great product.
It should come as no surprise that 75% of marketers know that adding UGC makes their own brand more authentic.
Besides the influencer factor, there’s a desire to help others. This is where beginning influencers and ordinary social media users come into play. Think of it this way: Both on large e-commerce sites and special interest forums, people give reviews because it’ll help others. Especially since products are ultimately intended to solve a problem or meet a need, people love to hear from others how well the product achieves its goal.
User generated content is often more engaging than content created by brands for these reasons
Think about it this way: if you create content around the same thing all day, every day, then it’s easy to get stuck in a creative rut. At some point you’re going to run out of cool things to say, or exhaust your creative ideas. Onn the other hand, non-brand content creators are free to switch gears regularly. They’ll only create content about your brand when they feel like it.
Is It Possible to Completely Replace Your Organic Social Media Content with User Generated Content?
Once you understand the value of user generated content, it’s easy to wonder how much of it you can use to replace your content studio. As much as everyone loves UGC, there may be situations where organic content from the brand is useful. These situations vary based on the social network, industry, and corporate goals.
With that said, on Instagram this approach is possible. Because Instagram is mostly pictures and videos, brands don’t have as much room for customer education. You can put up infographics but putting a lot of text on one picture can be challenging. And at the same time, you can easily ask an influencer to use pictures to demonstrate use cases.
Want an example of what a UGC account looks like? Disneyland and Ritz Carlton are great examples of 100% User Generated Content Instagram accounts. Since both companies are in the hospitality industry, it’s easy for them to solicit or curate pictures of families having fun on their properties. Or even singles, for that matter. At the heart of the tourist industry is people feeling comfortable in that location and having their expectations met.
How to Encourage Social Media Users to Create Content for You
Whether you want to go all-in on UGC or just add a bit of it to your social media pages, you need people to make that content. Part of the plan here is to advertise that you love UGC and inspire people to talk about your brand. In addition, offering an incentive for creativity can be a highly effective way to get awesome content.
1. Create and promote your branded hashtag on your bio and social media accounts to remind people to share it.
As the old saying goes, “if you build it, they will come.” Having an easy way for people to associate content with your brand not only makes it easier to do so but inspires them to do so.
2. Remind your fans and customers of your hashtag and to tag you – mention it on your website, emails, social media posts – even packaging!
You can easily make this fun. I’ve seen brands say things like “we love hearing from you,” or “if you’re having fun here, we’d like to enjoy it with you.” By creating a partnership and rapport with your customers you’ll encourage them to grant that all-important hashtag.
3. Run a contest to source user generated content if there is not enough word of mouth about your brand on social media.
It doesn’t matter what kind of brand you are: people love free stuff. Run a social media contest! Whether you choose to give away a bag of free product, a trip, or even bragging rights there are people who will be unable to resist. And of course, this is just what you need. While you’re at it, make sure that people must tag you to enter.
4. Start an Influencer Marketing Program with a goal of having influencers create content for your brand.
This approach is almost inevitable in the world of user generated content. While many people will happily create content for free, many of them are individuals without a sphere of influence. At some point, though, you may want to engage influencers who are closer to the top of the influence ladder. In the meantime, though, don’t forget the micro influencers.
5. Showcase your fans (and influencers and contest participants) content on your website.
Social media isn’t the only place where UGC shines. Rather, showcasing quality content with the creator’s permission is often valuable on other platforms, such as your website.
6. Curate from your library of UGC content.
Find awesome content that uses your hashtags or includes your products. Get permission to use their content and publish as your own tagging them OR simply repost their content using an Instagram repost app.
If you think of social media as a way of collaborating with content creators, you can develop relationships with influencers AND indirectly promote your product while saving you the cost and effort of creating your own content! Even better, this is a relatively easy process that boosts your social media profiles. Try this mind-shifting exercise and you will certainly see business benefits you might not have imagined!
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Neal Schaffer is an authority on helping innovative businesses digitally transform their sales and marketing. Founder of the digital marketing consultancy PDCA Social, Neal currently serves as a Fractional CMO for several organizations. Neal also teaches executives digital marketing at Rutgers Business School and the Irish Management Institute. He is also the author of 4 sales and marketing books, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley) and the recently published The Age of Influence (HarperCollins Leadership), a ground-breaking book redefining digital influence. Download a free preview of the Age of Influence here.