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This is a guest post from Kate Lynch at Workamajig.

What others think about your brand and your products matters, especially to would-be buyers.

Positive reviews from existing customers act as digital word-of-mouth, mitigating fears and prompting action. A sound, user-generated content strategy can help you leverage this word of mouth to turn window shoppers into customers.

Think about the last time you bought something online.

Unless you were a repeat buyer, you likely scrolled down the “buy now” page to read reviews from other customers.

Reviews, testimonials, customer images, social media comments—all of these are clubbed under “user-generated content” (or UGC for short).

UGC has a massive impact on moving conversions and building your brand, yet far too many retailers don’t have a clear strategy to acquire and use it. They either focus on a single platform or fail to use content correctly.

Read on to discover how to create and implement a platform-agnostic user-generated content strategy. You’ll learn how to identify opportunities, capture content, and use it to move the conversion needle, regardless of the platforms you use.

Why user-generated content matters

Seventy percent of consumers check UGC ratings or reviews before buying a product and 64% actively seek out reviews when making a purchase decision. Campaigns with UGC see 29% higher conversions than those without it.

There are stats aplenty when it comes to user-generated content and its importance. But, beyond these numbers, UGC fulfills a crucial role in any online campaign: enabling authenticity and building social proof.

UGC and authenticity

Authenticity is one of your core challenges when it comes to selling online. In the absence of a physical, hands-on experience, how do you convince customers that you’re the real deal?

You can punctuate your marketing with messages of authenticity, but sticking a “100% genuine” sticker on a product can only go so far. You’re essentially asking customers to trust your word, which, if you don’t have an established brand, is a tall task.

This is precisely the problem UGC solves. Well-crafted UGC confirms and even adds to your claim of authenticity.

You might say that your leather bags are built to last, but the claim becomes far stronger when you can share pictures of customers showing their decade-old, perfectly usable bags.

Saddleback Leather Co.'s user-generated content strategy on Instagram

Saddleback Leather doesn’t just say that its products are tough; it also shares images of customers using them in tough conditions. (Image source: Facebook)

Ninety percent of customers even say that they seek authenticity when buying online. By corroborating your claims with UGC, you can make your marketing much stronger.

UGC builds social proof.

Social proof is one of the six pillars of persuasion, according to Dr. Robert Cialdini. It’s a natural drive—we consider the already popular to also be good.

UGC is a fantastic ally in building social proof. When quantified in the form of ratings and review counts, it gives customers an objective measure of your popularity.

Beyond ratings, UGC also helps would-be customers see how your product looks in the real world. Fancy studio photography is great for showing products in their ideal state, but buyers also want to see them in the context of real-world usage.

A customer sharing pictures of her living room with your sofa or cabinet gives a much better real-world understanding of the product.

Customer reviews, like those on Amazon, are a great user-generated content strategy

Amazon focuses heavily on customer reviews and images to improve authenticity perception. (Image source: Amazon)

This is a critical tool in building consensus and bringing in conversions.

Creating a platform-agnostic UGC strategy

As effective as user-generated content can be, it’s also difficult to implement. Platform barriers can make it hard to figure out what, where, and when to source content from customers.

The solution is to develop a truly platform-agnostic UGC strategy. Your goal should be to capture and catalog content from users on channels you own or control.
This gives you far more freedom in how and when you use the UGC in your marketing.

But, before I share this strategy, let’s address a question most of you are probably asking: Why does being platform-agnostic even matter?

Why it pays to be platform-agnostic

UGC is often tied to specific platforms. You might run a contest on Instagram to collect user images or you might tweet out a request for testimonials to your Twitter followers.

Depending on individual platforms, however, can be a recipe for disaster for these reasons:

  • Usage bans: unless you own the platform, anything that infringes on the Terms of Service can put you at risk of being banned or restricted. This endangers your entire UGC strategy—you’re essentially at the mercy of the platform.
  • Content restrictions: most platforms place restrictions on how and where you can use content sourced using it. In some cases, they also retain copyright over the content, limiting its use outside the platform.
  • Quality restrictions: the quality of your UGC will depend on the quality of content allowed by the platform. You might want 1080p video for a UGC-driven video campaign, but the platform might compress all videos to 720p.
  • Popularity changes: the popularity of a platform changes over time. Users might move from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat. When a platform’s usage declines, so does the effectiveness of any UGC that sits on it.
  • Communication limits: how and how often you communicate with fans and followers depends on the platform’s internal standard. You might want to message your fans directly, but the platform might prohibit you from doing so. This affects the flexibility of your UGC campaigns.

Detaching your UGC efforts from any specific platform gives you far more freedom in how you use it. You’re not dependent on the whims and fancies of ever-changing ToS and popularity trends. Instead, you own the platform and the content.

So what’s the platform that you can control completely?

You guessed it: email!

An email-focused UGC strategy

Email counters so many of the challenges retailers usually encounter in creating UGC campaigns. It’s a platform that you own and control entirely. There are no restrictions on how often you communicate with customers or what you share in each message.
Creating an email-focused UGC strategy has three parts:

1. Segment your audience.

Not every customer is an equally good candidate for sourcing user-generated content. Even if they’re happy with your product, many users are simply averse to sharing.

Your strongest candidates for sourcing UGC are people who:

  • Are enthusiastic sharers and content creators
  • Are “superfans” who love your products

Thus, step one is to segment this audience.

Start by segmenting all customers who:

  • Have ordered your product multiple times
  • Have been with your business for more than 2 years (change this limit based on average purchase cycle for your product)
  • Have previously had positive interactions with your brand, preferably over email

This should give you a healthy list of your starting “superfans.”

Expand this list further by using a simple NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey to spot all your “promoters.”

For the uninitiated, NPS is a system created by Bain to find your best customers. The survey works by asking users to rate the likelihood of recommending your product on a scale of 1-10.

Anyone who scores between 9-10 is called a “promoter.” Scores between 7-8 are labeled “passives,” and anything below 7 is a “detractor.”

This is a graph providing stores with the info they need to judge customers' promoter status.

(Image source: Bain & Company)

Users are also given a chance to explain their reason for these scores, though this is entirely optional.

An NPS survey works wonderfully well for spotting your superfans and enthusiastic sharers. Anyone who gives you a score of 9-10 has shown that:

  • They like your product/service and don’t mind recommending it to others
  • They’re receptive to your marketing emails and are willing to act on them (since they did complete the survey)

The latter point is particularly important. You can have the happiest of fans out there, but, unless they’re willing to open your emails and share their content, your UGC strategy will go nowhere.

Combine this NPS survey segment with the email list you created above to kickstart your UGC campaign.

Read this article to learn more about implementing NPS surveys with Campaign Monitor.

2. Plan your campaign.

What do you want your UGC campaign to accomplish?

If you don’t have a clear answer to this question, your campaign will go nowhere. The best UGC campaigns have a very targeted ask. They request customers to share a specific piece of content for a specific purpose.

Some common UGC campaign targets include:

  • Sourcing reviews and ratings for a recent purchase
  • Collecting testimonials for the brand or company as a whole
  • Collecting customer images or videos
  • Asking for content to be used in blog posts, FAQs, etc.

Each of these campaigns requires different degrees of effort from customers. Leaving a rating or a review is much easier than sharing a product picture.

What you offer in exchange for this content, thus, will have to change accordingly.

Similarly, not all UGC is equal in quality. If you’re sourcing content that can be used in an ad campaign, you’ll have to set minimum quality criteria to be acceptable. But, if you’re simply sourcing reviews, you’ll have to allow all content—even the negative ones.

Before you start the campaign, figure out the following:

  • Your “ask” and its difficulty or effort requirement
  • Whether you have any quality criteria for the content
  • Where you’ll use the content (and if the platform has any content guidelines)
  • The reward(s) you’re willing to offer for an acceptable UGC

3. Ask for UGC.

With your plan in hand, start the UGC campaign.

This doesn’t have to be complicated. All you need are these three ingredients:

A. An email asking for content

Your UGC collection email should be clear and specific. After reading it, customers should know the following:

  • The purpose behind the campaign
  • What kind of content you’re asking for
  • Whether there’s a reward for sharing content
  • Where the content will be used
  • Who’ll own the copyright to the content
  • Whether the content will be shared anonymously or you’ll tag the customer

It’s also a good idea to refer to past UGC campaigns to show customers what acceptable content looks like and how it can be used.

For example, Chaco sends this email to collect UGC for its Instagram campaign:

You can use a hashtag as part of your user-generated content strategy, like the #spiritofsummer hashtag from Chaco shown here.

Contests are typically the best format for collecting high-quality UGC. They pose a barrier to entry which often deters low-quality submissions.

However, for a contest to be effective, you have to offer a convincing reward, which brings us to the next section.

B. A reward for sharing content

Rewards are crucial for successful UGC campaigns. While a few superfans would be happy to share their content with you for free, most will want something more than a pat on the back.

The kind of reward you offer will depend on the difficulty of the ask, your brand, and the purpose of the campaign.

If you’re sourcing travel photos that’ll eventually be used in a brochure, you want high-quality images. Running a contest that rewards the best shots, thus, would be the right move.

If you have a prestigious brand or a large social following, simply offering exposure (in the form of shares/retweets) might be enough.

For example, BMW used its brand prestige to “reward” users by sharing their car images on its massively popular Instagram account.

BMW uses real photos of customer cars as part of their user-generated content strategy

Your rewards will typically fall into three categories:

  • Exposure – i.e., promotion through social channels
  • Discounts – i.e., coupon codes for sharing content
  • Prizes – i.e., physical or digital prizes for acceptable shares
    The bigger the ask, the bigger your reward should be.

C. A way to collect UGC

The final step is to collect your UGC.

Again, how you go about this will depend on what kind of UGC you’re collecting.

If you’re asking for reviews, it’d be best to collect these reviews on your website.

On the other hand, if you’re asking for high-quality photos, it’s best to ask for image links or attachments.

There are plenty of tools for collecting and curating UGC from different sources, including email, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Some of these include ShortStack, Yotpo, Curalate, Stackla, etc.

It’s also a good idea to keep track of everything in a spreadsheet or a project management tool. You can even consider creating a project dashboard so that you know where you currently stand in your campaign.

Once you’ve collected your UGC, it’s time to start using it in your marketing!

Over to you

UGC is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal for winning over customers. Depending on a single platform for collecting it, however, exposes you to significant risks and usage limitations.

By adopting a platform-agnostic user-generated content strategy, you can not only collect high-quality UGC, but also retain complete control over customer interactions.


 

This is a headshot of Kate Lynch, writer at Workmajig and guest poster for the Campaign Monitor blog

Kate Lynch is a digital marketing blogger who spends her entire day writing quality blogs at Workamajig. She is a passionate reader and loves to share quality content, keeping a keen eye on the latest trends and news. Follow her on twitter @IamKateLynch for more updates.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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