Word of mouth used to be the most valuable form of a referral. With 92 percent of consumers trusting the recommendations of family and friends over ads of any kind, brands were scrambling to figure out how to get these referrals. As it turns out, it wasn’t as difficult as they thought. Through user-generated content, consumers are excited to share about brands they love.

User-generated content is media created by users of a good or service. This comes in the form of Instagram posts, Facebook comments, website reviews and blog posts, tweets, and more. Generally, the motivation behind UGC is simply to share your opinion about the brand, product, or service you have consumed.

UGC As A Source Of Content

One brand that caught on to this quickly and soon took advantage is Starbucks. Although it has used UGC as a source of its own content for a while, it started noticing trends in the types of UGC that was being created around its brand. After identifying this trend, Starbucks took it a step further and encouraged this specific kind of UGC through a contest where it asked fans and followers to participate in the White Cup Contest by decorating Starbucks’ iconic white cups, snapping a photo, and posting to social channels using #WhiteCupContest. What was most effective about this strategy was that Starbucks was taking a behavior that was already happening, then encouraging people to share it on social. The result was an inpouring of creative, unique, visual content it could use on its own channels.

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UGC As A Content Strategy Tactic

Millennials are soon to have the greatest combined purchasing power in history. This will cause a shift in marketing strategies, because companies who have millennials in their target market will want to continue appealing to the audience in the form in which they will be most receptive. For millennials specifically, Ipsos Millennial Social Influence Study states UGC is 50 percent more trusted than other mediums, while also being 35 percent more memorable. By incorporating UGC into their content strategies, brands are sure to appeal to this audience, while in turn inspiring their fans and followers to continue producing UGC.

This can create a ripple effect and continue to spread the word about a brand to new audiences it might not have otherwise reached. Another tactic in the content strategy would be creating UGC-like content. Several brands have seen success in doing this because it feels more real when consumed in social feeds, while providing an opportunity to humanize the brand. In the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, “Give people what they want, and give it to them a way a human would, not a brand.”

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UGC As A Way To Feature Product On Your Website

One of the most difficult parts of shopping online is understanding how clothing is going to fit your body and not just how it will look on a model.  Knowing this has provoked retailers to include UGC content of real customers wearing their products within the detail product pages of their website. This directly effects the purchasing decisions, as it’s been found that 65 percent of users aged 18-24 considered information shared on social networks when making a purchasing decision.

Shoutlet paints a picture of how brands feature products, using the example of how ”E-commerce fashion retailer Black Milk clothing integrates photos from Facebook and Instagram into every product page. By assigning a specific hashtag for each product, fans can share their pictures of that item and shoppers can see the item worn on real people while they are shopping.”

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In addition to creating hashtags for specific products, users may or may not know to use it. A way to get around this is to comment on the user’s post in a way that will assign it to the correct product feed. For example:

“Great photo, @fan! You look absolutely stunning in the #BowerbirdsWhitePlayDress.”

UGC As An Opportunity To Engage With Your Customers

Brands have also learned that the immediacy of social has turned many platforms into a new customer service platform. Seventy one percent of those who experience positive social care are likely to recommend that brand to others, compared to just 19 percent of customers that do not receive any response. Additionally, a study by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has found that 90 percent of consumers would recommend a brand to others after interacting with them on social media. Another interesting tidbit was found in a recent study by Forrester that showed more people who post positive responses on Facebook and Twitter expect a reply from companies than those who post negative comments. This is important to point out because it’s easy to focus reactive response efforts to remedy negative situations, but those who are sharing positivity about your brand or product also expect that interaction and validation for their loyalty and effort to share something positive.

In addition to the types of comments you’re receiving from consumers, community management efforts should also take each channel into consideration. For instance, consumers expect a quicker response on Twitter than Facebook or Instagram. An approach many brands have seen success with is to create a separate support handle dedicated to helping customers. Some brands that have seen great success with doing so include Nike, Xbox, UPS, Comcast, and Amazon.

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In terms of positively engaging with customers, Instagram and Twitter provide great opportunities to easily search for and find a brand mention, which allows the opportunity to engage with your fan’s content. Although Instagram’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy indicate that by sharing your photos publicly on their service, you allow users to search for, see, use, or share any of your user content, many brands take the extra step to request permission to post others’ photos, which simply creates another interaction with fans and brand advocates that will excite them about your brand.

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Another way to engage with customers on social is by following them. This can be done strategically by curating a following that aligns with your brand, and has the potential to supplement content to re-share. Many brands will also follow fans and brand advocates to excite or reward them for their loyalty.

So, what do you think is next? Which UGC strategies have been successful for your brand?

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