When you’re trying to learn the real story about a product or service as a consumer, do you turn to the people who market that product or the people who actually use it? Do you build a connection with a brand because of the way that a product is pitched to you, or because of the benefits that product provides when it is in your hands? Sometimes, the most important questions from prospective customers are best answered by other customers, and the longest-lasting relationships are seeded by personal experience. User-generated content is one of the most effective ways to tap into that consumer-to-consumer mindset, and earn some social proof in the process.
What is it?
User-generated content takes many forms, from short, simple product reviews to social media comments and long, detailed blog posts. You’ll find it on the websites of big-name brands, and of the small mom-and-pop store located around the corner from your home. There are two primary reasons that user-generated content is so effective:
- Customers Love Having a Voice – Hand someone a microphone, and they’ll probably start talking. Give them a social media page, and they’ll definitely start posting. The simple fact is that people love having a voice, and user-generated content provides a natural opportunity for them to make their voices heard. Will that voice always have ideal grammar, perfect punctuation, or a strong grasp of the latest marketing jargon? Of course not! However, that doesn’t matter because…
- People Trust Opinions from Other People – Professional marketing plays an important role in helping us decide which brands to support, but it only tells part of the story. People are conditioned to take the claims that brands make with a grain of salt, and they look to other customers to help them decide which brands are the real deal. User-generated content often functions as social proof, and as a resource for prospects who want to learn more about your brand from an unbiased source.
Risk vs Reward
Within those two major benefits, you can also puzzle out the risks that some brands see when they look at user-generated content. Giving your customers a voice can be scary, because there is always the chance they will say something negative. And if they say something you don’t like, prospects could form a negative opinion of your brand. The thing is, those risks are always present in an online world (and in the offline world where you cant even see or hear it), even if you choose not to embrace the benefits of user-generated content. Brands haven’t controlled the conversation for a while now, and we’re never going back to the “good old days” of lazy mass marketing. This means we have to be all the more diligent in finding ways to create positive customer experiences and parlaying those experiences into social proof.
Want More Customers? Tap into Those You Already Have
There is no better way to build connections than sharing stories and personal experiences. If you’re active on social media, there’s a good chance you’re already doing this with your friends, colleagues, and family members every day. The slickest advertisement in the world can quickly take a backseat to an honest, thoughtful opinion from someone who has held that product in their hands. That extra context is huge, because it provides the sort of concrete, real-life experience that today’s buyers use to make decisions.
In addition to the outward marketing benefits that come when a prospect encounters user-generated content from a devoted customer/advocate, the process of creating user-generated content also forges a deeper connection between the advocate and the brand. The users who are generating positive content about your brand invest their precious time to do so, and the fact that your brand recognizes their voice lends legitimacy to their efforts.
Results Speak for Themselves
Whether you’re ready or not, your customers are going to share their experiences. So as a brand, your job will be much easier if you concentrate on facilitating the best customer experience (and support) as possible, and be consistent about it. If your business practices consistently produce positive results, adding user-generated content to your marketing efforts is a way of keeping your brand relevant in the minds of today’s digitally-empowered buyers, in front of them in the social content world, and easily found via search. It’s also a way to forge deeper bonds with your advocates, who will be more than happy to sing your praises to their friends, families, and audiences. Give your customers a real voice, and if your product/service is a good one you will be pleasantly surprised by the way it will enhance you business.