In the marketing world, user generated content (UGC) is the next big thing. Business guru Howard Schultz once said, “Authentic brands don’t emerge from marketing cubicles or advertising agencies.”
Brands are desperate to regain the authenticity they’ve lost due to competition. User generated content (UGC) in favor of a brand ticks the authenticity checkbox.
We’ll first have a brief overview of UGC, then we’ll study how UGC synergizes with other aspects of branding and how social media facilitates it.
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UGC and brands
Online reviews praising or slamming brands are the crude form of UGC. The refined forms are found in campaigns run by brands. TedXPortland is among the brands that innovated marketing with UGC. The brand built an app that would digitally laminate the word “Perfect” on user generated images on Instagram and Twitter.
Another example is The Art of the Trench campaign run by Burberry in 2009. Burberry is a British clothing brand. The campaign allowed users to upload photos of them wearing Burberry clothes. They could also comment on photos uploaded by others. The campaign caused a 50% increase in Burberry’s sales.
Enter social media
The two brand campaigns referenced above used social media. For UGC-driven brand promotion, social media works like a charm. Each social network has its own way of helping brands with UGC. Here’s how each individual social network contributes to UGC marketing:
#Facebook: Facebook is still the most rewarding platform for branding. Positive user experience stems from brand engagement. Brands that offer users an overall satisfactory experience are positively reviewed. The Facebook Review or Star Rating allows users to rate brand pages. Brands can turn off this feature if they feel they are getting drowned in negative reviews, but that’d hurt consumer engagement.
#Instagram: Belkin and Lego’s campaign to sell customizable iPhone cases harnessed UGC and social media. The LEGOxBelkin campaign put together customer creativity and Instagram. The campaign received an excellent response. Photos taken by customers and posted under the #LEGOxBelkin campaign swarmed all over the place on Instagram. Below is a screenshot of the campaign’s wall:
#Twitter: Twitter is great on the customer care front. Customer care reps can use Twitter to answer queries, pacify pissed customers, make new announcements and so on.
The infographic below shows why Twitter is a great platform for connecting with customers:
Customer care leads to user generated content creation. We’ll discuss the process shortly, first, give a look at the image below detailing an account of customer handling on Twitter:
Maybe the post was intended for fun, but that doesn’t hide the fact that the Twitter account of Domino’s Pizza was well-equipped to handle customer complaints. Note the customer in the above Tweet replied twice.
The more customers interact with service reps on social media, the more content they create. If their queries are answered and doubts are cleared, they’d end the conversation on a high note, thereby generating positive UGC in support of the brand.
#Pinterest: Pinterest is a social network to solidify visual branding. The network heavily favors UGC. One study points out more than 80% of pins are actually repins. Repins are curated content. When a user repins branded pins, content curation merges with UGC. The reach of a campaign greatly increases and the campaign gains trust.
A brand needs to put on these two things to leverage Pinterest for UGC:
- A collaborative pinboard
- An engaging hashtag
The advantage of a collective pinboard is it takes user participation to the next level. The Styld.by campaign has successfully pulled this off. Look at the image below:
The campaign was carried out by the fashion brand the Gap. Any customer could post his/her photo wearing Gap clothing on the collaborative pinboard, displayed above. Starbucks Cup Art contest was similar to the Styld.by campaign. The two back-to-back campaigns show that on Pinterest, user generated content goes visual and drives engagement.
The discussion above articulates how UGC and social media add up. In hindsight, I think such a lengthy discussion was not needed. It’s rather easy to understand why and how social media facilitates UGC.
Cost-reduction is a big reason brands need social media as well as UGC. Compartmentalization of work is common in the corporate atmosphere and it does more harm than good. Expenses keep adding up and so do unwanted factors that choke steady communication. See the infographic below:
The infographic shows the flip side of a compartmentalized work atmosphere, out of touch with social media. The 67% customers who disconnect the call badmouth the brand they’re pissed at and that scares off potential customers.
The brand, on the other hand, keeps paying for the telephone bill and for the overall maintenance of the customer care department.
Using social media gives enterprises a break from costly ways of connecting to consumers. This, in turn, creates a bunch of dedicated consumers who generate favorable content for the brand. And they generate the content on social media.
ORM campaign made easy
Retail buyers are now incredibly aware of what they buy and why they buy it. An average customer reads 10 or more reviews before buying something and a brand needs 12 positive reviews to offset the impact of one negative review.
Social media is the place where users share brand experiences. By having user (customer)-generated content praising it on social channels, a brand can eliminate the need to run a separate ORM campaign and save money.
Advertising is unnecessary
You may have a hard time digesting it, but it’s the truth. UGC can make advertising unnecessary. Users are not receptive to digital ads anymore, many of them are using ad blocking tools. Take a look at how ad blocking grew over the last few years:
Typical banner ads now have less than 1% CTR. This indicates, even if your ads are not blocked, you still can’t expect them to yield a phenomenal result. Besides, advertising is not easy unless it is programmatic. Whether it’s ad pricing method or increasing the ad’s appeal – difficulty lies everywhere.
User generated content is 100% organic. Social media is always crowded, people are bound to notice UGC. The content would narrate the brand experience of their friends or friends of friends.
This model is 100 times better than advertising. It’s good for the brands too as they don’t have to pour millions into ad budget.
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We’ve discussed the benefits of UGC for brands and the role of social media in harnessing its power. We’ve also cited several brand campaigns to exemplify the UGC-social media nexus. The only thing that is missing in this discussion is the role of creativity.
Creativity is not formulaic. Brands have to search for creative ways to blend user generated content and social media themselves.