Here’s a fact that might make you feel old: user generated content (UGC), one of the “new”, “emerging” techniques of modern online marketing, is ten years old.
In 2005, the BBC of all institutions, set up a UGC team. Created to respond to the rise of citizen journalism made possible by social media and the internet, the department began as a trial – a short-term test. But it didn’t take long for it to become a fully-fledged part of the BBC.
And since then, UGC has been finding a footing in just about all parts of the media. The benefits are obvious: it’s immediate content from people with their feet on the ground; it’s undeniably authentic; and there’s a near endless supply of it.
But there’s more to it than just providing on-the-ground, up-to-the-minute journalism. For brands and marketing activities it can have serious results, if used properly. However, it can also be a nebulous thing, so it can be tough to know how to use it, or even to really know what it is…
There’s a benefit of having creative work included in a major movement aligned with a major brand
So, what is it?
As the name suggests, it’s content (blogs, images, videos, forums, etc.) created not by a creative or an agency, but directly by users – your average joes. Whether on social media or sent in via email or collected on websites, it’s almost entirely unfiltered and straight from the mouths of the people you’re trying to reach. For that reason, it’s an incredibly powerful marketing tool.
The world is a social place. The internet is a very social place. Users expect to be able to join in conversations and have their voices heard no matter where they are. Your audience want to see themselves in your brand – UGC is a very literal translation of that audience need.
A study by research company Ipsos found that Millennials believe UGC to be 35% more memorable than other forms. More than that, they’re 20% more likely to be influenced into a purchase by UGC. A further study by ratings and review company Reevoo found that 70% of consumers place peer recommendations and review above professional written counterparts. It’s got clout.
‘So if my audience is so good at creating content, can I just stop altogether then?’ you might ask. The answer, in short, is no. That content can be created by your users, but they can’t set the strategy, they can’t package it for you, and they can’t amplify it to make sure it has impact. You can use your audience’s voice, but you still need to be the speaker, the amplifier and the sheet music.
Big brands are on board, and they’re having big success
The Starbucks White Cup Campaign ran in 2014 and found incredible success – not just in terms of people actively taking part, but in the number of people who engaged by admiring it. The premise, as is the case for any UGC, was simple.
The call was put out on social media for Starbucks customers in the US and Canada to decorate their coffee cups, take a photo of it and upload it to social media using #WhiteCupContest.
Starbucks then picked a winning entry and the design was made into a limited edition cup that customers across the country could buy. Uptake was immediate and continued for the campaign’s duration: over the course of three weeks Starbucks received 4,000 entries.
It’s an example of a very simple campaign – there’s little in the way of curation and moderation – with a great result: an engaged audience who want to be involved in your brand and a message with a large reach thanks to a big audience sharing it.
How can I implement it in my marketing?
Embarking on your own UGC campaign is a wise move, but it’s important to set out on it strategically, with clear goals in place. Like any good marketing strategy, there’s a stepped process you should follow…
Know your audience
The starting block is to know who you want to speak to. This will depend on your business goals, of course. And it’s at this point that you can really nail down whether a UGC campaign is for you.
For example, if you’re looking to get young, design-wise Millennials involved, perhaps an image-led UGC Instagram campaign could work. If your audience is older, perhaps less digital-savvy, maybe you should be relying on a “Send us your stories” style landing page to source content. If your audience don’t spend much time online, nor are actively engaged in the brand, you might want to question whether a UGC campaign is really the right way to go.
What sort of content do you want?
Knowing your audience will give you invaluable insight into this, but also consider your brand image and the message you want to get across. If your brand has a strong visual identity, then consider a way that you can ask your customers to put their stamp on it. Otherwise you might want to inspire users to share written stories – ones that you can then repurpose and use in your communications.
When you consider that a huge benefit of UGC is users literally being able to see themselves in your messaging, images, videos, Vines, etc., can all prove very effective, often more so that written content.
An engaged audience who want to be involved in your brand and a message with a large reach
Make it win-win
Don’t forget that your users need something out of this, too. In the Starbucks White Cup Contest users had the chance to have their design immortalised, but there was a secondary benefit of having their creative work included in a major movement aligned with a major brand.
If you’re thinking of running your own UGC campaign you need to ask the question, ‘Why do my users want to generate this content?’ Put yourself in their shoes. If there’s nothing in it for them, you may need to rethink.
Monitor the red tape
Once you have your concept and idea ready, you must remember to monitor the red tape – the mechanics of it. Firstly, ensure you have buy in from the people who have a say in how your brand message gets communicated. You also need to establish whether you can use the content users share with you freely.
Whatever your plan, be sure to make it clear to users what you will be using it for, and how. This can be as simple as a disclaimer, a tick box or a short line or two on any website where you’re asking users to input their own content.
On social media, it’s often easy to ask users to share using a hashtag. If you choose to do this, just make sure you are aware of the playing field and you’re not breaking the rules.
Bear in mind that UGC is your chance to create ambassadors for your brand, developing a relationship with your customers in ways that tangibly involve them in what you do. And when your target audience gets as good as they give, it’s a win-win for all. Why not put your customer’s name on a cup and make them a champion?