As the Internet experience has evolved from one-way communication into a multi-directional venue for sharing content with friends, followers and the world, user-generated content has become an unstoppable force.
User-generated content (UGC) is simply media that is produced by the end users of any platform, network or website. It comes in many forms and is such a part of the online experience that most of us don’t give it a second thought.
Some of the most common examples of UGC are:
- Reviews: Sites like Amazon, Trip Advisor and Yelp encourage users to create reviews for others to read to give a more complete overview of products, locations and businesses.
- Social Media: By far the most popular form of UGC, sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others would not exist without the pictures, videos and posts created by their users.
- Forums: Users contribute content by asking and answering questions, discussing topics with others and engaging with other forum members.
- Video: Ever heard of YouTube?
- Blogs: Platforms like Tumblr allow users to create blogs through which they can post all kinds of media. Other users can comment on the original content to keep the cycle going as well.
- Wikis: User-created and user-edited knowledge databases are another form of UGC.
- Q&A: Sites like Quora and Yahoo Answers are based on community members asking and answering questions.
Can you imagine an Internet without Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, Yelp, Wikipedia and the rest of your favorite sites? That's the power of user-generated content!
Benefits of User-Generated Content
Unique content generators like these have shaped the online experience as we know it, and it’s not hard to see why.
There are many benefits to harnessing user-generated content, whether you’re trying to create the next .com behemoth or just get your slice of the affiliate marketing pie. Some include:
Outsourced Content Creation
Anyone who has ever sat down to populate a website with content knows that it’s a tedious and time-consuming task. Toss in the fact that you need engaging content that visitors actually want to consume and you’re looking at a serious investment of time and resources.
UGC solves that issue because you are effectively outsourcing huge chunks of content creation to your user base. You still need to create some content: Amazon, for example, creates the product pages, descriptions, images and so on. Your users aren’t going to do it all, but if you give them the platform and reason to create and share, they will.
UGC-dominated sites aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, they are only going to get more popular if current trends hold true.
A study done by marketing startup Crowdtap and the global research company Ipsos found that Millennials trust UGC 50 percent more than traditional media. Considering the amount of time they spend online is far greater than other generational groups, don’t expect UGC to go anywhere.
There are great returns when it comes to user-generated content.
Your costs lie in creating the platform and method for people to create UGC, and getting an initial user base. After that, your ongoing content creation costs are next to nothing and your marketing budget shrinks as well.
GoPro, the wearable camera manufacturer, is the poster child for squeezing value out of UGC.
According to a recent Fast Company article:
“The company more than doubled its net income from 2010 to 2011 to $24.6 million but only spent $50,000 more in marketing costs to do it. And GoPro repeated the feat in 2013, increasing marketing costs by only $41,000, but making $28 million more in net income.”
GoPro was able to do this by having extremely low advertising costs. The commercials primarily use footage from sponsored athletes, eliminating most of traditional costs of advertising content creation. Most importantly, their customer base routinely uploads their videos and shares them with friends, family and followers. These are nothing more than mini-commercials shot by thousands of different directors.
Get the Ball Rolling
Now that you’ve gotten a taste for what UGC can do for you, let’s cover some strategies you can implement to get you some of that sweet action.
Create Brand Ambassadors
If you’ve been paying attention so far, you’ve probably realized the value of your customers doesn’t stop after they hit the “Buy” button. Turning your customers into splinter-cell UGC-creating marketing machines is the ultimate goal.
Inspire your customers to go beyond the traditional merchant/purchaser relationship and to become brand ambassadors. Spell out your company's values, ideals and purpose and find customers who align with them.
This could be as simple as asking your customers to take pictures using your product and share them on social media. Using those pictures on your own social media channels and other locations will draw more like-minded customers to you and highlight the efforts of your existing ones.
Crowdsource Design and Product Ideas
If you’re looking for some fresh ideas, ask your audience. Using the power of crowdsourcing will bring in ideas and new ways of looking at things.
Not only are you getting the fresh infusion of information you need; you’re also creating an engaged audience that is creating content and buzz for you.
Comments and reviews are commonplace on e-commerce sites these days and should be a big part of your UGC plan if you run that type of site.
But don’t think you have to stop at text…
Rent the Runway rents out high-fashion dresses and clothing online. To remove the potential customer objection of “I’m not sure what I’d look like in that dress” they have collected user-generated images of customers wearing their products. Customers can then search based on measurements and body types in order to find something that would look good on their frame.
We can all see how that shirt looks on the model with the flawless body and washboard abs. But what does it look like on a guy 5 inches shorter and who has a fondness for chili cheese fries? And we can all see what that flowing, floor-length dress does for the slim, nearly androgynous runway model, but what about a girl with actual curves?
Give, Engage and Watch it Grow
User-generated content is amazing when it gets rolling, but you have to start it somewhere.
Have a vision for your platform or site and then seek out visitors who align with that vision. You don’t need to be the next Amazon to be successful. You just need a small group of highly engaged and loyal followers.
Draw them to you and nurture them by providing value upfront. Offer them something that they can’t get elsewhere or in a different style than anyone else can. Cater to them and let their feedback guide you.
It’s like those giant cartoon snowballs; they start at the top of the mountain small enough to fit in your hand but at the bottom, they're massive beasts that you couldn't stop by yourself even if you were to try.How can you introduce or improve upon your current UGC plans? What content would you love to see from your audience?