User-generated content, whether in the form of reviews (on Yelp or Amazon, Ask Me Anything sessions on Twitter or Inbound.org, Forum Q&As or testimonials), can be among the best resources at your disposal as a marketer or business owner. Best of all, you don’t have to write the content yourself – users already have, and they likely said it better than you ever could! But employing user-generated content to your best advantage still requires strategy, and most importantly, ethics. As generous as users are with their comments, ideas, and suggestions, no one should ever end up feeling, well, used.
Benefits of User-Generated Content (UGC)
UGC can spark interest in a brand, add value with fresh content, and build loyalty, engagement and trust. Oh yeah – and all that leads to sales.
- Shiny New Things: If you’ve ever tried to create a steady stream of original, engaging, interesting, provocative and valuable content for any length of time, you’ll immediately understand the value of having users do the heavy-lifting for you.
- Crowdsourcing Expertise: More heads are better than one, and each user comes with a unique perspective, experience, background, and expertise. Users tend to not only know their stuff, but write their ideas down eloquently. The information they volunteer on a daily (even hourly) basis would take most of us hours to research.
- Engagement-Maker: Brands eager to engage their target audience should consider giving that audience a place to talk about and share what excites them. Including user-interaction in your site design can come with some risks, but the benefits of fostering a community of excited fans are compelling.
- Instant-Credibility: Cialdini’s sixth principle of influence is “Consensus” – when you’re faced with a decision, you ask around for other peoples’ experiences. User-review sites like Yelp, or even Amazon, use Consensus to build trust among their consumers. You can too.
Risks of UGC
Have you ever tried to build a forum, only to discover that what you’ve really built is a troll bridge? Or did you open up comments on your website hoping to engage users and start lively conversations, but all you did was invite every robot on the web to a click-bait party? Or maybe your users have mouths like sailors (and typing fingers to match). Whenever you’re dealing with people on the internet, you run the risk of inappropriate comments, trolls, and bots.
Fortunately, there are many automated ways to combat bots, including Captchas (which have their own pros and cons) and spam blockers. But, for trolls and sailors, you’ll need a good old-fashioned moderator to keep everything friendly.
As founder of MEDIAau Miranda Miller says
(E)xercising editorial control is important in any UGC campaign. You should ensure consistency, quality, and adherence to your own content guidelines in your UGC. You also need people on your team to optimize incoming UGC and re-purpose it for newsletters, ads, social posts, the blog – however you plan to use it.
Ethical Use of UGC
Just like writing college papers, the first rule of Ethical UGC is to give credit where credit is due – always attribute. The second most important rule is to ask permission if there’s any question at all as to whether something will be private or public. If someone is commenting on a blog post, it’s clear that their comment will be there for all to see. But, if someone leaves a review for you on Yelp, you need to ask before copy-pasting their picture and comment onto your home page.
In addition to the big, glaring commandments of DO NOT PLAGIARIZE and GIVE CREDIT and DON’T COPY-PASTE STUFF THAT ISN’T YOURS – there’s a finesse to using UGC effectively. It’s a bit like hosting a party: You want to make sure that everyone is having a good time (or what’s the point?). Ana Hoffman, founder of Traffic Generation Cafe, had this to say on the topic:
Acknowledge by responding. This is a big one and it goes for any user-generated content that’s directed at you specifically – blog comments, social media interactions, etc. No one likes to talk into a vacuum. If your readers/viewers feel they are doing that (their engagement gets no response from you), they might think twice about coming back. So respond to emails. Comments. Social media tags. Retweets.
There’s also what I like to think of as the Karmic aspect of re-purposing UGC. Part of that “give credit” idea is not just to avoid plagiarism (which is bad, bad, very bad!), but also to tell everyone who reads your stuff that you think Ana Hoffman and Miranda Miller (for example) are pretty neat, and we should all follow them on Twitter. Spread the love! And maybe – just maybe – some of that love will come back your way.
Leveraging User-Generated Content
One of the cleverest ways I’ve seen anyone leverage user-generated content is the campaign Modcloth ran about a year ago. I know, I know, I talk about Modcloth a lot, but they are masters of engagement! On their mobile platform, which they had just introduced, they asked users to put in their height and measurements. Then, by tapping their enormous database of user reviews – which included users’ heights and measurements – they were able to deliver the top-rated outfits for each user based on what similar users loved. They already had the reviews – they just took it one step farther by leveraging them. Genius.
We all have only that much time during the day and we’d better make it count and repurposing content is one of those ways to get the most mileage out of our existing content with the least time spent. – Ana Hoffman
There are so many ways to employ user-generated content, so I’ll only cover the basics here. From there, I encourage you to mix, match, and come up with ideas that are entirely new. Hey, you could always go the way of Bethesda Game Studios. They’ve gotten more life out of the Skyrim and Elder Scrolls games than anyone would have thought possible just by handing the keys of the kingdom to mod-builders.
Social Media: Possibly the simplest way of tapping into the benefits of user-generated content is to embed a social media feed of users’ posts and tweets on your website. Not only does this keep your homepage fresh, but it’s also been shown to improve user engagement and decrease bounce rate. And, when prospects see your customers talking about you, it adds to your credibility.
User Reviews: Posting user reviews on your product pages (à la Amazon and Modcloth) lead to higher conversion rates, better rankings for long-tail queries, more traffic, and of course, more sales. SEO-wise, comments left by users are indexed and evaluated for keywords just like every other piece of content. User-experience-wise, reviews reduce the sense of risk inherent in purchasing anything sight-unseen.
Testimonials and Comments: Testimonials and comments can increase organic traffic, but that’s not the most compelling reason to welcome them onto your site. Content like this gives you a window into the exact verbiage your potential clients use when trying to find you, allowing you to improve your organic keywords.
User Reviews OR Testimonials? Testimonials are lovely, but user reviews are more credible. Reviews tend to be balanced, talking about the good and bad of a product or service. Testimonials are just as glowing as your sales copy, which means they’re of less use to the average consumer than a well-rounded review.
Hosting contests and giveaways: These promotions can be really fun ways to raise brand awareness and create engagement. You can ask for content in any form – photos, video, haiku, oil paintings – anything. The most important thing is to tap into something your audience wants to play with. And, keep in mind, users generally engage with these contests for the fun of participating, not just the prize. So make participating as enjoyable as possible by giving lots of recognition and having fun with it!
Remember What’s In it For the Users
So you want user-generated content. That’s great! But what’s in it for the users? When creating a UGC campaign, building your social media community, constructing forums, asking for reviews or testimonials, or writing articles meant to inspire commentary, the most important question you can ask is: What will my user gain from this? What are you offering that is valuable and enjoyable? If you can key into those two incentives, whatever medium you choose for your user-generated content will spread like butter on hot toast.