UGC is now an ecommerce buzzword to rival the heavyweights of omni-channel and responsive design.
User Generated Content, or UGC, is a simple concept:
Your customers creating content for you.
Then sharing it with their friends and followers.
Sounds like a marketer’s dream, right?
You don’t spend the time or money needed to develop the content.
You don’t need to advertise.
When it works well, you get genuine fan-prepared testimonials for your brand, at no cost.
Marketing theory has long dictated that friends and family are the most trusted sources for advice on what to buy. So it makes complete sense that brands are hitting hashtag overdrive to try and capitalise on this new chance to encourage trusted brand referrals in social media form.
Why user generated content is suddenly ‘the next big thing’
It has never been easier for your customers to create content. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram make social sharing a breeze.
With the hashtag taking over the online world, suddenly a whole chunk of previously unrelated people can bond together over a common interest. All thanks to four intersecting perpendicular lines.
It’s kinda getting out of control. I’ll let Jimmy and JT explain…
Visual products and brands dominate with social sharing
Photo sharing is the heartbeat of the most popular social media tools. Everyone wants to visually represent themselves in online form. If your brand or your product can help your customer strengthen the perception that their life is ‘likeworthy’, they are more than happy to share the love.
The explosion in popularity of Instagram has brought with it a heap of brands trying to encourage the social sharing of their products. Content marketing wizard Heidi Cohen lets you in on a few successful examples (there’s plenty more where this came from on her site, if you haven’t already, sign up for her regular lightbulbs of learning).
Ecommerce stores are particularly drawn to the idea. People using a device have internet access. A potential customer that sees their friend’s hashtag is only a couple of clicks away from a sale.
These 27 Instagram Clichés, show you that if your products are visually glamorous and your brand can help a social media fiend make themselves look cooler, you just need to slap a hashtag in front of your brand name and watch the shares roll in.
We’ll let satiregram show you the type of stuff that works with these share-crazy new millennial folk...
If you’re lucky enough to have a visually shareable insta-cool product, you might not need so much help to encourage user generated content. Take a look at these two case studies - they’ll help you maximise your advantage:
How do you encourage your customers to generate content without a ‘shareable’ product?
There have been a bunch of user generated content marketing success stories to whip up the interest of the industry.
But for those of you that don’t sell breathtakingly beautiful vintage jewellery, bicycles to make a hipster salivate, or a single origin coffee with a perfect golden crema, user generated content probably seems like a marketing fantasy.
User generated content is too valuable to discount.
You can develop genuine relationships with your community, turning one off customers into loyal unpaid brand ambassadors.
If a family owned stationery online retailer can do it, anyone can.
So non photogenic brands - listen up, I’m about to show you how it’s done.
Goulet Pens’ User Generated Content Conundrum
Your product doesn’t have to be hashtaggable to encourage a groundswell of customer generated content.
Without a bricks and mortar store, it can be hard to develop a strong brand personality. Developing genuine personal relationships with your customers is so much more difficult.
Encouraging user generated content is a super way to start filling that void.
But food, fun and fashion aside, it can be hard to get people to gram, post or tweet about your brand. Especially if you sell pens.
Goulet knew #show-us-your-ink-sunday wasn’t about to set Instagram alight (apparently #flexnibfriday was worth 250 likes though…)
The writing community that Goulet knows so well love their pens and paper with a fierce fanaticism. They just aren’t naturally prone to taking happy snaps of their stationary and sharing them with the world.
In addition, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter aren’t exactly the common pen-lover’s habitat. The Goulet audience aren’t mainstream, so a viral user generated social media explosion isn’t the most effective way to spread the brand’s belief.
Instead, Goulet fans have an insatiable knowledge for information about their writing instruments. Expertise, knowledge and understanding are what their community craves.
Goulet know just about everything there is to know. A dedicated hyper-niche with an insatiable thirst for education were primed to generate content for the brand they loved, but the hashtag was just not written in the stars.
How do you engage your ecommerce audience without a socially shareable product?
Get your audience to ask a question. You share the answer. Simple.
After years of answering customer questions in email form, Brian Goulet decided to create a regular weekly blog post to answer the Goulet community’s questions.
The concept took off, so to further develop Goulet’s bond with their audience, Brian decided to answer customer questions in an easier to digest weekly video format, creatively titled Goulet Q&A.
It’s so simple; ‘Send in your tough questions. We’ll answer them for you.’
You’re happy. Goulet is happy you’re happy. You’re more convinced that Goulet Pens are the undisputed industry experts. Goulet begin to understand the things that potential customers want to know.
Here’s a clip of the first ever video Q&A from the Goulet Pen’s Ink Nouveau blog. I’ve never seen anyone make pens seem so intriguing.
I don’t know why, or how, but this is weirdly compelling.
Try not to doze off into a trance of fountain pen fascination. I did.
I’ve cut the vid to 10 minutes. Each ep runs between 30 and 50 minutes. That’s a lot of weekly pen knowledge. That must be one captivated niche audience.
Why you need two way communication with your community
There’s four enormous reasons to be underlined here (there’s a pen pun to write home about).
#1. You’re helping your potential customers
You give your community a chance to learn. If one user has a question, it’s more than likely the rest of your audience will be interested in the answer, especially in a specialised niche.
#2. You’re showcasing your brand’s personality
By reaching out and asking your community to question you directly, you show that you care.
If you dedicate the time to email, blog, record or video your responses - your audience start to realise that you aren’t just a profit gobbling, faceless corporate beast.
It’s not just about selling your products and services. It’s about helping and building a community around your brand’s interests and lifestyle.
#3. You’re proving authority and building trust
You also have the chance to prove your expertise.
Brian Goulet has to be the Rainman of pens. Even if you can’t tell the quality discrepancy between your top of the line Parker and one of those fun thumb-clicker biro jobs, just 5 minutes watching a Goulet Q&A is enough to convince you that Brian and his team know more about this stuff than you do about your cousin.
If Goulet can answer all of these customer questions with such detail driven aplomb, surely you can trust their product range and recommendations. Why take the risk and shop from another retailer without this proof?
#4. You’re letting your customers develop your content ideas
Your customers are generating the content. Sure you need to answer the questions, but half the work is done for you.
You don’t have to agonise over the best topics to write about. You don’t need to conduct costly market research surveys. No more guesswork content requiring hours of development time only to flop with barely a sceric of audience interest. By asking your community to send you their questions, you know what they want to hear about.
The obvious benefit? You can be sure your content is useful. If one customers wants to know the answer, many more will be interested.
The hidden benefits of developing a Q&A content marketing series
Apart from the more obvious reasons for you to open a two way conversation with your customers, there’s a bunch of added bonuses you’ve probably never considered.
#1. You’re developing useful FAQ content
You are gradually building an FAQ’s back catalogue of the highest possible quality.
You can use this content to help browsers find more detailed information on your product and category pages when they are researching your product (this is especially important for a complex product like fountain pens).
#2. You can use this content across your organisation
Your Q&A responses will help maximise the effectiveness of your sales and customer service teams.
Instead of answering the same customer questions via email or over the phone, you can use your Q&A content videos or articles to save on time.
Your team members can just flick through the relevant link, ask for any questions on follow up, then get on with other more important tasks.
#3. You’re generating priceless customer driven insights
You have the most valuable, hard to find customer data being developed for you. At no cost.
Your customers are giving you market research. You need to feed their insights into your product development process. If a whole stack of your community is asking you why you don’t stock ‘Product Y’ of if you can add on ‘Feature Z’, you know you’re probably on to a winner.
Brands pay millions for these kinds of insights. Johnson and Johnson purchased Babycenter (the world’s largest parenting blog) primarily to feed back the data and insights generated by the community into their product development process. They paid EToys $10million for it.
Kraft have been developing a broad swathe of content marketing assets for exactly the same purpose. Their recipe blog is in the world’s top 20 online, their paid Food and Family magazine has subscription rates twice the industry average, they have a weekly email with an opt in of over 5 million and a bunch of bulging social media communities. Kraft mine the data from these content marketing assets to inform content creation and product development decisions on an almost daily basis.
Director of CRM at Kraft Foods, Julie Fleischer, explained their reliance on community insights to Chief Content Officer magazine’s Joe Pulizzi:
"We have this vast array of channels that provide us with the opportunity to intersect with consumers where they want, at just the right moment. To do that well, we closely study our consumers... We mine our data, and look carefully at search trends to understand which recipes people are making at any given day of the year, and then we serve those recipes up to our consumers... We spend a lot of time understanding who our consumer is, how she cooks, what kinds of food she wants to cook. Even more, we understand on any given day the kinds of recipes our customers want to make."
If you can generate these sorts of insights from your community directly, you don’t need the millions of dollars and hundreds of employees to build a publishing powerhouse.
#4. Your helpfulness develops a real relationship with your fans
If you can activate your most loyal customers into regular two way communication, you have yourself a unique relationship. If you act on their requests, you begin to build brand ambassadors who wouldn’t dream of buying your product from anyone else.
By giving your audience a chance to ask questions, you prove that you care about them. Goulet’s customers know the brand is not just about selling pens and making profits. The trust established from this helpfulness is a genuine competitive advantage.
By allowing your community to interact, engage and develop content for you brand, you are throwing a little piece of ownership their way. Suddenly your customers have an emotional investment that your competitors will find desperately hard to overcome.
Find a way to encourage your users to help you generate content
Just because you don’t have a gramming, hashtagging, retweeting target audience doesn’t mean you can’t develop a two way communication channel with your audience.
Let your customers in on your journey. Delight, educate, inform and help. Enable your audience with the tools and encouragement they need to ask for your help, sing your praises, refer a friend, suggest new ideas…
If you can establish real personal relationships with your online store’s customers, you have yourself an advantage that your competitor’s can’t match.
That’s marketing to write home about.
Need some more help before you start developing a community of rabidly loyal, repeat purchashing brand ambassadors? There’s plenty more online marketing gorilla wisdom where this came from. Our ecommerce content marketing guide has over 30 pages of learning, with a practical framework to help you develop a customer-attracting strategy.