Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are quite simply essential to any brand marketing campaign, and relative newcomers like Instagram and Snapchat also appear to be set to play an increasingly powerful role in the marketing ecosystem. But just when you thought you were beginning to master these powerful networks, along comes a new social media marketing strategy to shake things up.
Until recently, many brands have been preoccupied with focusing their social brand conversations on the dominant networking platforms, using them to drive likes and followers. I’m not arguing that this is wrong -- just that today it shouldn't be the main focus.
The vast proliferation of mobile devices that are capturing and sharing
experiences on a multitude of social networks means that the amount of content being generated by users is huge: 1.8 billion pictures are being shared every day along with 500 million Tweets, and
that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Consumers just don’t have the mental bandwidth to offer loyalty to all the brands they are exposed to, and following something on Facebook, Twitter and other social channels can be a fickle thing. The real indicator of brand strength and genuine engagement has to be user-generated content (UGC) around brands, their products and services. In fact, UGC is about to emerge as the most important marketing currency of all.
But despite the clear opportunities presented to marketers, brands simply aren’t capitalizing on the benefits and are stubbornly clinging to outdated social media strategies. The real challenge now is how to trigger and find the very best UGC and then effectively harness it to boost sales, rather than obsess about the number of followers you have.
What marketers are beginning to ask themselves is: with so much valuable content being generated every second, why shouldn't this be harnessed, using this content across brand-owned digital properties, retail and media sites?
It’s a logical question -- and one that marketers will increasingly ask themselves in 2015. Some brands are beginning to pull all of this valuable user-generated content -- using hashtags as the mechanism -- to group reactions to campaigns, and aggregating the best of it onto their own Web site to influence the purchase funnel. In short, these brands are using credible and authentic user-generated content to transform their Web sites into "social hubs" that are fit for today's social consumer.
Recent research has highlighted that 84 percent of millennials state that UGC influences what they buy, and using social content increases click-throughs on a call to action by 22 percent. With that in mind, there is so much more that brands can do to create a social experience on their Web site than adding sharing buttons to their own branded content.
If brands are able to put the voices of their fans and their content at the heart of their marketing, the Web site becomes as much a reflection of how people are incorporating brands and their products into their lives as it is a place to consume brand-generated content. Layering on interactive experiences into the Web site, designed to engage people with content and share it with their friends, helps turn brand sites into true social hubs. When this happens, brands average 11 percent more traffic to a site and a 300 percent increase in dwell time.
And it will not just be brand Web sites that benefit from the increasing wealth of UGC online. Physical retail outlets will begin to get in on the action in a big way too. Retailers are beginning to integrate video walls into their stores that showcase the best UGC from their social networks. This could be done by everything from fashion retailers to betting shops as user-generated content becomes a key element in convincing consumers to purchase.
Next year might also see brands experimenting far more with their advertisements across physical and digital channels that star the voices and content of consumers. If people are far more likely to be influenced by authentic UGC, then why not use it to inform all of a brand’s marketing messages?
With user-generated content so rich and freely available online, straight marketing messages just aren’t cutting it like they used to. Instead, marketing must move into a participatory age where UGC sits at the center of the customer journey and brand Web sites emerge as social hubs in their own right. Marketers that recognize the true potential of social content will reap the benefits.