Not too long ago, CPG marketers told me that their number one priority was getting Facebook likes. Those days are long gone, new objectives like engagement and advocacy are top of mind, and driving the marketing plan is content. Of the many flavors of content — brand content, sponsored content, and native content of critical importance is user-generated content. Marketers understand that UGC can drive more authentic conversations, without the brand doing the talking. When we learn that 84% of Millennial consumers say UGC has at least some influence on their purchase decisions, it’s hard to argue against UGC’s seat at the marketing table.
UGC makes brand campaigns more “real”; it helps portray the brand as genuine and accessible. A UGC campaign is empowering to consumers, prompting customers to be inventive and imaginative. The brand wins because, hey, you didn’t have to pay for a pricey professional photograph.
Nevertheless, many marketers mistakenly see UGC as a one-size-fits-all, blanket objective. It takes diverse forms. But, without a solid strategic plan, there is a disconnect between the content a marketer desires and the content a consumer delivers. Some brands will be what we call “graciously disenchanted” with UGC. Of course, you can’t be upset that people are sharing about your brand, but sometimes the content isn’t what you were picturing. So how do you get consumers to generate the kind of content you would like them to create? Here are three steps to help define your user-generated content strategy.
1. Determine how the UGC will be used beforehand.
While UGC serves many overlapping objectives, it’s important to consider your priorities, as they will help shape your strategy. For example, are you looking to use UGC for a collage on your brand’s online properties? Perhaps you are looking to pepper UGC into your advertisements? Commonly, you’re looking to spark word-of-mouth or create a groundswell of organic content to show up in your search results. Or maybe you’re just looking for that perfect-use-of-Instagram-filter-but-still-relatable-because-it-looks-like-a-regular-person-did-it type of image to repost on your brand’s social channels. Remember that each of these use cases is sparked differently.
2. Categorize what kind of content you want.
A report from the Journal of Electronic Commerce identifies three different values of UGC: functional, emotional and social. Functional involves showing unique benefits of your product or service. This includes functional factors such as convenience, availability and ease of use. Emotional value is the emotional satisfaction or level of pleasure people experience from the consumption of your product or service. Finally, social value refers to the positive contribution to one’s social image while experiencing your brand. Categorizing content can produce widely different types. This could range from how-to videos and insightful product evaluations to aspirational lifestyle posts or showing how your once sick child is now healthy and playing happily because of your product.
3. Don’t be afraid to communicate your objectives and expectations with consumers. But, let them lead.
While UGC is most often preached as raw, authentic and untouched, a balance can be achieved. No consumer wants to feel like a shill for the brand. Consumers want to express themselves creatively, share their genuine opinions and feel like their voice is heard. However, consumers respond to prompts. We all remember Coca-Cola’s Share-A-Coke campaign. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t share a photo when they found a bottle with their name on it or the name of a friend or family member. Some of you might recall a couple who put their twist on the campaign and created a viral pregnancy announcement. Of course not every brand can commit to a Coca-Cola-sized undertaking, but its principles can be applied. Unfailingly, the best UGC campaigns are the ones when a brand provides an open prompt that can then be interpreted and fashioned to the consumer’s personality and values – whether that be a functional prompt, emotional prompt or social prompt.
I have no doubt that user-generated content will evolve, and formulating clear goals around a UGC strategy is one step. In the end, let’s remember what UGC is really about. UGC’s heritage originated from consumers talking to other consumers about things that they thought were cool, important or useful. While we marketers can use UGC to help achieve our business objectives, to keep its impact and value, all marketers to be fierce guardians of its power.