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Making the most of user generated content

In today’s hyper-connected information economy, authenticity is power. Businesses that are able to stand out from the crowd with a unique voice and personality are those that most successfully build their brands.

However, while a well-defined brand voice and company-owned story are significant assets, the most authentic voice – at least for today's consumers – is still that of a brand's actual customers and audience.

This is why user generated content (UGC) has become such a powerful brand-building and engagement tool. Embracing the power of the community and inviting customers to participate in a dialogue is a vital strategy for brands who want to foster long-term loyalty and advocacy, and convert casual consumers into brand 'ambassadors'.

Recent examples such as Whirlpool's "Everyday Care" campaign microsite – a social hub that aggregates tweets using the #EveryDayCare hashtag, and surfaces the brand's emotive TV ad and case study videos, while also acting as a portal for charitable donations and volunteering – provide a useful template for success. In the first six months following the campaign's launch, Whirlpool's sales rose 6.6% compared to the same period in the previous year. So, what obstacles stand in the way of brands wishing to execute similar campaigns with a UGC element?

Unsurprisingly, resource and budget are major challenges. As well as the creative thought needed to come up with a socially-optimised campaign idea that will capture the imagination of the audience, there are the costs associated with design and build, then curation, promotion and ongoing monitoring.

Another big challenge is risk management. As any marketer with experience of social will know (and as Starbucks notoriously discovered when their 2012 Twitter #spreadthecheer campaign backfired) opening up a discourse with customers can also open the floodgates for complaints, negative comments, and awkward hashtag subversions. For risk-averse businesses, the prospect of releasing ownership of their message remains a daunting one.

However, research indicates that brands which successfully capitalise on positive sentiment from their customers stand to make serious gains. According to a report from Bazaarvoice, 84% of millennials in the US say that user generated content on company websites (for example, product reviews) influences their purchase decisions, with 44% stating that they wouldn't purchase major electronics without looking at user generated content, while 40% wouldn't purchase a car, and 39% wouldn't book a hotel.

In order to make the most of user generated content on a day-to-day, 'business as usual' basis, brands need to incorporate website functionality that allows customers to submit reviews of their products or services, or to share feedback through a trusted third-party ratings service. Equally, brands need to develop a long-term engagement strategy (including campaign activity) that establishes a dialogue with consumers across social channels and other touch points, ensuring customer comments are addressed and followed up in a timely fashion.

For businesses such as Endress + Hauser, a leading global supplier of industrial process instrumentation and automation solutions with a guiding ethos that centres on "serving our customers and learning from them", censhare has proved instrumental in enabling it to streamline editorial and marketing processes, and relaunch its websites across 22 languages. Read our Endress + Hauser case study to find out more.