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User Generated Content

At its best, user-generated content appears to be an easy win for the marketing world. Genuine, satisfied customers publicly and voluntarily sharing their positive interactions with your brand have a compelling authenticity that money can't buy.

A recent survey of 2,000 consumers by Headstream found that 66% of people prefer to hear brands' stories from "real people", as opposed to high-profile public figures, CEOs or employees. Although celebrity campaigns can still gain huge traction when done well, as with Jean Claude Van Damme's Volvo stunt, few viewers will believe that the smiling celebrity on their television screen is motivated by pure love of the product. A Swiftcover advert in which Iggy Pop enthusiastically celebrated his car insurance deal was banned after it was revealed that not only was he not a genuine customer, but he was also ineligible to become one; the company does not offer insurance to entertainers.

Described by eConsultancy as "the modern version of talking over the garden fence", UGC taps into the fact that real fans of your brand exist and are often happy to engage on social media. By publicizing those conversations and interactions, you can prove that you value their contributions and gain significant insights into who those fans are and what they think you could be doing better. The Content Marketing Institute's 2015 report found that 48% of B2B and 70% of B2C marketers listed "Leveraging user- or fan-generated content" as an initiative that they were either working on now or would be within the next 12 months.

However, UGC campaigns can be something of a double-edged sword, particularly when it comes to maintaining control over the wave of incoming content. A promoted Twitter campaign from McDonald's encouraging users to share their #McDStories in 2012 rapidly backfired, as negative tweets poured in mocking the brand. The promotion was pulled within two hours, but the hijacked hashtag continued to trend regardless. The old marketing adage that the satisfied customer will tell a few friends while the dissatisfied customer tells everyone they know has repeatedly proven itself to be painfully true in the age of social media.

Examining examples of successful UGC, Marketing Week honed in on brands that have embraced the good, the bad and the ugly responses, seeing even negative feedback as a chance to improve. The Weather Channel doubled its video completion rates after incorporating footage from social media, while allowing consumers to refute their forecasts. By opening up a conversation with their consumers and showing a willingness to improve, the brand now stands in a much stronger social position.

For travel brands, the imperfection of users' holiday content is exactly what sells it as authentic and attainable. "People can imagine themselves in that situation far more easily than a beautiful picturesque magazine photo shoot," explains TUI's Group Head of Social, Rachel Hawkes. In a UGC pilot across its Greek resorts, the firm recorded an average monthly increase of 45% in resort-specific social media conversations.

With more ways than ever for consumers to discuss, rate and recommend your brand, it's essential for marketers to get in on the conversation and take advantage of their ready-made content contributors. To learn about how censhare could help your brand mobilize its social media following through efficient multi-channel management, take a look at our Manage and Engage solutions.