Planning, strategy, an arsenal of tools, data-driven analytics…
You need all this and a whole lot of other stuff to pull off good content marketing campaigns. But being human – the kind of human that bridges gaps between brands and their audiences – is equally important, if not more.
In an era where “experiential consumers” want excellent product experiences, and every internet user is a storyteller with a journey to share, humanization is imperative for brands to successfully market their products and services.
One great way to achieve said humanization is through user-generated content (UGC).
And what is UGC?
UGC is any type of content created by a customer or fan and shared on a digital platform. This content can be images, videos, texts, infographics, presentation slides, or other forms of digital content.
But how does user-generated content humanize a brand? Why develop a content marketing strategy that goes beyond simply using your own content?
The answer is simple; user-generated content highlights empathy, cultivates trust and boosts authenticity. All three qualities are core elements of humanizing a brand.
Empathy is one of the most powerful ways to humanize a brand.
Empathy means showing that you genuinely care about understanding and addressing a person’s pain points.
One problem with brands and empathy is that brands often tell people about empathy but fail to show it. In doing so, they may even come off as having misplaced empathy. How often have you come across the phrases:
- “We’re in this together”
- “We’ll get through it.”
Cue your audience wondering if you’re really in this together or simply piggybacking off some trending buzzwords.
Because UGC is based on the experiences that other users have had with your service or product, it’s a great way to show how empathic your brand is. With user-generated content, you stop being another brand telling people how empathic you are and actually show your empathy in a personable way.
Take Hubspot for example. The company didn’t become a leader in the inbound marketing space by chance, they leverage empathy and address their customers’ needs.
Hubspot could tell its audience how great its tools are and how they solve their client’s pain points, but that’s what everyone does. Instead, Hubspot goes a step further by highlighting its empathy through user-generated content.
If you were a potential Hubspot client and you came across this review, would you not relate better with the brand and be more inclined to use its tools? That’s the power of empathy and UGC can help you show that empathy.
Key takeaway: User-generated content shows empathy, which in turn, makes a brand more approachable, relatable and “human”.
There’s a lot of hard-selling on the internet and it’s overwhelming. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to know who to trust and there’s a lot of doubt.
So what are consumers doing?
They are seeking recommendations from people they know or those who share their point of view. In fact, a massive 78% of consumers trust peer reviews more than ads.
And what better way to deal with the low trust levels than to introduce consumers to people who share their viewpoint through user-generated content.
Instead of asking people to blindly trust company claims, UGC allows them to see real-life people interacting with products and services, which promotes trust.
After losing a significant amount of fans due to camera issues in low lighting, the brand launched the long-running “Shot on iPhone” campaign to regain the trust of its users. By curating UGC, Apple was able to regain the faith of skeptical users and revive its status.
UGC helps build trust. Thanks to UGC, many brands, which for so long remained names without faces, will be remembered for the happy faces, glowing peer reviews and endorsements.
Key takeaway: User-generated content provides open environment interaction and knowledge sharing between consumers. It also showcases the great relationships and connections a brand has with customers. This not only increases business value, but humanizes brands in an effortless and memorable way that cultivates trust.
Consumers have more ways than ever to research and purchase products, but what content do they look for, trust and find influential in their purchasing journey?
Since people are increasingly distrusting of marketing strategies and advertising, they want to associate with brands they can relate to on a human level and with the same values as them.
In other words, they want brands that are authentic and “get them.” 86% of consumers highlight authenticity as a major factor in deciding which brands to support, according to a consumer content report by Stackla.
This is where user-generated content comes in.
Close to 70% of people see UGC as the most authentic type of content. What’s more, people are three times more likely to see user-generated as more authentic compared to content created by brands.
These statistics are hardly surprising if you consider that people want to consume content they can relate to.
UGC ditches the perfect, unattainable images commonly associated with traditional advertising. Rather, it shows how real people use and enjoy a product or service in their daily lives, making the brand more human.
Key takeaway: User-generated content comes from a genuine affinity for a brand and its services or products – this encourages transparency and builds authenticity.
User-generated content works, but only if you do it strategically.
Here are some dos and don’ts for humanizing your brand with user-generated content.
You should know who will help you generate the best possible user-generated content for your brand.
Some possible questions to help you better understand your audience:
- Who is most likely to be a brand advocate? Who is likely to share content about our brand?
- What will likely motivate them to share this content?
- What type of content are they likely to share? E.g., product photos, reviews, product-use videos
- When are they likely to share the content? E.g., specific holiday or event
- Where will they likely share this photo from? E.g., at home, work, with friends, on holiday
The other part of understanding your audience is determining a persona for the audience who will consume your UGC. You should research things such as the type of content your target audience interacts with and the channels they use most.
Just like your other marketing efforts, your UGC content needs to be supported by a strategy and specific goals.
So do define your UGC campaign goals and determine where you’ll get the most out of your efforts.
Some typical UGC goals you could use:
- Saving time and money on content creation. User-generated content is a great way to fill up content calendars in an economical and time-efficient way.
- Raising brand awareness and boosting engagement. For example, a hashtag campaign could help create or amplify buzz about your brand, service or product.
- Increasing conversions. For example, a UGC campaign that gets you positive customer reviews can help increase your sales.
When it comes to choosing the best platform for your user-generated content, keep the following in mind. Consumers prefer UGC on Instagram, per a survey by Visual Objects. TikTok, with its culture of authentic, scrappy videos, is also another great platform for user-generated content.
People are less driven to engage with or make a purchase from UGC on Twitter and YouTube, for example. On these platforms, people prefer branded content, viewing it as more authentic.
Your choice of platform will have a significant bearing on the success of your UGC campaigns.
Hoping for your customers to miraculously start posting content about your brand is possible, but also unlikely.
If you want something, you have to ask for it.
You have to ask your fans and followers to share content. There are many ways to encourage them – social media contests and giveaways, follower shoutouts, hashtag campaigns, asking followers for advice.
When asking for UGC, it’s important to do this systematically. How?
Tell your audience exactly what content you want and how they can share it. Whether you’re asking for images, videos, opinions, or some other content type, your need to guide your audience. Be clear about what you want and be transparent with brand rules toward UGC.
Besides asking, you can also audit your digital platforms to supplement the content you’ll get from your audience.
For example, you could start with a simple search on Instagram to check if your customers (even employees) are already sharing content organically.
Some ways to go about this include searching for your brand name, a popular product, geography tags, or a previous campaign hashtag.
As with every type of content you create for your brand, you want to maximize your reach. Repurposing your UGC will allow you to do that.
Today’s consumer is more connected than ever. This means you can adopt a multi-channel approach and position yourself in all the places your audience is likely to consume user-generated content.
Social media, email, and ad campaigns are all great places to start resharing your UGC.
User-generated content is a great way to build an engaged community. It gives you a chance to engage with your audience, encourage them to follow your brand and foster brand loyalty.
So, when you put out UGC, make sure to engage.
Listen out for all brand mentions, follow conversations, and more importantly, take part in them.
No content marketing strategy is complete without measuring results and analyzing them.
As you implement your UGC campaigns, always circle back to your goals to determine if your strategy is working.
Also take time to analyze the content your audience is sharing since you may get some valuable insights. For example, the shared content can help you discover some creative ways in which your customers are using your products, which could lead to more opportunities to grow your brand.
After analyzing your UGC campaigns, take the time to draw some lessons. For example:
- Did you get harmful content? How best can you avoid such content in the future?
- Did you get any valid criticism? How will you address it in future campaigns?
UGC is about humanizing your brand, and being human is all about living and learning.
You always want to err on the side of caution with UGC – that means never using UGC without asking or crediting the content creator.
Too often, brands will take content shared online without establishing an agreement with the creator, or at least giving them credit. Such an approach can lead to all sorts of problems, ethical ones included (not many people are happy with not receiving credit where it’s due).
Remember that when customers share content, they are doing you a favor, so make it a habit to ask for permission no matter how casual the content is. Getting a creator’s consent will build trust and encourage the type of relationship that will benefit your brand.
Crediting will also add to the authenticity of your UGC. People will be able to verify that the content really was created by a fellow consumer, helping to boost engagement and even encouraging others to share content as well.
The risks of using content without permission are huge, both in terms of customer relations and brand reputation. A good way to navigate them is to include legal reviewing and approval in your content marketing workflow. This way, getting permission becomes part of the process, not an afterthought.
UGC works, but not everyone has the best intentions when creating the content.
You must always be prepared for content that could potentially harm your brand. Monitor UGC submissions diligently and have controls in place to deal with any bad content.
And don’t fail to respond to negative feedback. The last thing you want is for it to go viral and damage your brand.
Given the significance that people place on brands with a human side, companies can benefit by making the human touch more visible in their marketing efforts.
Gone are the days of trying to persuade consumers to engage with your brand without an emotional connection.
In all probability, brand humanization will remain a priority for consumers, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s not a bad idea to get a UGC strategy in place and start leveraging the power of this type of content.