By Gabriel Shaoolian, Managing Director & Founder, Blue Fountain Media
Most brands spend a lot of time and effort trying to convince first-time customers to trust them -- trust that their products are as high quality as the brand claims they are, trust that the company will be willing to resolve any issues the customer may encounter, trust that prices are fair, and trust that work or products will be delivered on time and to specification. As brand marketers, we all know that the challenge of gaining a consumer’s trust is a major undertaking. But because users won’t become customers unless they trust in our brand, we also know that building trust is a challenge worth meeting.
Much of the value of user-generated content (UGC) derives from its unique ability to build consumer trust in a brand. UGC is content that is created by users (fans, customers, or influencers) that is either tacitly or overtly promotional of a brand. It’s often either commissioned or repurposed by the brand for marketing use. Across all generations, user-generated content is more trusted by consumers than content that originates with the brand itself.
UGC is trusted by consumers, and it makes them more likely, in turn, to trust the brand being promoted. Below are 6 ways the trust conferred on your brand by UGC can help your company grow.
1 - Increase exposure
The most straightforward benefit to be gained from UGC is an increase in brand exposure. Particularly for companies with brand awareness objectives, UGC can be used as a way to introduce your brand and your products to a wider audience. The logic is simple -- when users create content that relates to your brand, their own audiences see it and develop awareness of your brand. They trust the friends and influencers they follow, and if those people trust your brand enough to promote you, new users will be more likely to engage.
2 - Build authority
Particularly when the UGC in question originates with influencers, it can be used to build brand authority in a particular area of expertise. Influencers are users who have amassed sizable followings because they possess a specific skillset or knowledge base, or simply because they have a cool look that others want to emulate.
When influencers create content on behalf of a brand it acts as a tacit endorsement and a kind of authority transfer takes place from influencer to brand. If an influencer is known for having great style and he posts a selfie on Instagram wearing your company’s sunglasses, his “coolness” rubs off on your brand. If an influencer is an expert in cyber security and she writes a blog post about using your encrypted messaging app, her security credibility bolsters your brand’s own credibility.
3 - Build your social following
Building your social following is another pretty straightforward benefit of user-generated content. Because users are creating content on their own channels and sharing it with their audiences, you’re likely to pick up additional social followers who discovered your brand via one of those user posts. And, since you’ve been effectively recommended by another user, new followers will come in with more positive feelings towards to your brand.
4 - Promotional messages without the promotional feel
Every single one of us is bombarded by hundreds of marketing messages every single day, from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we crawl into bed at night. The advent of digital technologies has dramatically increased the amount of marketing messages we’re exposed to. Where consumer exposure to advertisements was once limited to print, radio, and television, we’re now exposed to ads in all of those formats, plus the ones that are present in every facet of our digital lives.
All of which is simply to say, consumers encounter a lot of promotional materials. And after a while it can all start to feel a little, well, too promotional. As consumers we can become exhausted with the amount of promotional messages we passively consume every day and ultimately we begin to tune them out. What’s powerful about UGC is that it represents a form of promotional messaging on behalf of your company, but because it comes from a real person, it doesn’t necessarily feel promotional.
5 - Increase purchase confidence
Again, it comes back to trust. Users are aware that product pages are designed to sell them something and the assumption is that the website will present products in the best possible light (well, at the very least, the ones that have been properly designed will). The problem is that when you sell online you’re asking the user to trust you that what you’re showing them is a true and honest representation of your products. Frankly, it’s a bit of a leap of faith. The color might be different in real life. The material might look great in the photo but feel cheap in person.
Even if you are being completely honest in your representations of your products, how can users be sure of that? UGC is a helpful solution. By incorporating UGC into product pages, brands can allow users to see products in different settings -- clothes on different body types, makeup on different skin types. It’s so important for users to be able to imagine themselves wearing or using your products, and UGC helps bridge that gap between the ideal scenario presented on your website (professional lighting, photography, and model) and real life.
6 - SEO value
User-generated content creates mentions of your brand and quality links back to your website, both of which signal authority and trustworthiness. Social mentions and brand mentions elsewhere on the web are meaningful ranking factors, which means that investing in and incentivizing the creation of UGC can help your website perform better in organic search.
Obviously brands have to be careful to monitor and manage the types of UGC that end up associated with their websites and social channels. Not every user will create content that is appropriate and on-brand, and their content needs to be moderated or filtered out. Still, when properly managed, a strategic UGC program can help your brand reach new audiences and instill the trust required to turn users into customers.
To learn more about how your brand can benefit from user generated content, visit Blue Fountain Media online.
About the Author
Gabriel Shaoolian is a digital trends expert and Managing Director and founder of Blue Fountain Media, a full service digital agency focused on growing brands online.