User-generated content is the riskiest of all marketing strategies because of the obvious potential for negative comments. But if done right, it will pay off more than any other type of content marketing. A tech-savvy and social-media-focused audience appreciates the realism, the contributions of their peers, and the opportunity to be part of the conversation. Even with the inevitable (but hopefully infrequent) user rant, organic user reviews, commentary and conversation are the foundation of the most successful campaigns.
1. Give your customers a voice.
It’s naturally tempting to try to maintain absolute control over every piece of content that mentions your brand, but consumers know the difference between SEO article spam and meaningful content. Increasingly, consumers are more interested in seeing what other consumers have to say than they are in reading your own self-promotional puff pieces. Consumers no longer want to be told what to think — they want to be part of the conversation.
“Marketers need to go beyond simply talking about how awesome they are. It’s far more powerful when other people that aren’t on your payroll are saying it,” says Jeev Trika, CEO of CrowdReviews.com. “User-generated content, two-way discussion with consumers and organic user reviews from real people form the foundation of today’s meaningful content strategy.”
A recent Capgemini report highlighted the importance of Generation Y customers (born between 1981 and 2000), who are more tech-savvy than any other demographic and will become a major part of the workforce by 2020. The report noted that members of this important group have high expectations, and they are more likely to engage directly through new channels and social media. This demographic is harder to please, because they expect to be able to communicate through all available channels, and they expect two-way communication. “Super Bowl ads aren’t going to impress — but what will reach this audience is a lively conversation thread, real reviews by their peers and a company that takes time to respond to their social comments,” Trika says.
2. Use right-brained, creative tactics that go beyond the numbers.
There are two great fallacies that lead to tepid results in content marketing. The first is that content marketing is a purely numbers-driven strategy, with success measured in keywords, number of backlinks and quantity of placements without regard for quality of content or destination. The second fallacy is that you need to push content in one direction only — from marketer to consumer — in order to maintain control.
Reliance on mechanical SEO tactics like article spinning and astroturfing (the practice of creating and placing fake reviews) may — at least temporarily — lead to an increase in search-engine placement. But even if SERPs increase, the poor-quality content and transparent fakery responsible for them will harm your brand, and they likely will not result in any significant increase in actual revenue.
Even a good strategy that delivers useful content often goes in just one direction. The next shift in content marketing is bi-directional, user-generated content.
3. Find the emotional connection.
“Customers are far more likely to have a meaningful connection to your brand when they have an interactive platform available,” Trika says. “The younger and more tech-savvy demographic in particular will respond more positively to organic user reviews from their peers than they will respond to a Madison-Avenue-generated television commercial.”
That organic conversation is what Scott Magids, CEO of Motista, says is the basis of creating an emotional connection with consumers. “The emotional connection is an evolved approach to customer strategy,” Magids says. “It’s the path to maximize the value of customer relationships that lead to organic growth.” The emotional connection that some marketers have been able to create goes beyond simply delivering clever advertisements, engaging articles and great customer service — it’s about tapping into something deeper.
“There are a few unicorns out there which have created an emotional connection using one-directional advertising,” Trika says. “But when user-generated content and user reviews become part of the mix, the consumer becomes part of the conversation and develops an emotional connection with your brand. That’s what drives consistent and repeatable results.”