Do you know what brands are doing with content today?

They’re fighting wars.

If a company notices its competition has created a high-quality video on a topic and has generated thousands of new customers with it, they go ahead and do even better.

It’s a war. A tough one.

Brands are producing more content than ever and it is increasingly difficult for customers to keep up with the avalanche of content out there.

But if you can narrow your topics down to the ones that get the greatest consumer engagement, without even looking at your competition’s content marketing efforts, you’ll be able to catch your target readers’ attention better.

How do you win at content marketing without solely looking at what the competition is doing? User-generated content (UGC) can be a great help.

According to a recent study from PR firm Edelman, a ‘person like yourself’ is deemed as credible a source of information as a technical or academic expert. The balance is shifting away from brands and experts and into the hands of the people. People like your customers.

Here are five solid ways UGC can help enhance your content marketing efforts.

1. Get a better understanding of your target market

If you don’t understand the people in your target market, you’ll have a hard time selling anything to them.

And there’s no better way to understand them than when they explain themselves. This is where user-generated content (content generated by your customers) comes in. When you encourage and ask your customers to create content, you get insights into their needs and wants.

And, even better, you can ask people to self-segment themselves when they contribute content. For example, when someone writes a review of a camera, you can ask them whether they’re professional, a keen amateur or just a happy snapper. Those insights will help you improve the way your content promotes your products.

Then you can make their preferences your preferences as a business. This way, you’ll be creating content they’ve shown interest in already. That’s what makes “content glue”, and why they will stick with the content you’re dishing up as opposed to someone else’s.

For example, take #WordOfHyatt — a hashtag that Hyatt (the multinational hotel brand) uses to encourage its customers to share their experiences with the brand on social media:

Hyatt

With UGC, you can figure out common factors in all the entries your customers are submitting and understand what makes your brand desirable to them.

What’s also interesting about using UGC to generate feedback from users is you aren’t asking them to do something stressful (like filling out some survey form). No, asking them to submit UGC is asking them to do something they already like to do for fun — they already want to share their experiences (especially when it involves them sharing with hashtags on social media) with things they use, and you’re giving them the chance to do so.

In the end, it’s a win-win for both you and them. They share their favourite content related to your brand and you understand what they like most.

An even better way to get this content is to collect the content proactively from customers – then you can push it out on your own channels, like British Insurance brand LV=.

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Insurer LV= used Reevoo to collect amazing images and stories from customers - then pushed them out on social media.

Because it’s been submitted especially for your brand, you know it’ll be relevant – and you have the rights to use it wherever you’d like (some of those snaps would look great on a billboard).

2. Become a brand consumers pay attention to

Once UGC starts helping you understand your target market, it becomes relatively easy to create campaigns that will make customers pay attention to your brand.

A good example is Coca-Cola’s #ShareACoke — a campaign that encouraged consumers to find bottles of coke that have their name or names of their loved ones on it.

Coca-Cola started this hashtag in 2014 and ended up getting overwhelmed by the amount of success it led to. According to the brand’s UK website: “We were totally overwhelmed by how many people picked up our personalised bottles and cans and used them to create and share stories, selfies and special moments with us.”

But more importantly, Coke became a brand drinkers paid attention to on social media for a long while — with 998 million impressions on Twitter and 235,000 tweets from 111,000 fans using the #ShareaCoke hashtag.

Like this, user-generated content can make your brand take stage organically and help you rake in profits simply by having related to them personally.

3. Know where to cut ad costs on content promotion

This one is pretty much a no brainer. UGC helps you know what your target customers aren’t interested in. As you get to see their preferences, you also get insights into things they don’t fancy.

So you get to know where to cut ad budgets when promoting content via paid ads.

Wayfair, for instance, is a brand that sells home goods. They use the #wayfairathome hashtag to encourage customers to share their products on Twitter and Instagram.

The brand sells furniture, rugs, lighting, kitchenware, baby products and more. But a quick look at their Instagram entries for the #wayfairathome hashtag shows that of all the products the brand sells, furniture is what’s fancied most by customers.

wayfairathome

In fact, it’s almost as if furniture is all the brand is selling.

As Wayfair pays attention to what consumers are sharing, they get to know where to cut spending on ads. Through user-generated content on Instagram, the ecommerce giant can understand that their furniture resonates most with their target customers. As a result, they make the rational choice of not allocating as much money to advertising content on other products as they do on their furniture.

What’s more, you can also pick up on sentiments mentioned in your reviews and UGC and use them to inform your next piece of content. If people are using your camera on skiing trips, for example, you might want to do a skiing adventure video. Or if people are asking how many dogs you can fit in the back of your car, you might want to do a nice video about it:

4. Get opportunities for interesting customer stories

Customer stories are great for content marketing, and content marketing is great for sales — but many times, these stories are hard to get.

Customers are busy people like you, so convincing them to agree to tell their life story can be a huge ask. You can make this process easy by reaching out to customers proactively via email while collecting a review. One survey, loads of content.

They’ve already shown they’re happy with your brand or product by writing the review – then they get a chance to tell stories and share content that might not be drawn out in the normal review process.

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You really never know what you’ll get back. Customers have some amazing, unexpected stories!

5. Boost your content marketing ROI

In the end, what comes after effectively using UGC to enhance your marketing efforts is ROI.

Consumers naturally trust content generated by users over branded content.

So when you leverage UGC for your marketing campaigns, it’s natural for you to get a boost in content marketing ROI — consumers in all industries say UGC helps their purchase decisions:

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In conclusion…

User-generated content has been a major part of marketing in the past few years — especially when online reviews started becoming what most consumers read to decide whether or not to trust a brand. And it’s not showing any signs of slowing down — the stat above is huge proof of that.

UGC can further enhance your marketing and content marketing efforts. Remember, it’s a war zone. Don’t try to go it alone. Use the five tips here to attract allies (customers) who will help you win your content war.

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5 ways user-generated content breathes life into your content marketing efforts