Get Your Customers to Sell for You With User-Generated Content

Anthony Capetola
by Anthony Capetola on July 9, 2018

There’s no doubt about it:

Our modern, technology-laden world is primed for creative marketers looking to develop exciting content to promote their brand’s products or services.

However, while internally-created content certainly can be used to effectively generate buzz, increase engagement, and drive sales, the fact is that your marketing team can only do so much. 

No matter how talented and hard-working your marketers are, there’s bound to be a limit to the amount of content they can create. Not only that, but your marketing budget can also heavily restrict your team’s content creation efforts, as well.

Wouldn’t it be great, then, if there was a way you could generate a massive - almost unlimited -  amount of content for your brand?

(Spoiler alert: There is.)

In the same way that our tech-heavy world has enabled marketers to create a wide variety of promotional content for their respective companies, it’s also made it possible for consumers to create such content, as well.

In this article, we’re going to outline the step-by-step process for facilitating the creation of user-generated content, as well as how ecommerce companies can use said content to their advantage.

Before we dive in, though, let’s take a moment to discuss exactly why user-generated content (UGC) is so valuable to brands in the first place.

The Effectiveness of User-Generated Content

Quick question:

If a representative of a company were to come up to you and extol the virtues of their brand, how would you respond?

If you’re like most modern consumers, you’d probably take their claims with a grain of salt. Of course they’re going to have good things to say about their products or services; they have something to gain from doing so, after all.

But what if a brand’s customer came up to you and said the exact same thing as the company rep did? 

In this case, you’d most likely place a pretty decent amount of trust in these claims, right? I mean, the customer isn’t going to profit off of your decision to listen to them, so it’s not like they’d make a bogus claim or anything like that, here. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: because they have nothing to gain from making such a recommendation, you’d be more likely to believe their claims in this situation.

Now, while the above scenario is, of course, hypothetical, it’s certainly not based in some make-believe fantasy land. On the contrary, the modern consumer is all too concerned with what their fellow customers have to say.

Case in point:

Piggybacking off of these stats, it’s worth pointing out that we, as people, are hard-wired to listen to, and learn from, our peers. 

As explained in an article from Yotpo, our reliance on the recommendations of others is heaviest when we’re unsure of the right decision, and/or when we have certain things in common with the person making the recommendation.

(Keep this point in mind; we’ll revisit it a couple times in this article.)

In terms of what UGC can do for your company, there’s no shortage of evidence, there:

In addition to all of this, UGC is inherently more cost-effective than traditional content creation, as well. While UGC-focused campaigns do require some level of investment from the company in question, it’s certainly less so than if the marketing team were to actually be in charge of creating the content rather than simply facilitating it.

At any rate, hopefully we’ve made our point:

Facilitating UGC can lead to incredible things for your company.

That is, as long as it’s done correctly.

With that in mind, let’s dive into the process of creating an effective user-generated content campaign.

Best Practices for Facilitating and Showcasing User-Generated Content

As with all other marketing campaigns and initiatives, you’ll need to approach your UGC-focused campaigns strategically in order for them to be effective.

In this section, we’re going to explain the overarching steps that go into creating an effective UGC campaign, including:

Without further ado, let’s dig in.

Defining and Understanding Your Campaign Goals

We spoke earlier about the many ways in which UGC can benefit your brand, such as:

In an ideal situation, your UGC will, in some way or another, accomplish all three of these goals - and more.

However, it’s more prudent (and realistic) to focus on one goal at a time. Not only will this make it easier to monitor and assess the effectiveness of your campaigns, but it will also allow your UGC campaigns to more appropriately fit into your overall goals for your company at the current moment.

(For example, if your overall focus is on increasing brand awareness, you’d want to use UGC to “double down” on your efforts in this area.)

At any rate, the goals you set for your UGC campaigns will essentially determine how you go about...well...everything having to do with your campaign - from the audience you target, to the type of content you solicit, to the platforms you aim to utilize. 

We’ll dig into these specifics in a bit, but for now let’s quickly discuss the nuanced ways in which your campaign goals define how you’ll proceed with your campaign:

Say your main goal is to increase brand awareness among your target audience base. In order to do so, you’ll need your customers to create exciting, attention-grabbing content that intrigues like-minded individuals within their personal networks, and to subtly yet clearly point these new leads to your social media pages and/or website.

If you’re aiming to spur more conversions, you’d want your customers to showcase specific products within the content they create, and to be more direct in pointing their followers toward your product pages. Additionally, you’d also want your users to be specific in their praise of your products, so that potential customers can truly get a feel for what they have to look forward to should they move forward with a purchase.

While you definitely want your customers to create content in an authentic manner, you also want to be sure that it serves a specific purpose for your company, as well. Once you’ve set these goals for your UGC campaign, you’ll then be able to reach out to your customers and solicit the right type of content to help you reach these goals.

Determining the Right Platform(s) to Use

The platform, or platforms, you use throughout your UGC campaign depend on your goals for the campaign, as well as the audience you intend on working with (and showcasing your UGC to).

Simply put: It just makes sense to promote the creation of UGC on the platforms in which your target audience is most active. For one thing, doing so will obviously increase the chances that those who fit your target persona will be exposed to the content - and, in turn, to your brand. Additionally, by determining where your current customers “hang out” online, you increase the chances that they’ll create the content in the first place.

(Think about it: If your current customers don’t typically use Instagram, they’re almost certainly not going to start doing so just to create content featuring your brand, right? Using Awario, you can find where customers are talking about you so that you can start the process of generating content from your users.)

On that same token, you also want to determine which platforms make sense for your brand to be showcased on. While good publicity is never a bad thing - no matter which platform it’s on - such positive content will certainly be more valuable when published on the platform your target customers expect to encounter it.

Along with this, you also want to consider which platform will allow your users to create the type of content you want them to create. While we’ll discuss your choice of content type more in-depth in the next section, it’s worth mentioning here, as it ultimately plays a role in your decision to utilize a specific platform.

To reiterate, the platform(s) you focus on for your UGC campaigns depend on:

By assessing these factors in conjunction with one another, you should be able to determine which platform to begin focusing on as you begin your next UGC campaign.

(Note: You also want to consider repurposing your UGC for use on your company website. This is essential in order to track how your UGC affects your sales-related metrics.)

Determining the Right Type of Content

As we alluded to in the previous section, the type of content you intend to solicit goes hand-in-hand with the platform(s) on which you’ve pinpointed as being effective - as well as your overall goals for your UGC campaign, as well.

For example, if you’re looking to enhance your brand’s credibility, you’ll want to focus on soliciting positive reviews from your best customers. So, you’d want to focus on engaging with them on Facebook:

Or, if you’re aiming to show off specific products to a vast new audience, you’d do well to focus on soliciting content from your Instagram followers:


The following example illustrates how Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, elicits feedback and facilitates discussion via Twitter:

Of course, this isn’t to say that these platforms are to be used for these specific purposes only; as you surely know, each of them (and other platforms) provide a variety of ways for your customers to create and publish content of their own. 

That said, certain types of content are more appropriate and/or better-suited for certain platforms. Again, focus on your goals for soliciting UGC in the first place, then figure out which type of content will help you attain these goals most effectively.

Facilitating and Showcasing User-Generated Content

Simply put:

The vast majority of your customers aren’t going to create content featuring your brand out of a clear blue sky. 

And - because you want them to create content that meets your specific needs - that’s totally okay.

But, it also means that you’re going to need to figure out how to get your followers to create this content in the first place.

Of course, it’s typically not as simple as overtly requesting that they do so; more often than not, you’re going to need to get creative, here.

For example, you might offer prizes or other incentives in exchange for content generated by your users, as Starbucks does during its annual #RedCupContest:

(Also, it’s worth noting that creating a branded hashtag, as Starbucks has done in this example, will allow you to easily keep track of your user-generated content for a given campaign.)

Similarly, you might decide to run a caption contest, like touring company Tauck does here:

It’s also important to remember, as evidenced in the previous example, that even content such as your followers’ comments on your own posts is technically UGC. As such, it’s essential that you recognize those who take the time to make their thoughts known to you (and to anyone else who reads them), and take the time yourself to engage further with these individuals. 

Aside from (or in addition to, as the case may be) providing extrinsic rewards to those who create user-generated content featuring your brand, you also want to provide intrinsic rewards to them, as well. 

Essentially, this requires you to acknowledge and truly thank your customers link for taking it upon themselves to put together the content they created. This can be as simple as giving them credit by tagging them in a post on your social media page (as Starbucks did in the screenshot above), or you might decide to make their content a permanent feature on your actual website.

In the example above, online clothing retailer Splendid prompts its customers to post user-generated content featuring its products on Instagram with the hashtag #Splendid for a chance to be featured on the company website. Not only does this give those who end up being featured a bit of a pat on the back, but it’s also an effective way of repurposing content from one platform to be showcased on another.

Now, when soliciting user-generated content from your followers, it’s essential that you explain exactly how you plan on using said content, and to also gain permission to do so from the creator. 

(Technically, you only need to do so when you’ll be using the content as part of an advertisement, on a separate platform, for the purpose of profiting off of the content - but it’s best to clarify all of this anyway in order to build trust among your content creators.)

Going back to the notion that you want your customers to create the type of content that serves your purposes, explaining exactly what these purposes are can go a long way in terms of focusing your customers on providing what you’re looking for. In other words, by providing a framework for your customers to work within when creating content, you’ll make them more likely to actually do so in the first place.

Monitoring Your User-Generated Content

When we talk about monitoring your user-generated content, we’re really talking about doing three things:

  • Monitoring the vanity metrics of the UGC
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of the UGC as relating to your stated goals for the campaign
  • Monitoring the actual content being created

First and foremost, your UGC’s vanity metrics - such as the amount of likes, comments, and shares the content generates - can give you a ballpark idea as to how far-reaching your UGC campaign has been. You’ll also want to consider how many times your branded hashtag was used (if you implemented this strategy), and also use sites like Google Alerts and Mention to see how much UGC related to your brand has been created.

(Quick note: If your main goal was to generate awareness and engagement, the next step might not necessarily apply to you - but it’s still worth considering.)

If your UGC campaign is more focused on driving sales, you’ll naturally want to consider how the campaign has affected metrics such as your ROI, conversion rate, and average order value

As we alluded to earlier, it can be difficult to say for certain that a UGC campaign was specifically responsible for a change in these metrics - but it’s not impossible. Essentially, you’ll want to keep track of those who checked out your on-site UGC and who followed up by making a purchase. Again, this is why it’s essential to republish your UGC on your company’s website if you’re focused on increasing your sales-related metrics.

(For a more in-depth look at this process, check out this post from Pixlee.)

Finally, you want to keep a close eye on the actual content your customers create - for a number of reasons.

On the positive side of things, you certainly want to know all the good things your customers have to say about your brand. Not only will this enable you to stay in touch with your raving fans, but it will also provide insight into what they value most about your products and/or services.

On the other hand, you also want to monitor your chosen platforms (and the web as a whole) for negative mentions of your brand, as well. While you can’t (and shouldn’t attempt to) erase such negative content from the annals of history, you definitely do want to take note of exactly what your detractors are saying about your brand - so that you can focus your efforts on correcting these issues moving forward.

Additionally, you also want to take note of instances in which an attempt to solicit UGC has completely backfired on your brand, as in the following example from McDonald’s Twitter campaign:

Simply put, if you realize your campaign has been hijacked by internet trolls, the best thing to do is to abandon it altogether and look for a better angle.

The most important lesson to take away, here, is:

It’s important to vigilantly monitor your social media campaigns and listen to what your customers are saying. 

Whether your UGC campaign results in positive or negative publicity for your brand, by listing to what your customers have to say, you’ll be able to learn from whatever they are telling you through the creation of their content. In doing so, you’ll be able to tweak your future marketing campaigns - and perhaps even your products and services - in order to win over new customers as well as retain current ones by providing greater overall value.

Bio: A 10-plus year veteran of the digital marketing industry, Anthony Capetola has built and managed successful SEM and Social PPC campaigns for hundreds of small to large-sized businesses in various industry verticals including national franchises and eCommerce.
As the current Marketing Manager for Sales & Orders, which provides management software for Google Shopping, Anthony manages the entirety of paid search and inbound marketing efforts. 

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