How to Use Your Customers to Tell Your Story

By Madison Taylor
February 19, 2019
girl looking at her computer smiling

User-generated content (UGC) has exploded in recent years, from customer advocates all the way up to the biggest names in celebrity endorsements on Instagram and elsewhere. Why is UGC so popular?

For one thing, advertising is expensive. According to the Digital Advertising Report from Adobe, digital ad costs are rising five times faster than inflation as more and more companies compete for digital ad space. Paying a whole team of micro-influencers is much cheaper — and more effective.

For another thing, it works. User-generated content generates far more engagement and is more likely to lead to a sale than the content you generate yourself — the fact is, people trust the word of their fellow consumers more than they trust your marketing materials.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be trying to guide the message yourself — it’s important to have control over the information you put out. But if you’re not leveraging UGC to your advantage, you’re missing out. So how do you start?

Start With An Audit Of Your Social Media Channels

Not all social media channels are created equal — different people use different platforms in different ways. You’ll need to consider not just where your audience lives, but where you can best share your message.

Customers like having their work re-posted — they like feeling noticed, they like the idea that their content is good enough that the company noticed it, and they generally don’t want anything in return. All you have to is ask if you can share their content (with credit, obviously) and see what they say.

When you’re kicking off your UGC efforts, think about which channels will have the most impact. Where do your existing customers spend their time? Where are your potential new customers looking for info?

Consider the actual benefits of each social network, too. Some services’ algorithms make it easier to discover and share various types of content over others. Facebook is a tough place to get organic reach but lends itself well to sharing videos about your brand. Twitter has great shareability but values bite-size quips and images over longer video content. And Instagram is the king of photo and video content, but it’s pretty saturated — you’ll need to have a good grasp of regramming, Instagram Explore, and hashtags to get your content in front of the right people.

Set Specific Goals For Your User-Generated Content

User-generated content is still content, and as such, it needs a content strategy. You can’t just re-post everything you like and expect your business to start flourishing as a result. Like any other marketing campaign, you’ll need a strategy for what your UGC is trying to accomplish.

Higher Brand Engagement

Maybe you’re trying to get your social media audience off the ground by fostering relationships and conversations with your customers. UGC is a great way to do that! Do some research on hashtags that your customers use when they talk about your product — not so broad that you get lost, but not so specific that no one uses them.

Find other accounts of people that use those hashtags a lot. There are lots of tools online for finding the most-followed people that use a certain hashtag, so you can follow and start to engage with the big players in your space. Don’t try to sell to everyone you talk to — this is just about making friends.

Increased Conversion

If your primary goal is to nudge potential customers off the fence and into a sale, UGC can help. Studies have repeatedly shown that site visitors trust the word of their peers over the ad speech of the brands they shop, so use your existing users to help you out.

Adding a section on your page for user testimonials is a great way to lend yourself credibility — potential customers will see that you’ve solved problems just like theirs in the past and trust you to solve theirs in the future.

If you have a physical product, adding a section on your site to share Instagram photos that tag you can be a great interactive feature too. Make sure you can afford the time to curate them, though — not every mention is a good one.

Saving Time

It varies from platform to platform, but there’s a sweet spot for how much content you should be posting in a given day or week — if you’re a small company, you might not be able to generate original content that quickly. Padding out your social feeds with user-generated content is a great way to keep your company on your customers’ radar.

Tell Your Audience What You Want

Once you have a bit of an audience going, ask them for their help! Whether you want images, reviews, feedback, or guidance, you’re not likely to get useful content if your audience doesn’t know what you’re looking for.

If you want your users to send you content, they probably will! People love being involved. But it takes guidance and time to get the content that you want and can use. Check your hashtags and leave little room for error with the guidelines of the types of photos you want.

Take GoPro, the kings of UGC, for example. When GoPro wanted to use user video for a TV commercial, they kept it simple. Users were asked to submit a single, 30-second clip for their contest. No music, no editing, no cuts, no slow-motion. Just simple, straightforward content that highlighted exactly who their customers are.

Focus On Your Community

The best thing about user-generated content is the chance to engage with your audience. And we don’t just mean the numbers of likes and shares that you get — we mean the people behind them.

Soliciting and employing user-generated content gives you a rare opportunity to connect with new people, learn about them, and gain insight into how they interact with their world and with your product. There are people on the other side of every screen, and this is your chance to show your human side.

Track Your User-Generated Content

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again, but you really can’t over-track your data. If you want your user-generated content strategy to work, you’ll have to keep track of how it’s going across your channels.

You’re presumably already using some form of social media analytics tool, so you have access to detailed reporting about how your various posts perform. You should also be comparing across posts to see what performs best — short videos or long? Product shots or lifestyle shots? Add UGC into that comparison as well.

Finally, pay attention. User-generated content won’t just come from the requests and contests that you make to solicit it, it’ll generate all on its own — and you don’t want to miss out. Look around periodically for users who mention your brand or your hashtag and see if you can leverage those mentions to your advantage.