User-generated content (UGC), influencers and the new generation of Instagram-savvy consumers have hurried in a new era for brand-building.  How can your brand rake in the benefits of UGC and influencer marketing without compromising control over its public image?

Gone are the days when advertising, celebrity endorsements, press and word-of-mouth were distinct (and highly controlled) ways for brands to build awareness, reputation and loyalty.  Thanks to connectivity, today the lines between activities that shape opinions and generate sales have become blurred.

A single online post can reach more people in one day than the total population of some cities.  Your friends comment on (semi-)celebrities who show off products in paid social media posts.  Everyone’s comments appear in the same medium as their original content.

Whether you like it or not, anyone can create content now.

Daunting as this may seem, it’s not all that bad.  In fact, user content on social media platforms presents an opportunity for brands to receive exposure.  But how can a brand used to tightly managing their image take advantage of UGC without creating more problems than they solve?


Direct the Human Algorithm

When it comes to brand-building, every company’s marketing is affected by algorithms.

Most businesses with any degree of online presence will already be familiar with tackling the mathematical models that determine search rankings, the appearance of posts on social media, and the placement of online ads.

If you understand how a technical algorithm works, you can use it to your advantage.  But technical algorithms will only get your brand so far.  They can only give your brand exposure.  For brand-building to have an organic, positive impact on your audience, it takes more than steering the technical algorithms.  You need to command the human algorithm to control the conversation, even if you don’t control the content.

Here’s how you can do this in 3 simple steps:


1. Curate by Contributing

Is there user-generated content posted that is everything you ever dreamed your fans would create?  Promote it.

This is how the human algorithm can be steered to your benefit.

Like, comment and share fans’ photos or video content.

Your comments, likes and reposts are the mechanism for ministering your brand’s main identity online.  Just because you are not the author of every part of your brand’s identity on social media doesn’t mean you ought to give up on the role of editor and curator.

Curate with your contributions to the conversation they started.

A perfect example of this is skincare brand, Drunk Elephant.  They encourage UGC through their ‘bare with us’ hashtag and frequently share users’ content on their Instagram page:

Drunk Elephant's #barewithus campaign

Drunk Elephant like and share user-content under featuring their ‘barewithus’ hashtag, building customer engagement and loyalty.

Showing real people use your brand’s products helps people engage with it. In this instance, UGC has created a positive conversation around Drunk Elephant’s products.

The trick here is to cultivate a brand personality so strong that your users want to share their life with you on social media.  Depending on your products, part of this can also be giving people a reason to get involved in your campaign that’s bigger than Instagram itself.

Read more: Increase customer engagement online


2. Reward good content

Brand-building is becoming a consumer-centric task.

Think of a brand as a box that encloses your business.  Back in the day, the brand visible to the outside world was whatever you painted on the outside of that box.  The emergence of social media has taken the paint brush from you and handed it to consumers.  Businesses strive to guide the brush strokes when in reality their time would be better invested in ensuring you keep the painter satisfied.  How can you achieve that?

Reward content and creators who push things in the direction you want.  Include their content in emails and newsletters, post it across platforms and like and share it.  This will undoubtedly provide an intangible ‘feel good’ experience for the original poster.  But the ultimate aim is for your micro-endorsement to lead to more clout and followers to that account.  Today, this is social media currency.

So whilst some brands chase and pay influences (with mixed results), through UGC you’re given the opportunity to create an influence organically.  Be ready to embrace this opportunity.



3. UGC as a form of recommendation

You can show product recommendations on your site, but UGC is an unsolicited, trustable recommendation of your brand from a third party.  And the fact that the third party has no financial affiliations to your brand makes UGC recommendations authentic and thereby more likely to trigger consumer action.

So think of UGC as the starting point of a recommendation: you then have the opportunity to steer and funnel the context of that content to help support your marketing goals.


The Bottom Line

Create a product, excel at helping customers succeed, and create a presence on social media your users want to keep engaging with.  Then ask them to share with you so you can continue adding personality and diversity to your content to show what your community is all about.

While UGC may seem a bit daunting, it gives businesses the opportunity to frame the online conversation surrounding their brand and benefit from doing so.

Social is no longer about counting followers or creating viral content—it’s now about brands making social the centre of a consistent brand experience, or risk being left in the dust.

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