If you want to make it as a brand in today's world, you can't follow yesterday's marketing practices. Companies used to have total control over how their promotional messages were received by the public, but in an age of high transparency and consumer empowerment through social media, modern businesses know that authenticity and engagement are top priorities.
To meet these priorities, many brands have begun to incorporate user-generated content (UGC) into their marketing strategies. By retweeting followers' posts, running photo and video contests or encouraging customers to share their experiences with the brand, a company can take advantage of great content that, when used in the right way, can paint a more positive, genuine brand image than any internal campaign could.
"Today's smartest brands view their customers as co-creators," said Apu Gupta, CEO of visual social media marketing platform Curalate. "They actively encourage customers to share their brand-oriented experiences and amplify those experiences by weaving them into their own marketing initiatives."
Similarly, Joel Holland, founder and CEO of stock video service VideoBlocks, said that the companies with the best marketing efforts are the ones that let customers tell their brand story.
"The amount of content being distributed [on social media] is growing every day," he told Business News Daily. "It's a great opportunity to tap into your customer base, many of whom already share and create content, and have them tell your story if they want to."
Sharing and responding to customer reviews and tweets about your business on social channels are great ways to capitalize on UGC, but today's consumers tend to respond best to visual media. That's why it's so important for brands to have a strong presence on networks like Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube and Vine. [5 Upcoming Trends in Content Marketing]
"[Social marketing] is more image-focused as we go forward," said Justin Garrity, president of TigerLogic Corp., which owns visual marketing platform Postano. "The number of people using photo and video apps is growing. It's not just about saying, 'I'm at the gym' [on Twitter or Facebook'] but including a photo, too."
Using and engaging with visual UGC can be a great boost for your brand, but only if you do it well. Here are a few different tactics you can try, and the best ways to execute them.
Product interaction. One of the simplest and most effective forms of UGC is encouraging customers to take photos and videos that show them using your product, and tracking them through direct mentions or a designated hashtag. For instance, clothing retailer Wet Seal uses the hashtag #WSonME to find and share photos of customers wearing its clothes and accessories. Gupta noted that you can also engage local customers by asking them to take photos in your store. If they comply, celebrate their actions by liking their photos, leaving a friendly comment or asking for permission to share their content on your own social channels. To sweeten the deal, you can go the extra mile by rewarding in-store engagement with a coupon or discount.
Product integration. If product-interaction photos are the equivalent of "hard sell" advertising, product integration is the "soft sell." This content shows how your product fits into the larger context of consumers' lives. It's a much more subtle approach, but it can be just as effective, if not more so, than the previous type of UGC.
"Social networks allow fans to ... show their connection with brands," Garrity told Business News Daily. "In a photo of your morning run, you can mention the shoes you're wearing. You can tweet about a band you go to see in concert [and say] they're playing your favorite song. Anytime you have a relationship with [a brand], you can share your admiration for them."
Garrity noted that these types of posts are particularly effective because they express an experience in a personal, thoughtful way that isn't too self-serving for the brand.
"Brands are ... asking fans to go beyond a simple mention and be more creative," Garrity said. "It gives them an excuse to add something to their timeline that will generate interest [among] their friends."
Contests. To give your customers a chance to be as creative as possible, consider hosting a photo or video contest in which you ask followers to create content specifically for you. This allows them to become an active and direct part of your branding strategy, and feel like their voices are being heard by your company. One of the most notable examples of this is Doritos' "Crash the Super Bowl" campaign, an annual contest that awards a cash prize and Super Bowl airtime to the best fan-created Doritos commercial.
By doing this, "you're empowering your best customers to be your brand advocates," said Holland, whose company was involved in "Crash the Super Bowl." "It's more powerful [than traditional advertising] and not difficult when you do it right."
Gupta reminded businesses that, no matter what UGC strategies you use, it's important to continue engaging customers long after the campaign is over. Garrity agreed, noting that the ultimate goal is to encourage a shift from consumer to true fan.
"A fan is ... more likely to associate with the brand as part of their identity," Garrity said. "[Engage] with your customers in a way where you can get them to be a part of a community experience."