The messages curated and shared by a brand have, historically, been perceived as the brand story with its loci of control being within the organisation. Customer feedback has been taken in by an organisation and managed. However, with the addition of the digital space to speak on brand experiences, customers have a bigger voice than ever in building your brand’s story and the control is no longer yours.  The value of your brand is now linked directly to the value your customers attach to choosing you.

There are two aspects to the brand story:

  1. the messages the brand puts out to the market
  2. the messages the customers create and share. 

The latter has now been labelled user-generated content (UGC) and it’s a hot topic in marketing. UGC could be described as word-of-mouth, amplified.

In the small town scenario, you may enjoy a cup of coffee at the new cafe on the corner. On the way home, you bump into a friend and recommend they try it. That’s the power of word-of-mouth when your customer promotes the business.  What’s changed is how this enjoyable experience can be communicated. While you’d still tell the friend, you may also find the brand’s social media streams- or use your own – to share the experience.  You’ve just created UGC, sharing your perspective with a much larger number of people. 

Other platforms that extend the customers’ reach are portals like HelloPeter or Google. Bloggers may even feel the need to create a specific blog featuring their brand experience. 

What is the value of UGC? A recent study by Hubspot* found that UGC drives 28% more engagement than standard brand-led content and has the potential to grow the reach of your brand significantly at no cost to you. 

So, what can you do to encourage positive UGC? 

  1. Keep your brand promise: consistently meet the expectations your brand story has created in the minds of your prospects and customers as we want there to be consistency between what the brand says and what they say. 
  2. Prompt customers to create reviews or direct them to a social media platform to continue the relationship. Sharing their experience, if it is a good one, may not be their first thought. Explain the impact this small action from them can have on your business. Those who care about your brand will gladly take five minutes to raise your profile. 
  3. Keep in touch: once customers have made the effort to share their experience, make the effort to engage with this content, eg. like it, share it, comment on it. This will reward this valued customer and may even encourage others to make an effort and create a review too. 

For many of us, these changes to brand and customer dynamics can feel uncomfortable. They require us to engage with customers in a different way, to reprioritise the marketing activities. Successful brands understand this, they pivot, they build and strengthen these relationships, and they reap the rewards.  

*Hubspot TalkWalker 2021 Social Media Trends