This student blog series is written by third year Mount Saint Vincent student Tesa Court.

You may have heard the term, and wondered exactly what it means, or what it can do for your business. Simply put, UGC is exactly what it sounds like – any kind of content generated by users; typically it is content for social media platforms and websites.  It can come in a variety of forms – blogs, YouTube videos, vines, and tweets. The most traditional user generated content is testimonials and recommendations from satisfied customers of a business, which the business in turn uses to boast about their products or services. They provide potential customers insight into what it would be like to use your services, or to try products your business provides.  UGC has evolved and been on the rise, correlating with the rise of internet usage, social media and smart phones. The smart phone gives us the opportunity to create content and share it at that very same moment. User generated content can be used to aid the marketing department with creating campaigns, provide potential customers with insight about services, and even suggest changes that your business may need to make, but have been overlooked.

Why Customers Trust It

More than ever consumers prefer to seek out the opinions and reviews of others before they try something themselves.  81% of internet users conduct research online before making a purchase. Consumers are seeking out reviews from individuals who have tried the products or services of a company to hear what their opinion is. Consumers trust traditional forms of advertising like newspapers, T.V, and radio less, instead relying on word of mouth from family and friends.  92% of people trust word of mouth advertising over other forms of advertising.

Opinions are not just sought out from family and friends, people trust just about anyone on-line to provide an accurate review for better or for worse. Sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor have exploded in popularity over the years as people use the reviews of others to guide their decision making process.  Opinions are rarely confined to these specific review sites – social media ‘rants’ have become the new comment card.  If you have provided a fantastic service, or really disappointed a customer, it’s likely the first place they will go is to a social media or review site to tell the rest of the world how they feel. A positive experience can turn a customer into a brand evangelist and boost your company’s following. On the other hand, a negative experience shared on social media can go viral and cause irreparable damage. On most of these social media and review sites individuals don’t have to provide a real name or accurate photo. People can easily hide behind an avatar and for this reason people are often more open and honest about their experiences because there is no fear of coming under scrutiny for it. 

Getting Your Customers Involved

Consumers love to blog and tweet about products, services or causes that they are passionate about , have made impacts on their lives, or have gotten them involved in one way or another. Companies are using UGC as a way to involve their customers, and show appreciation of their following by using their content in advertising campaigns. Taco bell was recently successful in using consumer generated content from Instagram and YouTube to produce a variety of ads for their Taco Bell Doritos Locos Taco.  They asked followers to create their own Taco Bell ads on YouTube and upload photos of their Taco Bell meals with a specific hashtag onto Instagram. In turn Taco Bell created a commercial with the photos, and had an endless amount of videos and photos to use for marketing purposes – and it was all created by consumers.  Check out the Taco Bell Instagram commercial here. This is just one example of how a business can monitor what’s being shared about their business online, and then create campaigns based on the content being produced by faithful followers. People are always going to talk about your company; what will set you apart is what you do with all that content.

The use of UGC is a simple and effective way to involve your consumers in your business. UGC drives traffic on social media and websites, users feel like they’re part of the team and it generates a buzz.  Maybe your business isn’t product driven, it’s still likely you’ll have customers singing your praises online.  Reach out to them, thank them, and share their recommendation, blog or tweet.  If the consumer feels like their opinion is valued they are more likely to keep up with the compliments and advocate on your behalf.

Damage Control

User generated content isn’t always rosy, it can be used to call out bad experiences,  shed light on extremely important events, and unethical practices of companies or governments. Though initially an online rant may not be intend to devalue a company, it can happen and bad news often spreads much quicker than positive.  Do you remember the United Airlines broken guitar video, created by a disappointed customer who had his guitar broken during a flight? Jog your memory here. It received almost 15 million views and was a PR nightmare for United Airlines. This consumer generated content was extremely powerful in drawing negative attention to United Airlines and the company’s stock soon took a hit. It would be naive to assume this was due in full to a single YouTube video, but it certainly didn’t help the cause.

So what can you do to prevent UGC from wreaking havoc on your business? Build a business based on honour, make ethical decisions and treat each and every customer with respect.  Act in such a way, that no one could have something bad to say about you if they wanted. Monitor your business online with tools like Social Mention and if people have had bad experiences, it’s just as valuable if not more so to reach out to these customers.  If someone has something negative to say, there may be something your business can learn from it to prevent further disappointment from other customers.

As a few final words about user generated content, use the content your customers have created, and get them involved! When you’re reading reviews on-line, it’s a good idea to remember that everyone’s perception is different – what one individual has hated, might be loved by another, and for every negative review, there is probably a positive one that just never made it to the page.  People are often much quicker to write negatively than they are to rant about the greatness of something. So as a potential customer, take reviews with a grain of salt, and form an opinion from your own experience.  If you’re a business owner, and you’ve gotten multiple negative reviews about the same thing, perhaps it’s time to consider what these customers have to say, they may just be right.