People crave for more personal experiences – even as they make purchasing decisions. A mind-boggling 92% of consumers trust a brand recommendation from another person rather than branded content. With more people building fences against snake oil salesmen, businesses are realizing the importance – and necessity – of user-generated content and influencer marketing.The shift here is focusing on what consumers expect rather than what brands want. How are you reaching out to your audience? How do they perceive you?It’s about authenticity: Consumers want each product to feel as if it was made specifically for them. They don’t want to feel like a run-of-the-mill buyer; they want to feel special.User-generated content is essentially content about the brand that is voluntarily produced by its customers. Customers who have had a good and positive experience with your brand are more motivated to share their stories with their peers. This referral system is the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to expand your customer base. User-generated content provides authentic information about your brand’s products and services from previous customers. Not only does this save you resources in the long run, it boosts your brand’s credibility as well. This makes user-generated content one of the most scalable ways for marketers to showcase their products.In a nutshell: Make customers advocates of your brand by providing them with good experiences. Their own personal content – which they share with their peers – makes your brand more authentic and credible, contributing to your bottom line.Case study: Coca-ColaA perfect example of how user-generated content can boost sales while improving brand loyalty is Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign. The first-of-its-kind campaign swapped out the Coke branding on bottles and cans with popular monikers. When it was first released in 2014, Coke sold more than 250 million named bottles and cans in Australia alone. The concept was simple, yet brilliant because of it. Customers simply had to “share their Coke” with someone whose name appeared on their can. Millions upon millions of photos were posted across dozens of social media sites with people holding a Coke bottle or can with their name on it. The result? Coca-Cola’s own customers became their advertisers – without Coke having to pay a single cent!When you consider that 68% of social media users aged between 18 and 24 take into account the information shared on social media, and that 86% of people say authenticity is important when deciding what brands to support, it’s easy to see why user-generated content is so powerful.Turning customers into advocatesThere are many types of user-generated content you can take advantage of. All you need is incentive for your customers to generate content. This depends on the type of content you want.Competition/Sharing of stories – Similar to the Coke campaign, this inspires people to shoot a video or take a photo of themselves using your products.Free trials – You can offer a free trial of your products or services in exchange for a testimonial on your website or your customer’s personal blog/channel.Rewards – Customers who comment or share a blog post from your website can potentially receive a reward.Hashtag campaigns – Hashtags get your audience involved with your message or campaign. This type of user-generated content drives users to follow, engage and send content using a simple (but memorable) hashtag.Remember: In the eyes of your customers, user-generated content is unbiased and unsolicited information from an outside source. This helps make your brand more authentic. The most important thing to remember is that you are trying to build a community that is continuously publishing share-worthy content. This content is something that makes the participants feel good about themselves and inspire them to share with others.For example, Pawstruck gathered user-generated content of cute animals and paired them with customer reviews. As a result, their Facebook ad gained a 30.3% higher click through rate than usual.In the same vein, Delta Airlines began a social media campaign in 2018 where it encouraged its customers to take photos of their travel destinations — after having flown with the airline company — and posting these photos on their Instagram page with the hashtag, #SkyMilesLife or #DeltaMedallionLife. These photos would then be posted on Delta’s website, where other travelers could gain inspiration for their next trip.The campaign was a success – so much so that in December of last year, Delta Airlines updated their terms and conditions, stating that all users who tagged the airline with the aforementioned hashtags agree that the company could use these images perpetually in any of Delta’s current and future media campaigns. This was to protect not only the company, but to ensure that users would always be credited when Delta used their photos.Strategies to considerEnriching your product content with user-generated content can be simple. Here are a few strategies that you will need to consider.Choose the social media network that is relevant to your target audience – You need to know your audience and where they live in the digital space. You also have to determine which of your potential advocates have the most influence. Do not jump on the bandwagon and post immediately to Instagram, for example, just because it’s “easier” to share visuals with your customers. Try to see which social channels could have the most impact to your business through user-generated content.Which network is right for you?Facebook – Great for sharing video content and stories about your brand. Use Facebook to post the kind of videos that have a high possibility of going viral. https://www.contentserv.com/en/downloads/compelling-product-experiences/Twitter – Highly visual user-generated content works well on this platform.Instagram – This is, perhaps, the most popular network for user-generated content. Customers are able to see visually appealing content and interact with you at the same time.LinkedIn – Use this platform to connect to professionals, promoting more serious type of content.Take note that this doesn’t cover all the available social media sites available. Set specific goals – As with any other content strategy, your user-generated content plan needs to have specific, measurable, and time-bound goals. Some of these may include, but are not limited to: high brand engagement (how many comments, likes or shares a post has), increased conversion rates (converting reviews into actual sales), building brand trust (what is the general perception of your brand?) and educating more users (tracking common concerns about your business).Focus on collaboration – User-generated content is about establishing credibility. Place emphasis on building your community. Treat your advocates well: answer their questions, give recognition, etc. One thing that is extremely important to remember is that you need to give credit to the photographer or influencer for any post being made or pictures being shared. Always make sure you’re in agreement with users before you share any of their content. Do not take people’s hard work and use it without paying for it or agreeing on something first. It is wise to consult with legal counsel on two things: the rights you’ll hold over any content submitted to your promotion, and any restrictions that govern giveaways.Analyze and measure your efforts – To truly determine if your user-generated content is working, you need to measure your efforts. This means using different social media analytics tools to track overall engagement.Enhancing the personal experience One way you can approach organic reach is through customer advocacy. When you rely on your customers and their followers, you are able to reach your marketing goals more effectively. But how do you start?A Product Information Management (PIM) solution is key to creating rich content for your customers, both online and offline. With a PIM system, you are able to consolidate product data into a central repository which eliminates data inefficiencies and ensures that users receive a consistent experience no matter which channel they are using (meaning, the product content they see on their mobile phones would be the same as what they would see on your website, for example).Remember it is all about the experience. Your customers demand simplicity, but also experiences that are personalized to them. This includes how they receive their content.When you provide rich, relevant and accurate product information, you are also providing great customer experiences. This means more satisfied customers who are more likely to publish better reviews of your products and services. If you are describing the product with the correct attributes, your customers are completely aware of what they are buying. Consequently, when they review your product or service, the information they provide is focused on the quality and performance of the product, as opposed to whether the size, shape, or color was not what they expected.