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How to Leverage User-Generated Content for Small Business

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user generated content

User-generated content (UGC) is an untapped resource for many small businesses. UGC exists all around us, in the form of social media posts, reviews, and customer images, and can be invaluable for optimizing your brand presence.

Recent reports show that 60 percent of consumers believe user-generated content is the most authentic and influential form of content. What’s more, that authenticity equates to sales: 86 percent find authenticity important when deciding what brands they like and support.

User-generated content increases brand trust, drives traffic to your website, and turns your customers into advocates when done right. Use this guide to add UGC into your marketing strategy.  

What is User Generated Content?

User-generated content is any type of content created by unpaid contributors, customers, or fans. It’s similar to word-of-mouth marketing—your brand is so good that other people tell their friends about it. In this case, people are telling their friends about your business online. Here are a few examples of user-generated content:

  • Reviews or testimonials: These could be on your site, on external review sites or in discussion boards.
  • Blogs or vlogs: For example, a fashion influencer reviewing a make-up product on their site.
  • Social media posts: Mentioning or tagging your brand on their social media accounts. In many cases, this is accompanied by a product photo. See a photo re-shared by a local San Diego cafe, from one of their customers.

A UGC Checklist for Small Businesses

Find where your audience lives: First, brainstorm the most relevant third-party reviews sites or platforms for your industry and niche. For restaurants it’s Yelp, for small, local service-providers, it might be Angie’s list. Refer to this Hubspot List to find yours. Second, determine which social media channels are most relevant for and popular with your target audience. If you’re a crafting company, this is likely Pinterest, while LinkedIn is geared towards B2B companies.

✔ Perform a quick audit of your review-site profiles: If you haven’t created a profile on larger review sites, like Yelp or Google MyBusiness, users may have already written reviews on your unclaimed page. Claim your business listing, update your contact information, and upload high-quality images.

✔ Clean-up your social media presence: Ensure that your social profiles are accessible to your audience. If someone is writing a review on social media or tagging your brand, make it easy to find you by including links to your social profiles on your website, for example. If you haven’t created social profiles yet, be sure to get your business name—or as close to it as you can—as your handle so it’s easy for customers to find you via search.

Where to Find Content from Your Customers

Once you start looking, you’ll realize that valuable UGC is everywhere. It’s easy to only see the bad, like poor reviews or unhappy customer rants. When looking for user-generated content, however, you can  see the positive impact of your brand. To collect UGC, go to the following places:

  • Reviews: If you have review functionality on your own site (more on that later), simply scroll through and find the best reviews to highlight. Don’t forget to check external site reviews. Note that this also gives you the opportunity to address any negative reviews, which is valuable for your brand perception.
  • Social media mentions: Search for any posts that you’ve been tagged in. For Facebook, this is in the insights section. For Twitter, it’s a mention. You can also search by your brand/product name, location or hashtags.
  • Other testimonials: Do a quick Google search of your company or product name and see if it comes up anywhere else. You may find blog post reviews or mentions of your brand in articles this way. Also use this time to set up a Google Alert for your brand name, so you never miss a great piece of UGC.

Always Ask Before Posting UGC

If you plan to use a review, or repost an image, or do anything with content that’s user-generated, approval is a must. You can’t just take someone else’s content because they mention you or your company. To understand the user’s point of view on this topic, check out this example of a brand appropriating images from a photographer.

On social media, comment on the image to thank the creator and ask if you can repost it. Always credit the user. On review sites comment or message people to see if they’ll let you use their review as a testimonial in your marketing. When in doubt, ask. Learn more about getting consent for reposting on Instagram in Refinery29’s list of do’s and don’t, which includes Q&A with a lawyer.

How to Encourage Customers to Review and Post About Your Brand

There are a few strategies you can use to boost the UGC related to your brand. The easiest is to simply ask your customers, at the point-of-purchase or in a confirmation email. You can also build a separate email into your sales funnel that pings customers for feedback once they’ve received their product or even include a request on your sales receipts. Remember to make it easy and include links to social or review sites.

Social media campaigns are another powerful tool to drive UGC. Develop a campaign that asks users to post pictures of themselves using your product and include a specific hashtag. If your budget allows, you can further incentivize customers with a contest or reward. UGC campaigns like this transform your customer into the role of advertiser. Burgeon Beer, a local San Diego brewery, does a photo contest every year to gather UGC and drive brand recognition. Check out how they incentivize their annual photo contest below.

A famous viral example is Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign. Back in 2014, the brand created personalized bottles with names and phrases and encouraged customers to #Shareacoke by posting photos of theirs. Everyone from celebrities to everyday folk joined in.

For further inspiration, refer to The Shelf’s round-up of successful big brand UGC campaigns. While the work of these big brands may sound out of your league, use it as inspiration to create  a campaign that’s within your budget.

Unlocking the Value of UGC

Now that you’ve identified existing UGC and encouraged more, what do you do with it? There are a few different options to implement user-generated content into your marketing plan:

  • Highlight it on your website: Add reviews to a testimonial section on your website. Testimonials legitimize your brand and show potential customers that you already have satisfied customers.
user generated content testimonial
  • Write a blog post: Get extra mileage by writing a blog post summarizing the highlights of a UGC campaign. Make sure to include images or screenshots. You can also do a roundup post each season with the best photos and posts from customers.
  • Create case studies: Turn big client wins into a case study on your website. Outline the objective of the project and results, and include a review from the client. Look through the social media coaching case study and link building case study from Jessica Thiefels Consulting for an example of how you can put this together.
  • Repost on social media: You can easily repost or share this content on your profile—and you should. Remember to ask for permission first. Check out an example Instagram post from local San Diego business coach, Jessica Marx, from the Heart & Hustle Co.
user generated content social share

Why Small Business Should Care About UGC

As a small business, you only have so much time, and even less budget. However, leveraging the power of user-generated content allows you to put the customer or client at the forefront, while showing that people love your brand—leading to more sales and business. Here are a few great reasons to care about UGC.

Cuts Through the Digital Noise:Most internet users are sick of in-your-face marketing and don’t trust digital advertising. A 2018 eMarketer report found that 41 percent of users think digital ads are too aggressive. What’s more, 18 percent understand the need for ads when viewing free content, but still find them “creepy.” Like when you search for a toaster once on Amazon and every ad on every platform is now selling you toasters.

Bolsters Authenticity: UGC is social proof that tells a story, which in turn, also educates potential new customers. In a world of sponsored-posts, influencers, and paid ads, UGC breeds authenticity; as the Stackla survey revealed, consumers crave this.

Enjoy Free Promotion: UGC is free marketing. While developing a UGC campaign involves resources, testimonials, reviews, and social posts are all free.

Get Fresh Content: Whether you’re a business owner, manager, or content marketing contractor, how often have you stared at your social content calendar drumming your fingers as you try to come up with ideas for posts? (I know it’s not just me!) UGC is fresh, exciting and unique content that’s ready to be shared.  

Increase Audience Engagement: Reviews or UGC campaigns allow you to interact directly with your audience. You can respond to and promote reviews and have conversations with customers posting about your brand. This type of engagement humanizes your brand.

Enhance SEO: Testimonials on review pages, especially your Google My Business page boosts your local SEO. According to Moz’s guide to local search ranking factors, reviews account for 15.44 percent of Google’s local pack/finder ranking and 6.47 percent of organic ranking.

A native review platform on your site can also provide significant SEO value. Think of each review as a relevant piece of content, with the sole purpose of helping and informing other users (important in the eyes of Google ranking). Reviews are also keyword-rich and live on already-indexed pages, helping you rank for long-tail keywords and semantic search.

For more specifics on keywords and the SEO of UGC, check out Search Engine Journal’s article.

Don’t Underestimate the Value of User-Generated Content

UGC is low-hanging fruit when it comes to repurposing reviews for your own social media and content calendar. Reviews and testimonials are also legitimizing factors for potential customers and clients. Not to mention, consumers seek out UGC when considering if they want to support or follow a new brand.

Use UGC to grow your business, create authentic connections with your audience, and boost SEO for your website.

Tracy is a content marketer with 7+ years of diverse experience. Originally a Buffalo, NY native, she now enjoys the remote-work lifestyle in sunny San Diego. Tracy loves writing about small business hacks and all things digital marketing. When not in her plant-filled home office, she’s exploring the outdoors, practicing yoga, or experimenting with new recipes. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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