Rick Enrico is CEO of SlideGenius, a PowerPoint design service. He shares some of his top tips for involving your business’s users in your content marketing strategy.
In the age of Web 2.0, opinions from user-generated content can make or break your brand’s reputation. After all, prominent social media sites like Facebook and Twitter boast millions, if not billions of users:
- Facebook had 1.44 billion active users every month for the first quarter of 2015.
- Instagram clocked in at 300 million active users every month as of January 2015.
- Twitter has 255 million active monthly users as of 2014.
- YouTube features 1 billion active users each month as of 2013.
With all these users, it’s possible that someone, somewhere, is posting something about your brand or product at any given time. It can be a user review video, a status update, a picture marked with a hashtag, or even a blog.
All of these channels help potential customers, especially Millennials, decide whether or not they want to buy into your brand. This generation usually gravitates towards the opinions of previous users before making a purchase. With the ever increasing number of users on various social media sites and forums, it’s crucial for companies to take advantage of user-generated content.
To do this, involve your consumer base in building your brand’s reputation, but go beyond sharing blogs or status updates. Let’s take a look at a few great examples:
- Starbucks invited their customers to design a limited edition Starbucks cup in 2014 with its White Cup Contest.
- In 2013, Tourism Queensland invited applicants to submit videos to apply for a job in their country.
- Coca-Cola encouraged its customers to share their personalized Coke bottles on Twitter with the Share a Coke campaign in 2011.
Regardless of the medium, all these contain consumer opinions about your brand and products. Your customers’ testimonials or complaints (posted on their Facebook and Twitter feeds, blogs, etc.) have a greater chance of influencing the buying decisions of interested prospects, as opposed to relying on your own advertising and marketing efforts to promote your brand.
User-Generated Content Is The New Word-of-Mouth
Since this content comes from the actual people who use your products, it tends to be more candid than the information posted by your company. In user-generated content, people have more freedom to say what they like or dislike about your products, as opposed to the way advertising and marketing efforts present the best image of the product.
If there’s a flaw in your product, like application compatibility problems or even hardware issues, customers are sure to complain or even make fun of them, as with the case of Apple’s bending iPhone 6, where ordinary customers, rival smartphone makers, and even KitKat posted their impressions about the hardware defect on Twitter.
When you consider the number of monthly active social media users involved in the examples above, it’s easy to see how critical posts influence your brand’s reputation. Not only could there be millions of people complaining about your product, but there’s also the possibility that those complaints–no matter how small–will be shared by millions of other people.
On the other hand, this eye-popping number of users could result in millions–if not billions–of positive comments about your brand. Just take a look at the September 2014 statistics of Coca-Cola’s social media pages, with at least 88.9 million likes on Facebook, 2.6 million followers on Twitter, and 318,231 followers on Instagram.
Given the number of users and trending topics to share on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, it’s important to monitor your social media pages for comments or posts about how people react to your brands, as with the examples of Apple and Coke above.
After all, customers, especially Millennials, tend to have more trust in the opinions of people who have used your products before, rather than relying on advertised information.
If your company takes time to listen to your consumers, you can quickly address positive and negative opinions, such as scheduling a pull-out and free replacement of defective products. Taking these corrective actions makes your target market see your business in a positive light.
User-Generated Content Is Your Trump Card
User-generated content can influence your brand’s reputation positively (through praises and recommendations) or negatively (through complaints and bad reviews).
By monitoring published online content, even from your company’s respective social media pages, you can keep your brand relevant to your target market by learning from their feedback and improving your offerings. This was the case of the Share a Coke Twitter campaign, which allowed customers to add their names on Coke bottles and share pictures of them on social media, resulting in a sales increase of over 2% in 2014.
There are two main ways you can make user-generated content work to your advantage: by creating engaging site-based experiences and building consumer trust. 
Making User-Generated Content Work For You
There are two steps to creating effective user-generated content:
1. Create Engaging Site Experiences
Given that billions of users create content on various social media sites, brands can use this in their favor by giving customers an outlet to post their own user-generated content through these ways:
- Integrate social media posts (Tweets, YouTube videos etc.) into your corporate site’s customer testimonials section or a microsite specifically designed for this content.
- Give your consumers an opportunity to create and publish their own content on your site, as with the case of Starbucks posting their cup designs on their site.
- Maintain a social media presence to funnel most, if not all customer opinions in one place for you to review and act on.
This gives your consumers enough information to form opinions about your brand and your offerings. Keeping these channels open to their feedback tells your customers that your company cares about what they have to say. This makes them feel directly involved in making your brand–their preferred brand–better.
If you leave a positive impression on enough customers, they may share their good opinions about you with other people through their online social networks, influencing them to buy your brand.
2. Build Consumer Trust
Involvement builds trust.
Consistently monitoring feedback and managing it gives faster access to your customer’s opinions, making it easier for you to look for areas you can immediately improve.
Social media sites have made it easier for people to share reviews, opinions, complaints, and suggestions about your brand. Once you have this information, use them to tailor-fit your products to different types of consumers. 
If managed properly, this shows that you care about how people see your brand, and you want to address whatever problems they have. It improves your relationships with your own customers, similar to how Starbucks did when it encouraged customers to design their own cups and share them with others in its White Cup Contest. This is more effective that simply researching about your target market once and making a standard advertising campaign to sell your products.
Customer Involvement Builds Trust And Profits
User-generated content is interactive in nature. Opinions, responses, and ideas are made and gathered in real-time.
Brands can actively involve their consumer base in improving their services and bring them closer with opportunities to show off their content. This also gives you a clearer picture of your brand’s strengths and flaws, allowing you to know your customers’ preferences and tailor-fit your offerings. By recognizing and embracing ideas that originate from outside the company, you also get to innovate and commercialize ideas ahead of the competition, as with the case of Starbucks and Coca-Cola’s customized cups and bottles.
Once you involve your consumers in building your brand, you get to know them better. Knowing what to do and what to avoid based on their candid online feedback helps you make the appropriate changes to your company’s offerings and processes.
If your prospective customers see that you act on their concerns, they’ll never hesitate to talk positively about your brand in places where the public can see your interactions with them, giving your prospects relevant reasons to stick with your company for a long time to come.
Here is an infographic created by Venngage that summarizes the points in this post.
<a href="https://infograph.venngage.com/p/66732/food-tourism-infographic"><img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/04d7dd57-6d4f-4039-864f-94c17063b528.png" alt="[Infographic] How User-Generated Content Will Keep Your Brand Relevant"/></a><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
 Salyer, Patrick. “3 Ways User-Generated Content Benefits Brands and Customers.” Social Media Today. July 29, 2014. Accessed June 16, 2015.
 Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema. “Three Paths to Market Leadership: Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines.” Harvard Business Review. 1993.
Grossman, Lev. “The Next Big Thing Is Us.” Time Magazine, March 12, 2006.
Rick Enrico is the CEO and Founder of SlideGenius, Inc., a global presentation design agency. He regularly publishes expert presentation tips on the SlideGenius blog. He currently oversees an experienced team of designers, software developers, and marketing professionals that specialize in creating custom corporate presentations and cloud publishing applications. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.