A Modern Twist on Word of Mouth

User-generated content delivers credibility and clicks, supercharging your traditional brand marketing
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One of the fastest-growing areas of focus among leading marketers is user-generated content, or UGC: materials that an independent third party produces and publishes to promote a brand via social media, images, videos, blogs, testimonials, website content, reviews and more.

UGC is prized because a fan’s positive or passionate endorsement reflects favorably on the brand and business. You might consider UGC to be today’s word-of-mouth advertising, which many business owners consider the ultimate packaging of authentic consumer credibility. Unlike traditional, business-centric brand marketing tactics, UGC celebrates the consumer experience.

In its State of UGC 2021 Report, Tint by Filestack noted that 93 percent of marketers agree “consumers trust content created by real people” versus content that brands create. ExpertVoice validated that finding in its report, The Psychology of Brand Trust & Influencer Marketing, which states that 92 percent of consumers “trust recommendations from others” — even strangers — over branded content. The point is this: While professionally produced brand content has its place, UGC adds a much higher degree of credibility in today’s marketplace.

UGC also delivers a real benefit to a company’s marketing department. I’m responsible for daily content production for three social media platforms. Even with scheduling programs, it’s a bear to develop fresh content continually, let alone content that authentically resonates with and engages the audience. I’m not alone: 52 percent of one marketing survey’s respondents reported “major” content production challenges thanks to reduced staffs and growing workloads.

An effective UGC strategy can lighten that daily content production workload while delivering credibility that other types of content simply cannot provide. And when UGC is strategically integrated into a company’s overall marketing mix, it also can directly propel purchasing decisions.

While UGC can happen organically, marketers also can promote and harness UGC. Consider, for instance, the sales funnel and the buyer journey. Triggers for UGC can happen at multiple touchpoints in the boat-buying process — say, when a potential buyer visits your place of business and discovers an exciting backdrop that screams “cool or beautiful photo op.” Think about Harley-Davidson dealerships that have a photo backdrop with a sexy bike, and tastefully executed logos, hashtags and taglines. Boat dealers, marina operators and others can create similar opportunities for UGC to be created.

And those hashtags? They are an integral component to any UGC strategy. You want to share them and invite your customers to adopt and use them.

For boat dealers and brokers, another natural opportunity for UGC occurs during the boat’s sea trial or delivery. Everyone likes to share pictures of their new ride. Consider how you can create a memorable image and moment for customers to share. Make that UGC moment part of your standard delivery protocol.

Other popular UGC opportunities may include events, parties or company milestones. Offer UGC suggestions in your newsletter, and provide links to desired posting platforms. Some of your staunchest champions will happily comply.

Another way to stimulate UGC is to host a contest with prizes. Your marketing team can specify what content customers should share, and how they should share it, all of which helps you direct and deliver a particular type of messaging.

Victor Gonzalez, marketing director for Sportsman Boats, says he uses a mix of UGC and corporate-generated content. On the UGC front, the company hosts a monthly owners’ photo contest where the winner is determined by the highest number of shares, likes and comments on Facebook, a smart incentive to get customers to drive engagement. Sportsman’s marketing team posts a story on social media accounts announcing the contest, and within minutes, the UGC starts rolling in. The winner gets a $100 gift card for Sportsman’s branded apparel store, which delivers more brand punch.

“The contest allows us to create a huge library of UGC that is raw and connects with potential buyers,” Gonzalez says. “We have a never-ending flow of UGC on our website, including our actual media boat pages, along with a constant presence in social media networks with owners and their friends.”

Gonzalez says another benefit is that the photo submissions rank high in search- engine results. His photo contest pages account for 4.5 percent of the company’s website traffic and 2 percent of all new user traffic.

Volvo Penta of the Americas social media specialist Michelle Bradley is another fan contests for creating UGC. That brand’s 360 Degrees of Fun campaign included a UGC-focused Facebook and Instagram contest under the banner, “Be a Featured Forward Driver.” Volvo Penta invited boating enthusiasts to submit images and videos, and to share how they have fun with their Volvo Penta Forward Drive. Prizes, including GoPro Hero8 cameras and Volvo Penta wake-surf boards, went to six winners.

Bradley says the contest generated nearly 100 UGC submissions while garnering a whopping 2.5 million impressions. “Seeing friends, family and real people using real product in posts often generates the highest levels of engagement and shares on social,” she says. “Be sure to start sharing those UGC submissions right away to create more content for your campaign, encourage more submissions and to rack up those shares and engagement.”

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation consumer brand Take Me Fishing has UGC goals as a fundamental part of its engagement strategy. The foundation also sometimes uses contests to stimulate activity, in addition to ensuring daily social media engagement.

“Nowadays, social media users are very loyal to their brands and are happy to share their passion with the brands they love, just for the social recognition of being there and being seen on social,” says Maria Dominguez, the foundation’s social media strategist. “Now and then, when we need a specific UGC type, we launch an online contest, usually by asking our audience to share their best moments fishing and boating, or something related to their experience on the water.”

The National Marine Manufacturers Association, for its Discover Boating initiative, works with diverse influencers who share their UGC across multiple platforms. These influencers use stories, images, polls, questions and hashtags to drive engagement among followers. Consumers join in the conversation and share their own content using Discover Boating’s hashtags.

“Using concise and consistent hashtags helps engage consumers and brings them into the social conversation, in which they can easily post a photo of their own on-water experience and use a hashtag,” says NMMA consumer P.R. director Maggie Maskery. “The 2020 Get On Board campaign [in partnership with the RBFF] created a social media movement among influencers, industry partners, outdoor enthusiasts, anglers and boaters by using the hashtag #TheWaterIsOpen.”

For 2020, the NMMA reports 2 million likes, comments, shares, views and clicks coming from UGC and social influencer efforts. A campaign called Us The Duo generated a million views in a single week by featuring an original cover of the Get On Board theme song, coupled with a date-night video and safety tips. Another big score? Influencer Allison Anderson shared a boating adventure and encouraged her million followers to come aboard and experience the boating lifestyle.

While most UGC strategies are consumer-initiated, companies also should invite employees to participate. Happy employees producing and sharing their own branded content reflects well on the organization. In addition, take a cue from the NMMA and invite industry partners and stakeholders to get involved.

Whatever the fan base or platform, the savviest marketers also monitor UGC, select the most compelling stories and images, and gain permission to repurpose and blast that UGC across multiple platforms. If you do the same, in time your marketing team will build a rock-solid arsenal of UGC to fuel marketing campaigns, while simultaneously building a highly credible consumer voice in support of your brand. 

This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue.

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