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3 ways to leverage user-generated content (UGC) in your online store

3 ways to leverage user-generated content (UGC) in your online store

Why do people like to shop online? For many consumers, it's convenience—ecommerce has effectively eliminated the barriers that are "putting on real pants" and "fighting for a parking spot."

But the novelty of being able to buy anything and everything from the comfort of the couch is wearing thin. These days, consumers want more. They want innovative, original, and authentic experiences that are as good or better than the ones they get in physical retail. What can you do to make shoppers feel special (and get them to the checkout)?

If your answered "user-generated content," you get a gold star! Not only does user-generated content (UGC) build social proof, improve SEO, and develop brand loyalty, it also earns heaps of organic word-of-mouth marketing (not to mention sales). In fact, according to an infographic from The Shelf, 92% of consumers trust recommendations from others—even people they don’t know—over branded content. But how do you motivate customers to create this super-valuable “for user, by user” content?

And once it’s created, how can you harness its power to drive traffic and sales? In this post we’ll look at three creative brands using UGC to enhance the customer experience, and how you can do the same in your store this holiday season.


Crowdsource new product ideas

You’ve no doubt heard of crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which allow fans to finance companies’ great ideas—but what about turning the equation on its head and sourcing the ideas rather than the funds?

That’s exactly what Lay’s did when they invited customers to invent their own potato chip flavours in their wildly successful "Do Us a Flavour" campaign. Launched in 2006, it was originally limited to snail mail and text message submissions. However, the rise of social media has allowed the brand to take the campaign to a whole new level.

In 2015, Lay’s not only allowed users to vote on short-listed flavours across a number of major social platforms, it also inserted itself into the conversation with real-time video responses, and displayed a Google-powered trend map to visualize top-ranking flavours. Over the 10-month campaign, Lay's received more than 3.8 million suggestions and reported a sales bump of 12%. That's no small potatoes!

Think about how your store can engage customers by getting them involved in the creative process. People enjoy participating, creating, and competing with each other, and giving them the opportunity to get involved early on can help stir up interest in a product before it even hits the market.


Capitalize on the selfie trend

"Selfie" got a spot in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, and in 2016 it should have a spot in your marketing plan. Why? Because according to a study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, faces in photos increase engagement by almost 40%. And you know what kind of photo always has a face in it? That's right—a selfie.

Companies across a wide range of industries have jumped on the selfie train in recent years, but one that’s done it bigger and better than the rest is online clothing retailer Revolve. Using the hashtag #RevolveMe, the brand calls on its customers to take photos in their favourite Revolve outfits and share them via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. As of today, customers have submitted 51,948 photos, garnering some 60 million impressions.

Complementing the campaign is the “Shop This Look” feature, which allows consumers to move seamlessly from browsing on Instagram to purchasing a product in Revolve's online store. Customers can see what an item looks like styled by “regular, everyday women,” then click through to see the professional version, plus the product name, brand and price.

Consider how you can use selfies to elevate your brand and products. While they lend themselves particularly well to fashion and lifestyle brands (64% of women shopping on mobile are more likely to purchase products when they are displayed “in context”), don’t think that because you sell office supplies or pet food, you can’t jump on the trend. Host a photo contest with a specific hashtag or pair your selfie campaign with a charitable cause to build goodwill and holiday spirit.


Collaborate with unconventional partners

Bonne Bell and Dr. Pepper. Girl Scouts and Dairy Queen. Dial and Froyo. What do these offbeat pairings have in common? They’ve all produced co-branded products you’re sure to remember. Dr. Pepper-flavoured lip balm, anyone? Girl Scout cookie Blizzard? Bodywash that smells like frozen yogurt?

Strategic partnerships like these can be an effective way to build brand awareness and reach, and involving UGC in your campaigns has an added benefit: both companies end up with a bunch of free, fan-crafted content that can be used for different purposes and on different platforms for years to come.

Just ask consumer electronics company Belkin, who in 2013 teamed up with LEGO to create a line of customizable iPhone cases. Belkin provided the first “building block”—a rubberized case with studs on the back. And LEGO—well, let’s be honest, who doesn’t have a stash of their favourite plastic bricks kicking around?

Customers were asked to show off their creativity by building LEGO structures on their cases and posting their masterpieces to Instagram and Facebook with the tag #LEGOxBelkin. Some of these images even made their way onto Belkin’s product pages, effectively letting customers do the selling for them.

Partnerships are a great way to build mutually beneficial relationships between ecommerce companies, no matter how big or small they are, or how seemingly disparate their product lines. Do some brainstorming around companies that have similar target audiences and use the same promotional channels as you—then reach out and see if they’d be interested in a co-branded, holiday-themed UGC campaign. Get creative! If an airline and a jeweller can find success with an Easter-themed campaign, so can you!


Go forth and conquer

In an age when anyone can say anything about your brand with a click of a button, you’d be wise to start capitalizing on the conversation. Authenticity matters a lot in marketing, and having real people share their experiences can make what might seem promotional coming from you seem organic, honest, and relatable.
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