Positive, unsolicited content posted by raving fans on social media is a dream come true for any brand.

Even with this freely contributed resource, a bit of thought needs to be given to strategy and investment in resources if the goal of increased sales and a strengthened brand through user-generated content is to be reached.

Firstly, there’s the need to encourage the ongoing posting of desirable User Generated Content (UGC). The content must then be curated before being put to use to improve conversions, increase sales and raise average order values. As a business grows and develops, the requirements at each stage change and evolve.

Interacting to Meet Your Brand Goals

Particularly when UGC is entirely unsolicited (i.e: the user hasn’t received a helping hand in the form of a competition entry, discount or other incentive) a key truth applies: interacting with followers encourages them to contribute content. Therefore it stands to reason that you can influence the UGC your brand receives by the way that you engage with followers. 

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This will depend very much on your overall brand values. One brand may be aiming to bring together a niche community – it may be key to foster a strong sense of being heard and understood, or of being part of an under-represented tribe. In this case, the brand might aim to acknowledge every post directed at them, as is the case with organic children’s food brand Organix on Instagram. Another brand might be aiming to project a sense of expertise, aspiration and celebrity connections – in that case it might make more sense to concentrate efforts on building close relationships with high-profile social media influencers, as L’Oreal makeup does. In either case the content you choose to "reward" by responding, reposting or featuring, informs and guides your followers about what you want them to create.

Curating With Care

Once generated, the vital task of curation comes into play. This can be a fine balance to strike. It’s clear that if your brand aesthetic is a distinctive minimalist editorial look, it would be incongruous (or even damaging) to repost badly composed, grainy or dimly lit customer selfies. Likewise for any brand whose customers are showing the product in unflattering ways or featuring a competitor in the same photo. However, depending on your brand story it might be essential not to lose a sense of acceptance and inclusion. 

Australian fashion line Black Milk Clothing are an example of how a balance can be achieved in this situation, and how a brand’s approach to using UGC naturally evolves over time. Founded in 2009, Black Milk became a multi-million operation in just 2.5 years with zero spend on marketing, thanks solely to online word of mouth and the resulting army of super-fans known as “Sharkies”. These avid fans contributed hundreds of selfies (some blurry and dimly-lit) modelling Black Milk clothing, which were featured on the brand’s website product pages. 

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These days, Black Milk’s brand voice remains consistent but their online strategy has evolved as the business has grown. A discerning Instagram account with a one million strong following features posts by sponsored influencers and the brand’s own professional photography, as well the best of their UGC. However, a fuller array of customer selfies of varying quality is still featured on their website product pages and Facebook page, meaning that even fans who don’t quite make it onto Instagram can still feel valued.

A second reason why strategy has to be considered when curating content to meet your brand guidelines, lies in the very reason why UGC is good for sales figures. The authentic social proof of other customers who have paid for and enjoyed a product is what makes UGC so trustworthy. If a brand curates their UGC to the point where they are using only images of a quality and perfection which fit their brand aesthetic absolutely, it becomes hard to differentiate between brand-created content and User Generated Content. Just as a stream of reviews looks suspicious if none are negative, so the power of consumer-created images becomes diluted if a brand strives too much for an ideal. 

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One solution to this is to interweave a wide range of quality images from both brand and consumer sources – quirky, aspirational, artistic, funny, behind-the-scenes, inspirational – as demonstrated by the Mercedes Benz and Gucci Instagram pages. The quality of the images remains high, but the variety of content prevents boredom and the sense of being overtly marketed to.

Putting UGC to Work

Having nurtured, inspired and earned your UGC, and having formulated a strategy for how you’re going to curate it, the next (and most straightforward) step is to put it to work for you in the form of Shoppable Instagram Pages and Shoppable Galleries. These give you full control over content curation and enable your followers to easily buy or find more information about the products which they discover through your social media. Your website customers receive the information they need to make a confident buying decision: authentic social proof, product inspiration and ideas for complementary products. Try out a demo of Fetch and see how it works for your brand!

References
Organix Food
L’Oreal Makeup
Black Milk Clothing
Mercedes Benz
Gucci

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