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GUEST COMMENT How to turn your brand advocates into brand content masters

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Craig Smith, vice president of solutions and customer success at Amplience

With online sales growth seen to be slowing lately, it will come as no surprise that retailers are struggling to hold onto their online customers. As the e-commerce space becomes increasingly crowded, consumer mindshare is at a premium and it’s not just other retailers that they’re competing with.

Against a plethora of engaging, independent content they can enjoy on YouTube and social media, predictable branded content can seem stale. That’s why, when they’re online, customers are spending less time on retailer websites and more time chatting and sharing with their friends on Facebook , Instagram and Snapchat.

Gathering your advocates

To break out of this pattern, many retailers are getting creative with their content. User-generated content (UGC) is one way to achieve this. UGC is when a customer becomes the creator of a brand’s engaging online content. It can happen when, for example, they talk about a product on a video, in a review or share their recommendations through social media.

Retailers are beginning to leverage UGC in innovative ways to influence browser behaviour and increase purchase rates. For example, they are collecting UGC from Instagram, tagging the featured products and republishing them to their website as user-made media galleries. Through this engagement, many loyal customers become brand advocates, eager to share their experiences and new purchases with friends, family and followers.

Retailers would be unwise to ignore this phenomenon. Now beyond a trend, peer recommendation is becoming the norm. When used correctly, UGC offers unlimited access to customers’ positive sentiment and promotion in a form that users inherently trust. A survey of millennials by research house L2 found that 59 percent of respondents viewed UGC as an honest evaluation of a product or service, higher than any form of paid advertising or promotion.

Styled, an airbrushed content of strangers modelling products matters in broad stroke marketing but it might not speak as directly to the individual customer. UGC, on the other hand, represents an authentic customer journey that opens a two-way conversation between customer and brand, with a trusted friend and advocates acting as the go-between.

However, UGC is only one part of the wave of new content hitting online retail. Its lesser known but closely related cousin, employee-generated content (EGC), is also beginning to create waves.

Finding creativity within the four walls of your business

EGC is simply online brand content made by the employee instead of the customer. Usually created with the encouragement and curation of the brand, EGC typically ends up more controlled than UGC and arguably less authentic.

However, that does not mean consumers will automatically mistrust it. Almost half (49 percent) of consumers trust employees as spokespeople while 60 percent trust people they can identify with. In retail, it is easy to see how younger employees can strike a chord with millennial shoppers. Customers still like to see brands act like them and engage with them on their level. Far from being a retailer’s pale imitation of UGC, EGC has its own special purpose.

Where EGC truly excels is as a form of ‘lo-fi’ but highly-engaging content. Unlike traditional, professionally produced content, EGC doesn’t require a high-end photographer with a price tag to match. On a basic level, all a retailer really needs to create EGC is an enthusiastic employee, a smartphone camera and a Snapchat filter or two.

Though low cost is certainly a benefit of EGC, the speed and turnaround of its production shouldn’t be forgotten. In modern retail, where fashions change at the drop of a hat and where a piece of professionally produced content can take months to prepare, agility is a killer advantage.

Consider the world of fast fashion. A brand like Missguided thrives because it can have a new item created and available for sale in a matter of days, while traditional retailers typically plan six months to one year in advance of a particular season. Yet how do you market a product launch to a largely young, easily distracted audience with so little time? The answer is with EGC. Look no further than your employees – many of whom will be the target audience themselves.

A photo of an employee wearing the latest release, taken in minutes and posted on Instagram can reach over two million of Missguided’s followers that same day. That’s an audience few other forms of content can reach so quickly.

The UK’s largest retailers have a fantastic opportunity to leverage EGC. Companies such as Tesco , Marks & Spencer and Arcadia all employ internal social networks for their in-store staff, but this content never reaches the customer. Considering that a brand like M&S has six to seven times more in-store staff than office employees, retailers have an immense untapped reservoir of content they could be using to engage potential customers.

Retailers should take caution to adopt forms of content relevant to their business strategy and target audience. But if retailers want to keep pace with the shift in how shoppers consume media and engage with brands, they should strongly consider UGC and EGC for a place in their customer engagement strategy.

The key is to keep it engaging. Too many retailers have treated social media as a dumping ground to recycle pre-existing brand content. UGC and EGC help supplement traditional content by adding colour to the customer experience and unlocking the viral nature of social media. Customers, particularly, millennials, are looking for experiences when they shop and these foster conversation and engagement over the course of their journey.

Ultimately, today’s consumers no longer just want to be promoted to, they want to be a part of the conversation. By including your customers and employees with UGC and EGC, you let them create part of the story.

Photo credit: (Fotolia)

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