Building Community through User Generated Content

Humans are a tribal bunch. We gather and form mini-communities around our work, interests, locations and more. Technology has amplified that trait. Apps and social media platforms provide an opportunity to share everything from sports to knitting as part of a group.

User generated content (UGC) – unsolicited content provided by a brand’s users – is an expression of our tribal nature. We are connecting with others by sharing the experience of using a product, or service in the form of ratings, reviews, tweets, photos and more. Communication professionals value positive UGC  because people trust what other people say more than what a brand says about itself. In fact, consumers are twice as likely to share user-generated content with friends or family. Further, when UGC is combined with professionally produced content brand engagement increases 28%.

While we may understand the benefits (and pitfalls) of UGC, we have not matured in our approach and use of it. UGC is so much more than reviews and a tool for content curation. The bigger value is tapping into the tribal nature that drives UGC to inspire engagement and develop brand loyalty.

Harley-Davidson stands out as one of the greatest examples of brand loyalty. Long before social media, Harley-Davidson created a deep connection with their brand by enabling community. One key to their success is selling more than a bike but a lifestyle. When you purchase a Harley Davidson you are joining a community with a strong bond and long history. They strengthen those bonds with branded community events year-round and members-only benefits.  It is the community and the strong shared experiences that give rise to brand loyalty.  

So how can you leverage UGC to deepen the experience of your brand and create community engagement? Put the audience first. Too often we approach UGC with a marketing- first mindset. Turn the approach around and think about how you can facilitate community. How can you unite the audience so that they can connect and share?

Fitness site, Daily Burn, has a thriving online community. Their live daily online workouts include a chat room moderated by Fitness Coaches. While people participate in the workouts virtually, they share the experience with others. This support network becomes an integral part of the brand and increases customer loyalty.

Whether you sell products or services, you can facilitate community by providing a mechanism for your audience to interact. Below are a few ideas to spark your thinking:

  • Create a wiki so that your audience can share information, insights and case studies.
  • Integrate a discussion forum on your website. This allows users to support one another, ask questions and share tips.
  • Build buyer reviews into your online product catalog. Be transparent and allow potential buyers to hear from people like them. This also shows your audience that you value their feedback.
  • Create a private LinkedIn or Facebook group
  • Host off-site events. This can be as simple as regional meetups or a branded conference.

At Solo PR, our bi-monthly Twitter chats are one way that we create community beyond our paid membership group. The chat provides a regular forum for old and new friends to gather and discuss shared topics of interest.

Having a mechanism for participation, however, is not enough. You must invite your audience to engage and foster that engagement continuously. Ask your audience for feedback and invite them to share content. Interact with them and acknowledge them when they share. For example, So Delicious Dairy Free acknowledges food bloggers who use their products in recipes by sharing their posts on social media. There are an infinite number of possibilities with UGC, but we must take the time to create a strategy that puts people first.

How are you using UGC? Share in the comments or on social media using the hashtag, #solopr.