‘Stories are the currency of conversation.’
When Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, made that observation he cut to the heart of what makes user-generated content attractive to brands, retailers, and consumers alike: the authenticity of unsolicited peer-level feedback cuts through the barriers consumers put between their purchasing decisions and the brand’s interest in influencing them.
Whether they are star ratings about a product, reviews of a retailer, or a thread of comments about a hotel between someone who has stayed there and someone who is considering the property, user generated content (UGC) has been a key weapon in the arsenal of brands and retailers. The set-up for UGC is relatively simple: add relevant forms that feed into specialized content management software to the product description page on a company’s web site and throw open the gates.
Except now everything is different.
A Picture Really Is Worth 1000 Words…And It’s A Lot Easier!
The concept of UGC was hatched in the days before mobile computing was meaningfully pervasive. This means on a quite literal level that UGC was designed for consumers who were seated, facing forward, typing onto a keyboard, and connected to the web via fast, reliable broadband. Today this is not necessarily the case: People are on the move and are using their smartphones and even their feature phones to connect their experiences to their friends in real time. We add a news item to our Facebook pages, we tweet extraordinary (and not so extraordinary) moments, and we do check-ins of every imaginable type through Foursquare, Yelp, Everplaces and countless others.
Historically brands have employed full user-generated content systems like Pluck or Brightcove to enable users to comment, review, and even provide star ratings for products, services or experiences. But the standard UGC workflow is still very forms-intensive, making it awkward to execute on a smartphone. The opportunity for brands is to go beyond UGC by offering consumers ways to easily share their experiences with and through the brand to their friends. Here are three new approaches that can be executed across many different budgetary levels:
- Make The Camera Do The Work – Almost every phone today has a camera, and taking a picture is much easier than entering text on a phone. Make your UGC photo-based by encouraging people to snap something indicative of their experience and submit it to the brand. This can be as sophisticated as a custom application that automatically routes the images to the brand’s marketing staff for moderation, or it could be as simple as a SMS number where the user can send the image by text message for handling.
Use The User’s Network For Location-Based Assistance – Where a consumer had an experience is often as important to know as what the experience was. Leverage the GPS on smartphones and tablets to automatically identify the user’s location, which eliminates the need to type in names. There are many available APIs that can be used to determine where a user is at the time when it matters most. If desirable, leverage a user’s existing check-in accounts to build familiarity into the experience.
- Mix Up Your Response Interfaces – Nobody really wants to step page-by-page through your survey. But if you give people a fun way to answer the questions using only their thumbs, you have the potential to shape a better response rate. Try having your user interface built with sliders that let the user place the indicator in the exact place that matches their response to your query. Best of all, this is not limited to an expensive app project; it can easily be built into a standard web site for use by smartphones, tablets, and good old-fashioned laptops.
A good friend listens and contributes, and brands know they should do the same. But the terms of engagement with consumers are not the same as when being online meant being stationary and focused. The way to make it happen with today’s multitasking consumers is to make your user interface a mash-up of some of the phone’s native functions and the user’s own social media footprint. This will make sharing their experiences easy and valuable.