By Lucy Campbell, Hills Balfour
The exponential rise of social sharing has changed the entire landscape as we increasingly look to our family and friends for advice, validation and recognition. In a world where cataloguing our lives has become the norm, there is an unprecedented opportunity for marketers to access the huge amount of user generated content (UGC) and utilise this to harness the brand story, in an authentic and personal way.
By definition, UGC includes any story or piece of content created by a person about a brand that they share with their networks. This not only includes all social media content, but can also include product reviews, videos, personal blogs and any other type of online comment from consumers, so it can work effectively to turn marketing messages into brand experiences. UGC is increasingly becoming an essential ingredient of all integrated content marketing strategies, because when done successfully it builds passionate communities to help spread the word.
Due to the overwhelming amount of it, content production is in overdrive and therefore it is becoming increasingly difficult for brands to stand out from the crowd, so harnessing the power of UGC is an effective way of increasing engagement, consumer trust and ultimately driving sales. There are a large number of UGC companies who are becoming increasingly in demand to help the brand “listen” to their audience. Successful brands are encouraging users to share their stories and highlight experiences for other users to discover in various different ways. In the world of travel, GoPro are the perfect example of a brand that has successfully harnessed UGC to create a lifestyle around the brand by turning customers into advocates. Instagram is currently one of the most popular social media platforms for this type of marketing, with more than 98.5m photos related to travel being shared in 2016.
To reach your audience, it is essential to speak their language and with numerous studies showing that consumers now trust digital influencers nearly as much as their friends and family (70% and 92% respectively according to Nielsen) a simple endorsement from a brand ambassador has long since lost its influence. Increasingly, savvy consumers are shunning conventional advertising in favour of influencer marketing, whereby you can focus on the entire buyers’ journey and successfully harness UGC to create a lifestyle around the brand by turning customers into advocates. The rise of social media as a tool for brands to communicate their message has empowered and enabled a new breed of “influencers.” According to Chute, 78% of millennials said they would rather see photos of real customers over professional photos created by the brand.
The principles behind influencer marketing aren’t new – celebrities and experts were the main influencers in the past and brands would partner with them to front their campaigns and deliver brand messages to the audience. However, this was a paid relationship that lacked the authenticity of today’s influencer marketing and whilst the issue of paid posts remains contentious, audiences value influencers, both micro and macro as the leaders and trendsetters of various online interests and subcultures. In the travel world, where we are in an age of consumers preferring to make their own decisions, the creation of these brand subcultures are inspiring travellers and driving sales more than traditional content and advertising.
Working with influencers – whether it’s a celebrity, expert, blogger, vlogger or instagrammer, already plays a large part in most of today’s PR campaigns. Increasingly marketers working with influencers aim to find content creators who have an engaged tribe of followers who carry real authority and respect amongst their target audience to be brand ambassadors. Currently 66% of marketers, according to Chute have introduced an influencer marketing strategy to reach new and niche audiences and 87% plan to increase their influencer marketing budgets this year.
The real key is the relationship between the influencer and the brand, because honesty, unbiased views and transparency are all essential ingredients. They need to be relevant and true advocates, because if brands become too exposed with too many bloggers and instagrammers then both parties will suffer. The credibility of the blogger declines and the effectiveness of their influence can disappear overnight. Marketers have become increasingly aware about how careful they need to be when choosing the right creators for the brand because it is essential that the messaging is genuine. The long term success of this style of marketing remains to be seen, but right now there is no avoiding the power these individuals have.