Guest post by Greg Narain (@gregarious), co-founder of Chute, a social media platform that helps brands and publishers obtain rights to UGC content.
Customer-contributed stories are not only powerful, they’re also influential and important. Yesterday, customers conveyed their stories through text and voice. Today, we’ve moved to visually rich tools like photos and videos. While compelling to look at at face value, there’s quite a bit more hidden within.
Ever one of these stories affords us much more than just a means to fill a page or gallery. Media provides us a glimpse into how our customers use our services and products, how they interpret the values we stand for, and inspire future ideas and anecdotes for us to build on. A picture is worth a thousand stories.
Succeeding with user-generated media can be a daunting challenge without the right preparation. Most brands still dive into these efforts with a “hashtag mentality” – throw a hashtag on something and they will come. Unfortunately, that rarely succeeds.
While consumers increasingly create media on a daily basis, they are likely not creating it for a specific brand. Even less likely, though, are the odds that they are creating media for you on demand – regardless of how large the media buy behind the campaign is. To maximize success, brands must breed a “Culture of Contribution.”
Communities develop norms for behavior within the group which instruct them on what kind of behavior is expected and what is discouraged. This impacts not just the way they think but also the way they act. Despite our customers being well-versed on making media on their own, they need to be encouraged and guided towards contributing media back to your brand and their fellow customers.
Developing a Culture of Contribution takes time and energy. Aside from the rare viral hit, success requires a long-term view and dedication to the task at hand. There are several tactics worth considering as part of this journey.
1. Know your audience.
In today’s data-rich world, not knowing your audience is no longer an excuse. As consumers engage with a brand, they leave behind a virtual trail of their interests and intents. It is easy to glean several important items:
What content have they been most drawn to?
What content have they most engaged with?
Who are the most vocal or active contributors?
Each of these provide insight into what motivates your community and ultimately the threads you can use as you stitch together your efforts.
2. Compete for their Attention.
We cannot ignore that our efforts are in competition for everyone’s attention. An activated customer is one of the most valuable assets you have in the social landscape. They will evangelize broadly and be first-adopters for new initiatives. Turning passion into contribution should be our primary goal. This goal is only furthered by creating the right incentives and promoting their contributions back to the community at large.
3. Give it time.
It is critical to give these efforts the oxygen they need to survive. It is easy to be discouraged by first-time efforts, however, building a great community always takes time and starts small. To that end, a few simple techniques are worth considering.
For special events and at the onset, create campaigns specifically crafted to encourage your customers to participate. These will most often take the form of a contest or something related. They focus your audience’s energy around a specific task and have the best chance for success.
For publishing and other content creation, integrate calls to action for contribution around your ideas to draw great content from the community. This ties in well with editorial pieces and other content tied closely to your brand. Your more savvy consumers will have content on the ready or accept these unique opportunities to create new media.
Cultivating a “Culture of Contribution” is not simple by any means. Some companies trade in products and services that easily lend themselves to media-centric stories while others must dig deeper to surface these opportunities. Regardless of how hard the initial process is, however, the rewards of building a strong community ready to create compelling, targeted media is hard to deny.
Greg: I enjoyed your post because it really touches on the value of a relationship between companies and their consumers. Content marketing is huge now–companies want to be a go-to resource for their consumers. This is a step in the right direction toward fostering long-term relationships. The nature of all of this is, as you say, all about engagement. However, not all companies have come to see this importance yet.
I really liked your discussion on the “hashtag mentality.” I had never heard/read it explained that way before. But you are so right–people use the hashtag to link their posts to other users or forms of content. It seems like all too often lately, I see friends and followers of mine posting on social media with at least multiple hashtags attached (especially on Facebook). While I totally see the value in connecting one conversation with rest, I think that people (and companies) can definitely overdo it. Do you think there’s a happy medium as far as using hashtags, and how often we should?
Finally, I love your idea of a “Culture of Contribution.” It seems a bit utopian on the surface…but I do see a shift in that direction recently. How long do you think it will take for the majority of companies to be truly engaging/connecting with their consumers? And what will that do to capitalism in this country as a whole?
Lots of great questions in there. Let me try and respond to them all!
On the importance of engagement, I think that most companies innate realize this but they have built an infrastructure that isn’t compatible with the scale of engagement that commonly comes from a well-integrated social strategy. Early on, these will start as experiments and then move up the food chain to where they can more broadly influence other parts of the business. Some companies embrace these kinds of shifts faster than others and change is a thing that needs to be internalized, not crammed down.
On hashtag usage, I believe they should be used with a fair bit of consideration. There’s almost the comical use of #every #thing #is #tagged, but sometimes that’s the point. As you mentioned, these loose couplings of information help connect content.
I don’t think anyone can really predict when things will turn one way or the other. Businesses will move towards these solutions as they start to understand the value and see the ROI that they need to justify any investment.
As for capitalism, I think we’re moving closer to the real meaning of the term and the nature of the relationships that formed in simpler times.
Thank you for all of the great answers, Gregarious. As a graduating senior of PR and marketing, it’s so beneficial for me to hear your professional opinions–much appreciated!
This is a great post that brings up a lot of points that companies sometimes forget about. Community involvement in branding is extremely important now a days with how quickly UGC has taken off. Now, photos and videos are readily available to be made and shared within literally an instant, so why should companies not take advantage of this? Companies should take advantage of the fact that consumers want to contribute to their brand, express their interpretations of brands, inspire future ideas. In this “culture of contribution” companies must embrace the want and need from target audience to be involved. I love the idea about companies creating campaigns to encourage participation, as I think this is extremely beneficial in getting more users to participate. Having a community who wants to contribute will only help your brand. I also love your point about throwing in hashtags to create conversation. Yes, hashtags are great, as they provide a platform for businesses to see what is being said about their brand and product. However, sometimes, just telling people to contribute by using a hashtag is unsuccessful. Embracing the tips you provide on creating this culture for your brand would be smart for businesses. Your tips are great and I think that you provide a lot of insight on how to embrace this new culture.
Thanks for your kind words, Gabrielle.
I think you have nailed it – companies SHOULD learn and amplify their customers’ messages – especially if they are willing to invest their time and attention to those pursuits. When you get a minute to think about it, that seems so obvious.
Unfortunately, when buried in the process of building your business, the simplest of things can get lost. Fortunately, customers with passion have a way of getting themselves heard, especially in our hyper-connected times.
The tips you provide for the journey of developing culture contribution are helpful tactics. I love the quote that you used “A picture is worth a thousand words”, because it’s true. If you as a company can get a message across to consumers by just a picture an no words than that means the company is doing their job. I also feel that companies should take consumers up on the fact they want to contribute to their brand and express their inputs and feelings. In end for companies it’s all about satisfying a consumers needs, wants and desires.
Serving a message with no words is definitely an admirable outcome – certainly doesn’t have to be the requirement. Of course, when you do achieve that, it’s likely something amazing for sure.
I am a social media marketing intern for a small company and I could not agree more with the “hashtag mentality.” The people that own the company are very old school and don’t completely understand social media. They have asked me numerous times about hashtags. They think that if we put the right hashtag then the people will flock to our posts, that the only thing we’re missing is that all powerful hashtag. I’v tried explaining that hashtags aren’s as important as the content or the people we’re engaging with and yet they still insist that there is some magical hashtag that will solve all our problems. I really just need to show them this blog post and let them understand the right way to engage and create a great community.
Great article – I like how you emphasize that success doesn’t come magically, but requires hard work and dedication. The suggestions you give in your three techniques of knowing your audience, competing for their attention, and giving it time in order to create a culture of contribution certainly provide something to think about. While it may take time, I definitely agree that building a secure community ready to make captivating media is worthwhile.
Greg: I especially like how you touch on knowing ones audience. I think its so easy to forget that when you’re in the online world, you’re dealing with real people and not just spewing out information. Relationships are everything when it comes to not only acquiring customers but maintaining them. Great article!