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<p>Social media provides a way to connect people to the story.</p>

Why you should encourage user-generated content

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A key factor in marketing to anybody under 35 is recognizing that three out of four consider it their duty to help others make purchasing decisions. Only 1 percent of them say their trust in a brand—including yours—was swayed by an ad. If they don’t trust that they’ll get great food or a great experience, somebody has to provide that trust for them to decide to visit your location.

One of the big benefits of building social word-of-mouth and a community of brand advocates is that people will trust you. One way this happens is from recommendations and content generated by people your consumers know—in other words, user-generated content. In an era when the marketing message is greatly distrusted, the sheer volume of content is unmanageable and what people say about your brand is more important than ever, user-generated content can provide a huge difference in your marketing results.

Most in America are well aware of Budweiser’s “Anywhere USA” campaign. The company takes over a town, throws a party and spends ad dollars like they have beer money. By comparison last summer, Miller reintroduced “It’s Miller Time” and asked people to share photos of what Miller Time meant to them. The invitation resulted in more than 180,000 photos being submitted. Those photos drove 93 million social impressions, #ItsMillerTime was the #2 branded hashtag of the summer and the brand turned some of the photos into a television commercial…all while spending significantly less than Budweiser. That response resulted from having people show what something means to them instead of what the advertisement said the experience might be.

Here’s why user-generated content is so potent:

It shares the experience from the guest’s perspective. Consumers value seeing how your brand fits into other people’s lives—what the food looked like, for instance, or if other guests seemed to enjoy eating there with their family or friends. As marketers, we’ve always known the value of testimonials, but if we can see the story that goes with it—image, video, words—as consumers, we frame that message in a different voice. It’s no longer James Earl Jones commanding us to believe what the brand says, it’s somebody you can associate with, whom you trust, sharing a story.

It provides a feeling of involvement. Humans seek relationships and many of us humanize a brand and what it stands for. If we have the opportunity to engage and tell others how much we liked an experience or a meal, it makes us feel special. Think of your favorite brand and imagine if they asked to hear your story. Who would you tell? How much more connected would you feel? Would you become an even better customer? Chances are you would tell as many people who would listen, share the brand’s story more often and buy more. It explains why user-generated content and brand advocacy go hand-in-hand.

It creates an emotional connection. While James Earl Jones talking about how Arby’s makes the meats is catchy, show me somebody who looks like me and had a great meal with people they’re connected with and I want to do the same. As consumers, we connect with that. We can see ourselves eating there and having the same experience.

In today’s social media environment where both reach and trust in marketing is down, finding a way to connect people to the story becomes more important. That’s why user-generated content needs to be a part of your marketing strategy and a key component to your social brand advocacy.

Jeff Ernst is the c.e.o. and cofounder of Smync, a social word-of-mouth marketing platform. Connect with him on Twitter @TheJeffErnst and on LinkedIn.

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