A truly engaged community is a coveted thing in the world of business. Most companies don’t realize that this is not something you can build on your own. It’s a community. With individuals that have a common interest—you or your brand. You don’t “run” the community, you facilitate it. So engaging this group is much more about stoking the fire of interest and less about telling them what to think and say and do.
However, there is a subtle balancing act required here. You have a brand and you have a message. Hundreds of fans, no matter how devoted, could accidently cloud (even damage) that carefully prepared image with confusing and inaccurate messages.
User Generated but Company Guided
Helping your enthusiastic community along in creating content about your brand with tips and guidelines can be a great way of leveraging the power of its voice without stifling it with strict rules or devaluing it by turning its members from advocates into unpaid, outsourced marketing copywriters.
People are happy to take guidance on what to say or share, but only a small percentage of companies actually provide such support.
Ideally, make a brand bible available explaining the company vision, mission, promise, values, personality, and tone. It can include copy guidelines, style samples, social media suggestions, and graphics like logos as well as color palettes. By giving your community these tools, you empower them to better advocate your brand. But remember that you are providing a set of guidelines and not a rulebook. The brand bible merely allows them to align themselves better with you. Start imposing restrictions, and you’re in danger of doing damage to the relationship. User-generated content should represent the consumer’s values, not yours. That’s what elicits trust in the wider world and that’s where its power is.
But as I already said, it’s a delicate balancing act. Your brand is out there at the fingertips of your users. How do you regulate what is being said? Well, keeping a close eye is advised, especially at the beginning when communities are just getting started. But be careful not to police. At some point, you’ll find that the community reaches a stage of self-regulation and governs itself.
The Personal Touch
We all like a good story. And yours is a good one. So share it. Humanize your brand in your customer’s eyes and help them feel part of its story. Give them a sneak peek behind the curtain. Show them the wizard and what makes him tick. After all, customers stand by a brand’s values over its products. Telling your story can help potential customers relate to your brand and start imagining how it might become part of their lives. So this is not a space for marketing spiel or business jargon—just good old relatable human stories. A reader that relates is engaged, and one that is engaged is more likely to share your story with others.
And remember, they’re likely to have a pretty good story of their own. The thing to understand about user-generated content is that it isn’t about you. It’s actually about them. So talk to them. About them. How they feel. Even if it’s how they feel about you. Imagine if your favorite brand asked you about your personal story… how much more connected to them would you feel? How much more likely are you to stay a customer? And bring new customers with you?
Allowing the freedom in user-generated content for people to honestly communicate their thoughts, experiences, and stories, helps them (and their friends) feel more connected and valued on an emotional level. And emotions sell.
The other (grossly over-looked) group that makes up your community are those that are so into your brand and your product that they actually work for you: your employees.
Encouraging employees to share content around your brand is a great way of reaching new audiences and boosting online engagement. What’s likely to get more traction: a perfectly worded article written by some lady called Marketa who works in Marketing or a casual sharing of a cute infographic by Chris, the cool guy you met on that hiking weekend? People trust people over brands. Yes, you’re a brand. But you’re people too. So invite your staff to take an active role in your business’s communication strategy.
But, just as with customer user-generated content, you can’t force it. You have to make them want to do it. So support them with share-worthy social media posts and encourage them to develop their personal online brand by publishing articles that display their industry or product knowledge. You can even provide them with content that they then tailor to their own audiences.
It’s a Trust Thing
User-generated content helps you get a better understanding of how your brand is perceived and what customers are really thinking and talking about.
The strength of a business’s advocate community can be the factor that sees a business thrive or barely survive. Whereas a disaffected community can ruin a company’s online reputation, one that is well informed, well looked after, and well supported (but not policed) is able to breed loyalty and boost credibility.
But trust is a two-way street. Yes, you first provide the tools your audience needs to get better aligned with your brand, but then you place your trust in them. With the freedom to speak their own words, they then evoke trust from their readership or network because what they say is user to user—open, honest, and with nothing to gain. It’s the kind of content you’re unable to write about yourself and it’s delivered to an audience you simply can’t reach alone. The trust is then returned to you when their readers become your customers.
Isn’t it time you embraced the power of user-generated content? Let us know in the comments section below.