Content marketing is about publishing relevant, helpful information that answers buyers’ questions as they research, evaluate, purchase, and implement solutions.
But do all those answers have to come from the company? Should they, even?
In the connected age, marketing is no longer a one-way street. Your business can tap into its audience for engaging, authentic content that resonates with potential customers.
The power of user-generated content (UGC) has been widely demonstrated by B2C companies, where reviews and peer-to-peer sharing are instrumental in bringing new businesses and products to light—and creating viral marketing for the winners.
But B2B businesses can also benefit from UGC.
Let’s explore what we mean by UGC, the various forms it might take, the benefits it can bring to a B2B marketing strategy, and how to encourage your customers to contribute.
UGC means any content created by people outside your company, rather than on behalf of your brand.
The term originated in the software industry, hence the reference to “user” generated, but covers any third-party generated material.
Customer-generated content, influencer-generated content, independent reviewer-generated content, and man-about-town-generated content are all part of the phenomenon.
UGC can take any form that’s easy to produce, upload, and share—typically text (often reviews), photos, or video.
Five of the most popular and effective UGC types are:
Reviews and Testimonials: Candid reviews and testimonials can significantly boost your brand’s credibility, especially if they cover the good and the not-so-good about your product or service. Customers can share their experiences on recognized platforms like G2.com, Google, and LinkedIn—or on your company website, if you build the required functionality.
Social Media Posts: Social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, and industry-specific forums are prime locations for UGC in the B2B domain. Posts about your company, product, or service often reach much further than organic content shared on your company page.
User-Generated Videos: Some customers love to document their experience implementing and using new solutions in their operations, even creating how-to tutorial videos to help other customers. These are predominantly hosted on YouTube—now the second most popular search engine after parent company Google’s own search platform—but the rise of short-form video on platforms like TikTok is a trend worth monitoring.
Case Studies and Success Stories: Prospective buyers love to read real-life examples of how your product or service helped another customer achieve something valuable. Encouraging a range of customers to share their stories helps to showcase your product's value and versatility.
Webinars and Podcasts: A more engaging version of the case study, having customers participate in webinars or podcasts gives prospects a chance to hear their perspectives on industry issues and the insights they share on your product's real-world performance.
Crowd-sourced content feels more authentic, trustworthy, and relatable than traditional company-generated content and adverts.
This is especially true when UGC is published without being filtered (except to remove profanity or other material unsuitable for publication).
As we’ve written many times, authenticity lies at the heart of effective content marketing.
UGC delivers authentic proof of your product's effectiveness by showing it live and “in the flesh”. This is a genuine, relatable experience that appeals to prospective customers facing similar operational challenges.
Close behind authenticity come credibility and trust. Your prospects are more likely to trust the opinions of fellow end users than anything your marketing team publishes.
In effect, UGC serves as a third-party endorsement for your brand.
With increasing trust comes an opportunity for customer engagement.
The home-grown nature of UGC tends to make it more engaging than polished corporate publicity—even of the big-budget variety.
And UGC gives you a golden opportunity to engage directly with your customers, responding to their comments and videos, both positive and negative.
This makes customers feel valued and heard, which leads to increased brand loyalty.
Another benefit you can reap from UGC is a boost to your website’s SEO scores.
Search engines prefer fresh, relevant content, and customer reviews or blog posts can help improve your rankings.
Last but not least, UGC is a very cost-effective form of marketing. It costs little to encourage (more on which in a moment) and is much less expensive than traditional advertising campaigns, while still reaching abroad audience.
This makes UGC especially attractive for smaller B2B businesses with limited marketing budgets.
So, how can you effectively prod your customers to infuse your business with this UGC wonder-drug?
The slowest but cheapest approach is to grow an active user community.
This involves hosting an online forum—for example, Slack channel, LinkedIn Group, or Facebook Group—where your customers can share their experiences, insights, and best practices.
This not only generates UGC but also fosters relationships between your customers and your brand.
The next easiest but somewhat more costly approach is to leverage social media.
Encourage customers to share posts about your brand, product, or service on their social media accounts. Ideally, these will feature your product in action or share results they’ve achieved using your product.
Unless you already have a large social media following, some form of advertising or post boosting will be required to stimulate this activity.
Speaking of stimulating activity, B2B customers can often be encouraged to create relevant content by offering them an incentive.
This need not be a prize—which can fall foul of restrictions on the receiving of gifts—but could instead involve access to premium features, preferential customer support, discounts on future purchases, or featuring them and their business in your marketing materials and activities.
Following the incentive idea to its logical conclusion, you might consider running a competition or challenge with a relevant reward to spur UGC creation.
This approach is popular in the B2C domain, where customers and followers of the brand are asked to submit contest entries featuring themself engaging with the brand or a particular product.
In the B2B world, you might ask customers to share a success story, or use case, or show a creative implementation of your product to qualify for prizes (or a prize drawing).
User-generated content has the power to significantly boost your B2B content marketing efforts, especially if you’re promoting a smaller or newer business.
By encouraging UGC, your business can foster a sense of community, increase perceptions of authenticity and credibility within its target audience, improve SEO rankings, and engage more deeply with your customers.
With traditional ad costs rising and their effectiveness in question, it's time to consider making UGC a primary tactic in your B2B content marketing strategy.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock