In Part One of this guide on how to create and implement an Organic Discovery strategy like the one which allowed Airbnb to get 91% of its web traffic from unpaid sources, we discussed the preparation needed, such as making sure you do actually have a world-class and unique customer experience that’s worth sharing, that you know what you are trying to achieve, and getting your SEO set up. Below we will discuss User-Generated Content, Ratings and Reviews and Social Media, before dealing with Influencers, Referral Programs and Employees, Partners and other Influencers in Part Three.
Unless you want to turn yourself into a publisher and hire hundreds (if not thousands) of content creators, and a quick look at the financial pages would suggest that might not be a great business to get into at the moment, there will be a limit to the amount of content you can create yourself. That is one of the reasons why User Generated Content, or UGC, is a fundamental part of an Organic Discovery Strategy. Quite simply, your customers can create much more content than you ever can, whether in online blogs, as social media content, videos, images, and customer reviews and they can distribute across many more venues than you can ever reach.
The importance of UGC is underlined by research that shows that 79% of consumers regard user-generated content as highly influential in making purchase decisions, 95% of customers will read reviews before buying and that user-generated content garners 73% more positive comments across social platforms than traditional ads.
While the quality of UGC can vary and, if we are truthful, much is poor quality, its strength lies in its credibility. Because these are real customers talking about real experiences they had with your product or service, and research shows that consumers don’t trust ads or celebrity endorsements as much as they trust consumer opinions. And perversely, the fact that the quality is not great may make the UGC even more credible, whereas an ultra-slick studio-quality production from a ‘customer’ might make you think you are being gamed by an advertising agency.
The persuasion power of UGC lies not just in the fact that the content has been created by people like you and me, but that the volume of content often means you can find content from someone that’s ‘just like you’ when you are not a typical customer. For example, if you are a single parent, dog owner with reduced mobility and a severe dust allergy, the reviews and photos of the average Airbnb guest might not resonate. But when you consider that as of 30 September 2020, Airbnb guests and hosts had written more than 430 million cumulative reviews, you can imagine that there will be someone that closely resembles your particular, unique situation.
Although much UGC may not be of great quality, undoubtedly some is. We all carry a supercomputer in our pockets capable of capturing great photos and videos, and that is before we consider the effect of action cams like GoPro and the ubiquity of online editing software. And remember that amateur and professional design creatives all use your products and services too, so sometimes you might be surprised by the quality of what will be created by your customers. So you may even want to acquire the rights to use some of the content in your above-the-line marketing campaigns.
Another advantage of UGC is that with so many people creating content, they may be able to cover something you would never be able to capture. In the case of Airbnb, it might be someone who snapped the view at sunset from the jacuzzi on the balcony of the flat in Autumn. And with the wisdom of the crowd effect, it is possible that your customer can identify great reasons to use your product or service or alternative uses for it that you never thought of.
So how do you get your customers to create and share UGC?
Well, for a start, you could ask them for it across all consumer touchpoints, such as in post-purchase thank you emails or newsletters. You can make it clear that UGC would be welcomed. Perhaps you would be willing to give a prize for the best content submitted or the most liked content. The reality is, whether you know it or not, your customers are probably already creating UGC about you. So you should try and get them to share it with you or tag or link to you when they share on third-party platforms. Alternatively, you could link to platforms where such content is already being created and shared, comment on posts, thank posters etc.
If you want your customers to post their UGC on your properties, whether your website or social media pages, you need to think about what incentive you could offer them. Could it be access to professional editing tools, could it be an audience for their content, a badge as an expert, or some other benefit that’s valuable to them?
And so whether you decide to do this yourself or work with companies that specialize in UGC, like Olapic, Bazaarvoice, Curalate or Feefo, you need to think about how that content can help you achieve your goals.
Reviews and Testimonials
A specific category of UGC that merits its own section is ratings, reviews and testimonials. Whereas UGC can be anything, such as a photo or video without any particular comment, customer reviews are where you invite your customers to share their honest feedback on what it’s like to be your customer, and to rate their experience with your brand.
In the case of Airbnb, two-way verified customer reviews played a key role in allowing millions of strangers to trust one another. That trust allowed people to accept staying in the home of a complete stranger, sometimes with that stranger being present at the time, or letting a complete stranger stay in their own home, despite the risks of theft, damage or other anti-social behavior.
Today, consumers have come to expect reviews, with nine in ten consumers reporting that they read reviews before purchasing, and 3 in 4 consumers saying that they trust the reviews that they read online. As well as being able to see the overall ratings, and often detailed ratings on different elements of the product or service and individual comments, the number of reviews serves the purpose of letting us know that many people have used this service. As a result, ratings and reviews help affirm a potential customer’s decision to buy or not to buy by acting as social proof, particularly where those ratings and reviews can be surfaced at key moments in the buying journey.
As well as generating trust ratings and reviews, they can also drive traffic to your business, either from a third-party site that hosts the review or, provided your review solution allows you to benefit from the SEO, direct to your site. Again, where the reviews are not on your site, you would perhaps want to make sure that there is a link to your website.
As with other types of UGC, if you don’t actively involve yourself with reviews, it is likely that reviews will start accumulating somewhere without your consent, like on Google Reviews. You can choose to work with a leading reviews provider like Bazaarvoice, PowerReviews, TrustPilot or Feefo, or simply claim your profile on Google Reviews or Yelp. While some brands might fear that ratings and reviews will open them to attacks from disgruntled customers, as pointed out in Part One, if you have a unique and first-class customer experience, then your task is simply to get enough of your happy customers to leave reviews. When you consider that Airbnb gathered over 430 million cumulative reviews, and they had an excellent service, you can understand how negative voices were drowned by the waves of positivity.
Negative reviews also serve two or three useful purposes. Firstly, research shows that customers don’t trust reviews that looked manicured, so the presence of some negative reviews makes the positive reviews look more credible. It also allows you the ability to show empathy with someone that had a bad experience, by responding and trying to solve the issue. Not only will solving the problem help convince others that you care about your customers but you could even turn a detractor into a brand advocate. And finally, this is a great channel to learn about problems customers might have, so you can investigate and fix them.
As with other UGC, you should ask for reviews and make customers feel that their reviews will be welcomed, whether positive or negative. You can use tactics like triggered messages that prompt customers or users to leave a review at the most opportune time, like after purchase, use, renewal or referral. A key aspect that Airbnb understood well was how reviews added value to the whole community and the value of reviews convinced guests who benefited from reviews to add value back into the ecosystem by reviewing themselves. Hosts who saw the value of reviews tried harder to offer outstanding value and to ask for reviews and so on. If you can create a positive cycle like this, then you are on the right track.
With close to 2.7 billion users on Facebook, over 1 billion users on Instagram, 330 million users on Twitter, and over 1 billion users on WeChat, social media should be an important part of your Organic Discovery plan. Particularly, as more than half of social media users use social media platforms to research products and services.
As with ratings and reviews, the opportunity lies not just in promoting your content and UGC on social media, but also in taking part in and listening to the conversations about your brand and customers’ experiences with you. Listening affords you a great opportunity to take the pulse of your customer base, and learn if you need to make any changes to improve things. You can also use surveys and polls, and analyze sentiment and engagement metrics and even send direct messages (DMs) to people participating in social media exchanges to gather information.
Obviously social media can greatly extend the reach of your content or UGC. You can influence how much of this content is shared by adding prominent sharing buttons on all content on your site, particularly for visual content like photos and videos. Where customers have shared UGC about your business and made a nice comment, you can show appreciation, and troubleshoot problems with those who are unhappy. Using hashtags can also ensure that your brand is associated with content that goes viral, and making use of relevant and trending hashtags can boost the reach of content, although you should make sure you use hashtags that fit with your brand and goals.
Of course, you can and should also promote your referral and review programs on social media.
So now we have discussed the groundwork for Organic Discovery, developed UGC, and Ratings and Reviews, and got our content out in the world of social media, the last part of this guide will consider Influencer and Referral Marketing, how to engage employees and partners and how to bring it all together into a mutually reinforcing ecosystem as Airbnb did.