Why User-Generated Content is Essential to Marketers Post-COVID Playbooks

By Peter Cassidy - May 12, 2020
4 mins read time
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This article was originally posted here on Social Media Today.

We’re on the cusp of a monumental change in the trajectory of consumer buying behavior. The ways people interact with brands and each other today are vastly different to what they were just a few short weeks ago.

These few stats alone point to the scale of change brands are now faced with:

With the world effectively in lockdown, people are now living online. The vast majority of shopping and entertainment has shifted completely to digital channels. The closure of all non-essential stores has caused a surge in online shopping — accelerating the already growing consumer shift towards eCommerce. Looking for human connections while practicing social distancing, people are simultaneously turning to social media more than ever before. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok have all seen massive spikes in daily usage and engagement.

Trends that have been slowly progressing over the past few years are now suddenly upon us all at once. And there is no going back. Post-pandemic life will not look like it did pre-COVID-19. In order for brands to succeed in this post-COVID-19 world, they must rethink the way they do things.

With change comes challenges, but rapid shifts in market dynamics also present enormous opportunities for growth. It’s time to throw out the old playbooks and take this opportunity to write new ones — ones that are centered around real, human stories.

Necessity Drives Innovation, And Innovation Is Necessary

Faced with suddenly shrinking budgets, an increased reliance on digital channels and fearful consumers who are actively reducing their spending, marketers are now forced to quickly shift priorities and reevaluate how they can best reach and connect with today’s consumers.

While boosting online engagement and conversions may have been your goals before, getting them right is now essential to the success of your business.

Fresh, compelling visuals have long been a crucial part of any winning digital marketing strategy. Yet, without the money or ability to produce the visuals these channels require, marketers are in a tight spot.

Fortunately for brands, the solution might be in the message so many have been sharing: we’re all in this together.

Today, we are all content creators. People are creating and sharing photos and videos across the social web in record numbers. And it’s these unvarnished and personal brand experiences — commonly known as user-generated content (UGC) — that people crave and trust.

At every point in the post-pandemic buyer’s journey, authentic user-generated content can be the sustainable, cost-effective and influential source of content brands need to help build trust, grow sales and deepen their long-term relationships with customers.

Opportunities in a Post-COVID World

Trust

During times of uncertainty, people tend to look to the people, organizations and brands they trust most. Today, 55 percent of U.S. consumers say they are turning to brands they feel they can absolutely trust.

Post-COVID, brands will need to work harder to recapture and strengthen consumer trust to build long-term customer value and loyalty. The number one way to generate trust with consumers is through shared, authentic experiences or, in simple terms, by showing them other happy customers. According to Nielsen Research, 92 percent of consumers trust earned media, like UGC, more than any other form of content.

Social Proof

As the world re-opens for business, brands must provide evidence that consumers are returning. Nobody wants to be the guinea pig, they need validation that a wider audience has re-engaged with brands’ products or services before stepping back in (e.g. traveling, dining out, going to school, making purchases).

More than ever before, brands need to be showcasing the return of customer activity to foster consumer confidence. User-generated content offers weary shoppers the authentic social proof they need to move from maybe to purchase.

In fact, 87 percent of people say social media posts help them decide what to buy, and 56 percent say they rely on reviews to make informed online purchase decisions faster — far ahead of the product description and professional photos (16 percent). When asked what type of UGC they wish they had more access to, photos from real customers was consumers’ top request.

Human Connection

Budgets have been reduced, resources have been slashed, yet the demand for digital content will be significantly greater than ever before. Brands need to relax their definitions of ‘perfect content’ and instead look to embrace the ‘human’ element to better showcase authenticity and foster connection.

One unintended, yet noteworthy, side-effect of lockdown has been the dismantling of the corporate facade. Ironically, when we’re all sitting in a meeting room together, we’re formal, stiff and ‘corporate’. Yet, when we’re doing Zoom meetings in pajamas with kids wrestling in the background, there’s no choice but to embrace humanity again.

We’ve rediscovered that we’re actually all real people, living real lives, and this dynamic certainly extends to brands, liberating brands to communicate directly, honestly and transparently with consumers.

This is refreshingly wonderful news for brand marketers. It means they can loosen their grip on perfection and instead embrace humanity. They can solve that widening gap between content creation and demand by embracing the content their customers are generating (at greater rates than ever before). Not only will they meaningfully reduce their content costs, they’ll create real human connections and dramatically increase performance at the same time.

Ushering Customers Into the Brave New World

A sea of change is washing over all of us. The tide has receded and we’re in the quiet calm before the next wave of change rolls in. We can sit still, squint into the horizon and wait to see what happens next, or we can get all our systems in place to ensure that when this customer wave hits, we’re ready to usher them into the brave new world with open arms.

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