The importance of ‘user generated content’ (UGC) to drive traffic to your website and improve conversion rates is not a new thing – indeed Wikipedia reliably informs us the term entered mainstream usage in 2005 and includes a range of digital media techonologies such as question-answer databases, digital video, blogging, podcasting, forums, review-sites, social networking, mobile phone photography and wikis.

What is a bit newer however is the research published earlier this year stating that a majority of Millenials (those born between roughly 1977 and 1995) are more likely to trust content published by strangers than that published by their friends.  Indeed 51% say user-generated content written by strangers is more likely to influence their purchase decisions than recommendations from friends and family, compared to just 34% of Baby Boomers (those born between roughly 1946 and 1964).

This insight poses questions for marketing teams looking to design online campaigns aimed at targeting the millennial generation, especially when it comes to increasing sales conversions.  What then is an organisation to do and crucially, how can they get the most out of UGC?

1)       Encourage more content –  UGC helps consumers feel informed and the amount of objective data points they have to call on could ultimately sway a purchase decision.  It is therefore in the interest of organisations to drive up content contributions for their products / services.  One way of doing this is to understand the contributors’ motivations and appeal to these.    One of the most interesting articles I read on this was published in the Journal of Interactive Advertising, Vol 8, No 2 (Spring 2008) and centres on the role of four distinct personality functions in contributing to user generated content:

  • Utilitarian – contribution for self interest and reward (e.g. Amazon Vine is a good example of this, where the best contributors are rewarded for valuable reviews through early access to products)
  • Knowledge – contribution to help improve one’s own understanding and make sense of personal experiences
  • Ego-defensive – contribution to defend one’s self image e.g. to reduce feelings of guilt for not contributing or reduce feelings of not belonging
  • Value-expressive – contribution to create content in support of something you believe in.


2)      Make the content visible – It’s no good having great UGC if nobody can find it!  Organisations need to ensure they optimise their websites to generate early listings in search engine results (see this article about useful SEO tools), ensure UGC is available on mobile devices as well as the main website and think about how they can utilise UGC across channels (e.g. Forbes reference the Benefit Cosmetic stores which provide iPad kiosks so consumers can check reviews prior to f2f purchase).


3)      Turn contributions into dialogue – It’s a brave organisation that will open the doors to increased UGC without a means of responding to it, especially when contributions may be negative.  Firms therefore need to think about how they can deploy social listening tools to understand what is being said about them and crucially, how they are set up in terms of people, process and governance to respond to these insights in the right way (be that feeding insights to the new product development team or creating a personal response from the customer service organisation). 


There is impartial advice out there on a number of the topics I mention above (not least from my own organisation) but the point is not whether organisations choose to engage a partner or go it alone but rather, that those who understand the power of UGC, can encourage it, manage it and respond to it are those that are set to gain the most from this growing phenomenon.