These days, the phrase "content is king" still holds true (to an extent). But the rules surrounding content production as well as our understanding of it as marketers has changed. No longer is it about having content in spades, it's all about quality.
Having one great piece of content is always going to be better than 10 second-rate pieces that don't add any value for readers. However, if you can consistently produce great content on a regular basis, that's enough to dominate the online marketing realm.
Unfortunately, about 70% of marketers still lack an integrated or consistent content strategy, based on research from Altimeter. Creating great content is hard, and many marketers still don't have sufficient knowledge or adequate resources to produce high-quality content on a regular basis. Some produce generic content, which is akin to replicating a cola brand. You're not innovating and it'll never be as good as Coke, in which case no one's going to buy/drink it.
Let's face it, most brands don't have the resources or expertise to compete with larger, more established companies with bigger marketing budgets. So how can they create high quality content at scale?
Well, one great way is to crowdsource. No one knows your readers better than they know themselves, and you simply can't compete with the collective knowledge of an entire audience.
In this article, we'll focus on why brands should let their users help create value in content.
Different types of media can be utilized to improve your organization's value creation initiatives. One type is "owned media." This refers to the content that your organization has 100% control over, including your company's official website, company blogs, and your official social media pages.
Owned media may also come in the form of case studies, whitepapers, and ebooks. These types of media are not only controlled in terms of production, they're also controlled in terms of distribution, because much of it is "gated". The primary goal of owned media is to provide value to provide value through content marketing to generate and nurture leads.
Though there are many advantages to having complete control over your content, it doesn't always work well to build trust with your audience because it isn't "peer reviewed". In some cases, owned media can also end up being over-technical, product-centric, and self-serving, hence the lack of appreciation from users. There's only so much a brand can achieve if all their conversations and interactions are one-way.
The media type at the opposite end of the scale is "earned media." Simply put, this refers to the media exposure earned by your brand through word-of-mouth. This exposure could stem from your own SEO efforts, high-quality content you publish that goes viral, great customer experience delivered, or pretty much anything else your brand does that compels individual users to create content with your brand's name on it.
As the title suggests, "earned media" is the type of media or exposure your brand has earned by doing something positive or negative. These also come in various forms, including reviews and feedback, recommendations, press coverage, and articles, amongst others. The reason earned media works so well to build relationships is because it places users into your media channel, turning attention away from your brand and onto your audience.
In terms of building awareness and trust, earned media can be a gold mine. It helps build your community through social proof, and provides you with user-created value that leads to more opportunities for engagement. Not only does it facilitate improved ways to learn about your prospects/customers, it opens up a dialogue for two-way conversations so users can interact with your brand.
Oh yeah, it's also free.
Benefits of User Generated Content
Why wait for people to start talking about your brand when you can create a channel for them to make themselves heard and facilitate User-Generated Content (UGC)? Every piece of content a user produces on your website or site's outpost becomes branded UGC. Brands can provide a means for their users to collaborate with them via their website, forums, and social media platforms to power up these channels with activity.
For the users, they create UGC to express themselves and gain recognition. It's a win-win situation, as brands greatly benefit from the buzz. Here are just some of the advantages for brands:
UGC helps brands understand their target audience better.
UGC improves site engagement and time spent on the website.
UGC provides means for other users to connect, which then, builds a stronger community.
UGC improves the brand's search engine ranking and online visibility.
UGC is inherently peer-reviewed, making it more trustworthy.
More importantly, UGC creates a competitive advantage for brands that is inherently difficult to replicate because communities can't just be copied.
Think about the power of sites like Wikipedia, whose moderators are crowdsourced users that help make the site better because they care about being part of an active community. Imagine how difficult/expensive this would have been to accomplish with owned or paid media. Now you see the power of user-created value.
Another great example would be the Inbound.org community, which has over 170k professional marketers who are happy to share their knowledge with other members. Everyone has their own opinions and experiences so this creates an unrivaled source of marketing expertise that makes the community extremely attractive for anyone looking to learn about sales/marketing.
Potential Challenges of Building a Community
You can't build an empire in a day. In today's highly connected world, there are plenty of challenges brands face when trying to build an online community.
While UGC is definitely a cost-effective approach, one bad apple can ruin the bunch. The first problem with UGC is that since it comes directly from users, it can't be controlled by the brand. This opens up areas for concern with trolling, negative comments and various legal compliance issues, just to mention a few.
As the name suggests, it's the user that generates the content. Thus, it is their content and they can essentially create whatever they want, whether it's good for your brand or not.
Which leads us to another challenge, how to maintain and moderate UGC. This is where the community manager comes in. He or she must be able to keep users engaged and set the tone for what themes, subjects and topics users should contribute towards. An experienced community manager should also know how to create content, handle PR issues and provide support to users.
Another challenge is the amount of time need to build a community. It's not a one-time, big-time deal. Like in-house efforts, UGC requires resources, continued effort and time for it to work.
Some brands launch online communities that offer many features, which can lead to high development costs. For instance, some have extensive communications, search and analytics functions. These features can require huge amounts of resources to develop, all of which could potentially go to waste if the feature doesn't get used or is fundamentally flawed.
Apart from the above, other potential issues include developing an authentic brand voice, respecting boundaries, keeping your community engaged, and policing content. Though this might seem a little daunting, I can assure you that the benefits of having an active community far outweigh the development and maintenance costs.
How to Encourage Users to Create Value
At this point you're probably asking "how do I get users to create value in the first place?"
First, you need to give them a reason to become part of your community. You need to make them WANT to be part of the "squad." You can tap into their innate desire to belong to a community and help others or you can focus on the opportunity to learn from industry experts.
When a brand engages with their audience online, it sets an example and encourages other users to participate and join the conversation. This is highly evident on social media, especially on Facebook and Twitter where users can communicate with brands directly.
It's important to know who your audience is at this point, so you can develop themes to ignite their interest. Much like producing owned media, you should first listen to your audience to find out what they're interested in and what they're concerned about. Then use this information about your audience to develop themes, topics and subjects that focus on their needs, wants and desires. The more user-centric your system is, the better it'll work.
To help you along the way, here are the basic principles to creating an online community:
Encourage participation through incentivizing.
Set a standard for members to follow.
Think in terms of the collective.
Be honest and transparent with members.
Promote your community to attract new members.
Be persistent and contribute regularly to develop a voice.
Allow members to be independent.
The Power of Communities
In its simplest form, members of a community help each other grow. Communities offer people support, encouragement and expert knowledge along with providing a sense of belongingness.
For brands, communities can be just as powerful. The stronger your community, the more likely it is that it will help you sustain your business. When it comes to establishing your brand as an industry leader and thought innovator, there's not much that's more compelling than having your own strong community.
Not convinced? Here's the proof:
86% of Fortune 500 companies report communities provide insights into customer needs (Sector Intelligence)
71% of companies use customer collaborations for market research (Aberdeen)
64% of companies state the brand community has improved their decision-making (Innsbruck University)
53% of Americans who follow brands on social are more loyal to those brands (Convince & Convert)
80% of brands say that their community building efforts have resulted in increased traffic (HubSpot)
Think about companies like Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, and Alibaba. The nature of their business models depend entirely on their communities. The larger they are, the more value they provide to individual members. But, keep in mind that these are extreme cases whereby the products are essentially the communities themselves.
Though many businesses won't have the need or ability to create a community-centered website, they can always have a presence on social media and via blog comments, which can be just as beneficial. Online communities can help further showcase your brand's products or services and attract new members to come aboard. Bottom line, you need to bring your community into your marketing.
Think of it as a channel for free marketing and PR. Now, who wouldn't want that?
Originally published May 24, 2017 6:00:00 AM, updated August 14 2017