Friday, February 25, 2011

Guest Blog Entry: User Generated Content

One of the most important things when it comes to Social Media is content - creating, tracking, managing, scheduling - it can all be a little overwhelming at times.  In the mix of this, sometimes the most important question for businesses and Social Media - how it can be used to increase sales - goes unnoticed. 

Here is an examination on how to answer that question, courtesy of Phil Cameron of iTeam of the Lehigh Valley.
-----
How to effectively use User Generated Content to increase sales.
User generated Content is an integral part of the shift from Web 1.0, in which users primarily consumed content, to Web 2.0 in which users not only consume content, but generate it themselves. By nature people are afraid of what they don't know. This translates naturally to the web, as these communication concepts are new to a large section of people, especially those who did not grow up around a computer. People also tend to look at the potential negatives before looking at the positives. 
There is no shortage of evidence to show that User Generated Content is a powerful force. Out of the top ten sites on the web (according to Alexa.com) , I could only find 2 that do not actively solicit and make use of user generated content.  However these are the exception, since these are both ran by Microsoft, and one is the default search engine, and the other is the default homepage in thier Internet Explorer web browser.  According to a study done by Neilson, 90% of users trust recommendations left by a peer. With the benifets of User Generated Content apparent, there are still some questions and concerns about using it. The ones that come to mind are dealing with negative content and opinions, legal issues, and technology issues.
Quite frankly, we live in America. People enjoy thier freedom of speech, and everyday our soliders risk their lives to protect that freedom, among others. As a company doing business during the Social Revolution, you have two options when it comes to negative content, bury your head in the sand and let them talk behind your back, or respond.  The delete button has been for the most part taken away.  Even if the platform you are on gives you a delete button, using it causes more damage than good, especially if the comment is from a real customer. WIth that being said, it is okay to delete posts that are abusive, uses foul language, or promotes another product or service.
The best approach is to deal with these types of comments is to accept responsibility, and act quickly to rectify it. By doing this in a public forum, you are showing your customers that you care about thier satisfaction, and will take the actions required on your part to ensure they do not regret doing business with your company.
Another issue people are worried about, is what if users say something on my website, can I get sued for it? I am not a lawyer, however I do know that US law grants website owners immunity for content posted by thier users. The one way to get tripped up here is with dishonesty. Don't promise to take it down, and then don't deliver. It turns out that refusing to take the content down puts you in a better position legally than offering to take it down, as noted in this article.
The final section which may raise concerns is technology.  While the social media outlets are continuing thier efforts to make sharing easier, there is a certain amount of work behind the scences that need to be addressed. For example, Facebook uses the Open Graph protocol to display user friendly summaries of external content. Something as simple as sharing a picture on Facebook takes upto ten pieces of information, assigned in a specific format. That is this years format. We do not know yet what next year will bring. Developing an interactive application that runs inside your website and interfaces with social media sites may cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the features and interactivity desired.
By far, the most effective use of customer generated content is as a replacement for branding. Nobody wants to hear your radio ad, or your TV commercial. However if your user asks a question, records a video, or generates a review, they own that. A large number of users do not mind sharing content that they created. That is the core reason why Social Media is a big as it is now, and is continuing to grow. By encouraging your users to generate and then share content, you can add a small pitch back to you. People see your name as they consume the content thier friends and family create. This develops trust by association. Trust leads to more sales.
To achieve the maximum effect from your customer generated reviews, they should be verified by a third party. Think of it in terms of this article. If I would have told you that 90% of users trust peer reccomendations, and did not give credit to Neilson for thier study, you would have had some level of doubt about the validity of my data. I could have just typed whatever I wanted to, and hoped that noone called me on it. Web consumers are accustomed to such verifications by companies like Ebay, and Amazon, who solicit reviews on products and vendors, and provide this information to customers during the shopping experience. In fact an Ebay score can be a deciding factor in many transactions, especially in cases when the buyer has determined they will buy, but are determing who to buy from. According to this article, Ebay feedback scores often result in a higher purchase price for identical items.
As a consultant, I feel my primary mission is to listen my customers concerns. As a developer, my primary mission is to create solutions that effectively address these concerns. In response to the topics covered here, I created Poll Bunny, which simply allows you to interact with your customer through a mostly automated system. It gives you access to the benifets of user generated content, social media intergration, and third party verifcation. Our system allows you to minimize the investment required, and maximize the ROI generated. For an free estimate please check out our ROI Calculator
About the Author:
Phil Cameron is the owner of  iTeam of the Valley, a family operated consulting firm based in Whitehall, PA which serves the Lehigh Valley. iTeam specializes in Web Design and Development, and Online Marketing services for small to medium size businesses.

No comments: