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4 Major Problems with User-Generated Content (and How to Fix Them)

Discover why AGC (associate-generated content) is the UGC - and how to create an effective associate-generated content strategy for your brand.
GhostRetail

User-generated content or UGC has quickly gone from a smart idea to pretty much table stakes for most ecommerce retailers. The idea makes sense - the rise of social media, podcasts, and YouTube means the power is largely in consumers’ hands to vocalize their opinions on, well, pretty much anything, through any channel they want.

Ecommerce is another natural avenue for consumers to verbalize their opinion, or seek the opinions of others before making a purchase. Just as one shopper might watch a beauty influencer review a palette and be inspired to buy it, another one might look at a palette and try to find an influencer that’s reviewed it. 

Ecommerce UGC however, saves the customer some time, by housing customer user-generated content right on their own website. 

What is ecommerce user-generated content?

When it comes to ecommerce, user-generated content is typically described as any content submitted by a customer voluntarily that will help influence a potential buyer’s purchase. 

There are four key types of ecommerce user generated content:

  1. Ratings: The ‘score’ a customer assigns a product, typically on a five-star basis. In some cases, additional ratings related to fit or quality may be included. 
  2. Reviews: The written commentary a customer has about a product. 
  3. Visuals: Customer photos or videos of the product. 
  4. Questions: Specific Q&A’s a customer has about a product that are either answered by another customer, or answered by an ecommerce store associate.  

Technically speaking, UGC is much broader than the four outputs listed above. For example, customers who leave reviews on a customer review aggregator like TrustPilot are producing UGC. Shoppers who create a review video on their personal social media, like a YouTube channel or Instagram stories - same thing.

The key to all user-generated content specifically for ecommerce, however, is it is most often directly shared with the brand, with the intent of having it available on an ecommerce site. In some instances, a brand might curate UGC by reviewing #hashtags on social media and sending image releases to consumers for use of their photos or video, but otherwise, the bulk of any ecommerce merchant’s UGC strategy involves giving customers the opportunity to share their opinion online. In many cases, a brand may also run a UGC campaign that leverages this content to grow brand awareness and authenticity.

The benefits of ecommerce UGC 

Ecommerce user-generated content is paramount for ecommerce success for three chief reasons:

User-generated content helps customers make purchasing decisions 

79% of shoppers say that user-generated content highly impacts their purchasing decisions (up from 60% five years ago). The reason is simple: Many shoppers don’t trust the content produced by a brand. Consumers are 2.4x more likely to say that user generated content is authentic compared to brand-created content. Social proof in the form of seeing a product IRL (in real life) can help many consumers better visualize a product in their own lives or own their own bodies. Not only that, but social proof functions as a trust mechanism. If a potential customer sees other people have bought a product they're not only more likely to trust the purchase, but the brand itself.

User-generated content gives shoppers a place to state their feelings - and potentially receive a response

We’ve all heard the axiom that people are 10x more likely to leave a review for a negative experience than a bad one. This fear is actually one of the main reasons why a handful of ecommerce brands are hesitant to allow for UGC. But not having a place to vent can create a host of other problems. Shoppers may take to social media or create private groups to discuss products and create off-site user content; situations that can catch on like wildfire and give brands a much more limited view to not only understand problems, but respond to them. A better tactic is to make an effort to conduct public outreach when a negative review is left (or a positive one too), showing engagement with shoppers instead of a one-sided relationship. 

User-generated content teaches merchandising and buying teams valuable lessons

One of the best parts of user-generated content is it can help inform better business decisions going forward. Merchandising, design, and buying teams can look at UGC feedback to understand where they’ve missed the mark, or what products are really winning over consumers (signalling it’s time for a reorder). 

Clearly, there’s a reason why brands are investing in user generated content tools and ugc marketing campaigns, an industry that’s expected to grow to $18.65B by 2028. Shoppers trust it and are more willing to buy, and business leaders are better able to respond to the market demands both in real-time and into future planning.

Challenges of user-generated content

For all of the good of user-generated content and the social proof it provides, there’s a few drawbacks that are worth considering. All of these are reasons why some brands choose not to have any UGC on their sites, or limit UGC. 

In general, having user-generated content is going to help your brand more than harm it. Smart brands learn from their mistakes and shortcomings rather than ignore them or try to cover them up. Still, it’s worth understanding and planning for the potential downfalls of UGC.

1. User-generated content can take a lot of effort to generate

Many shoppers aren’t that motivated to leave reviews. It’s why many merchants have invested in a user generated content strategy, including tools to simplify the process. For example, merchants may let consumers leave reviews via email or send follow-up notifications in-app, on a site, or via email. And that’s typically just text reviews. While photos and videos are highly sought after pieces of UGC, it’s rare that shoppers will submit them on their own. Enter manual curation - while there are apps out there to help cull UGC, it still requires a heavy lift by a brand to get onto your site and off customer social media accounts. Worse news: Products without reviews can be a motivator to hold off on purchasing while shoppers hold off until a review appears. 

2. User-generated content can tank a product

Remember how we mentioned customers are more likely to leave a review for a negative experience than a positive one? The same applies to product reviews. You may have hundreds or thousands of shoppers willing to buy a product and love it, but a vocal few that choose to leave reviews can make an item have a low star rating, and some shoppers won’t even bother to consider it, regardless of what the reviews may say. Keep in mind too, that shoppers can leave one-star reviews for things wholly unrelated to a product; customer service issues or receiving the wrong item can be grounds for bad reviews that hurt a product’s sales, and possibly even a store’s overall conversions. Of course, if a product earns a bunch of negative UGC content, it’s at least valuable for the buying, design, or merchandising team to learn from. 

3.User-generated content can be deemed untrustworthy

There are plenty of stats out there that suggest user-generated content is trusted. In fact customer reviews are trusted 12x more than brand-led marketing. However, there are several ways UGC can actually backfire. For one, some sites will populate their own products with reviews (skincare line Sunday Riley famously got banned by the FTC for doing so on Sephora’s website). If a customer sees 300 reviews in a two-week span, it’s unlikely they’re legitimate, and the brand has instantly eroded trust with its potential customers. On a similar note, if most reviews are short and sweet like “Nice product”, shoppers may also view them with a skeptical eye, even if they are authentic content. 

4. User-generated content may not be specific enough to help answer a  shopper’s questions

The idea behind user generated content marketing is that it can help shoppers make a decision as to whether or not a product will work for them. Which sounds great, except it’s wholly dependent on the editorial customer content your shoppers choose to supply. A customer may comb the reviews for someone that has a similar build or size to them to understand sizing, and if they can’t find it, guess what: They’re probably not going to buy the item. Or they will, in multiple sizes, causing returns issues. UGC is truly a dice roll to give shoppers all the information they need. 

Strategies for better user-generated content

While user-generated content has its challenges, there are ways to combat these issues. Keep reading to discover ways to enhance your user-generated content strategy.

Provide guidelines

Sometimes the simplest strategies are the best ones. Giving shoppers guidelines as to what to include in their reviews can be a helpful way to get more rich content. Some specific tactics include:

  • Having a minimum character counter
  • Offering additional sliders or ratings for specific product elements 
  • Showing customers other reviews when they’re writing theirs

Use consistent promotions and incentives 

Some sites will run limited-time promotions to encourage reviews. A more effective strategy is to have an always-on approach with lucrative rewards. One tactic might be to offer a monthly $1,000 gift card, with every review submission counting as an entry. Warning: This could lead to a surge in false or short reviews. Another idea is to take a page out of French brand Sezane’s playbook: They give away a $100 gift card every single day to a shopper that uses their branded hashtag on a photo posted to Instagram. These photos are then used in a weekly UGC campaign, providing authenticity and a customer loyalty incentive to show off their products in real life. 

Consider gating access 

Given that UGC can be hard to collect, it might be surprising to hear that gating user-generated content makes sense. Everlane is an example of this strategy in action - customers cannot leave a review till several weeks after a customer has received an item, at which point they’re prompted via email to do so. There are a few advantages to doing this. That time lapse gives snap judgements a chance to cool off, and gives happy consumers more time to fall in love with a product (hello more positive reviews). Secondly, it ensures only shoppers who have actually bought the product are leaving reviews. Finally, if you’re only able to leave a review on an invite basis, it means the people posting content are way more likely to be thoughtful about it. 

AGC is the new UGC

Let’s recap what we know: 

  • User-generated content is considered more trustworthy than brand-generated content and can be valuable to leverage in a UGC campaign 
  • But user-generated content can leave much to be desired if the right kind of helpful information isn’t provided 
  • Guidelines, promotions, and gating can help improve the quantity and quality of user-generated content 

What if there was a way to tackle all three of these things at once? Enter AGC, or associate-generated content. For many brands, sales associates or other employees are some of their top consumers (in part thanks to that employee discount). While these individuals are employed by a brand, they aren’t necessarily viewed as the corporation itself.

Think for example, of visiting a retail store and asking for an associate to help find a pair of jeans. The retailer could have educated the associate on a new cut or wash, but the associate is more likely to lean on their own personal experience and that of the customer to suggest the best pair. 

Associate-generated content can have the same effect online - yet it’s something most brands have barely tapped into as a marketing strategy. 

Brands can leverage their associates, customer support, or other team to curate staff picks, create videos and photos, leave reviews, post content to their personal social channels, and even write a blog post or create other content. This content straddles the line between branded content and user-generated content, giving merchants more control and completeness of content, while giving shoppers more points of reference. 

Tips for creating associate-generated content

Before you set your associates loose on creating content, there’s a few things to consider when building an AGC marketing strategy. First and foremost, it needs to come off as authentic as regular user-generated content. A fancy splash page with stylized photos and product picks will likely just be read as a content marketing campaign, and not true AGC. 

Instead, try some of the following:

  • Let new hires know they are encouraged and welcomed to leave reviews on your site. Have a special designation that shows when a review is coming from an employee to build trust with consumers. 
  • Provide an incentive for staff members to produce AGC; provide a gift card for every 5 reviews they share, enter them into a draw, or increase their employee discount once they hit a certain AGC threshold. 
  • Select certain employees to serve as brand ambassadors across multiple channels. Spotlight them in social media content, give them a dedicated page on your website to showcase picks and reviews, and encourage them to post content through their own social network. In this case, your employees are functioning more like influencers than strictly customers, but it can still be highly effective! 
  • Run a content campaign featuring associate-generated content that comes across as authentic and not staged.
  • Create a specific area on each PDP or on the site to spotlight associate-generated content.  
  • If it makes sense for your business, don’t police AGC - give it the same level of review or gating as you would UGC. Encourage honesty from employees. 

How to generate AGC without retail sales associates

DTC or online pure play brands may not have in-store sales associates to help populate their AGC content marketing strategy. However, there’s no reason why you can’t use customer service team members, or other members of your organization, such as marketing coordinators or merchandising managers. 

Alternatively, it might be worthwhile to consider hiring some internal brand ambassadors that work full-time on your AGC marketing strategy. These individuals are analogous to influencer marketing, with a specific focus on one brand. They should share real experiences with products and be free to express their own opinions, even as a hired member of the team. Dedicated AGC content creators can be tasked with producing content for all of your channels, or possibly even looped in to serve as live shopping ambassadors.

Connect shoppers with associates directly in live co-shopping sessions

When done right, associate-generated content hits a sweet spot between brand knowledge and expertise, and firsthand customer experience. In a perfect world, you may even have dedicated associates that generate content marketing all day long for an ongoing AGC campaign. 

But there is another way to put associate-generated content in front of consumers, in real time. Live video co-shopping lets shoppers connect face-to-face, on-demand, in a virtual shopping environment. It’s the equivalent of shopping with an associate in-store and tapping into their recommendations in real time. 

If you have associates that are keen to get in on content creation, they may be a great fit to answer live shopping calls. You could even promote specific associates as part of your marketing efforts, and invite shoppers to connect with an associate that has similar tastes and interests, or even similar physical characteristics. If an associate is featured in social media campaigns, it can double as a way to promote your live shopping channel and raise overall brand awareness.

Static, consumable AGC like blogs, videos, and reviews are a great way to round out your website content. But the ability to connect with a live shopping associate is a perfect way to help shoppers get their questions answered by a real person they can trust. 

How live co-shopping can fix user-generated content problems

Live video shopping with an associate simulates the in-store experience online, giving shoppers access to a trusted source of information when either the site’s content or the UGC is lacking, while boosting engagement with your store. 

Let’s review the four problems we looked at earlier, and how live shopping can help.

User-generated content can take a lot of effort to generate

Truthfully, the same is true for AGC - someone still has to spend time with a camera or typing away their thoughts on a product. But live shopping is a shortcut to provide AGC for every product on your store. Shoppers can ask any questions about any product and get real-time feedback and insight, without the lift of having to create a bunch of individual pieces of content.

User-generated content can tank a product

Your live shopping associates should always be honest with customers about products. But they won’t be uninformed about a product’s use or qualities, or quick to state negative opinions about a product, the way a typical UGC reviewer might. If a live shopping associate isn’t a fan of a product, all you need to do is train them to redirect a customer to something they’re confident they’ll be more successful with. 

User-generated content can be deemed untrustworthy

There’s nothing more real than connecting with a real person, face-to-face. Again, live co-shopping is a lot like visiting a store, giving customers the convenience of shopping from anywhere while getting the expertise and guidance they need to drive bigger AOV and more conversions.. 

User-generated content may not be enough to help answer a shopper’s questions

You’ve got your site-provided content - images, videos, product descriptions and details - and your UGC - reviews, photos, and questions (usually limited or skewed by individual preferences or physique). Live shopping straddles the two. Your live shopping associates got more knowledge and polish than a typical customer, but more firsthand experience and a genuine tone than a brand could ever achieve. Where there are gaps in what reviewers have provided (i.e. I can’t find a review from someone my size) and what the brand has provided (i.e. I don’t know what size to get), a live shopping associate can answer any anecdotal or qualitative question on the fly, boosting engagement and drastically improving the likelihood of converting. 

GhostRetail powers live video shopping for premium consumer brands focused on creating exceptional shopper experiences that lead to more loyal customers. Ready to put your associates in the spotlight? Let’s get on a demo and look at the possibilities. 

 

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