User-generated content (UGC) is one of the best forms of content: your users create it for you, and all it takes on your end is simply to organize and publish it on your website or other online platforms.
UGC may conjure up visions of social media sweepstakes or photo contests, and while that may work for your industry, many B2B marketers find that their brand’s messaging isn’t a good fit for a light-hearted contest.
Luckily, there are at least five other ways that brands can use user-generated content in B2B marketing.
1. Industry Events
Trade shows and conferences are great ways for B2B businesses to not only combine live and digital marketing, but also to gather content from the target audience. Even if you don’t regularly attend this type of large-scale event, you can leverage any event you’re involved in as an opportunity for UGC. These include:
- Hashtags: Create a hashtag for the event and use a hashtag aggregator like Tagboard or Keyhole to track it across multiple social media networks. Reshare the best posts or create a blog post with embedded URLs of the most useful or interesting content.
- Scavenger Hunts: Popular digital marketing conference Pubcon does an annual scavenger hunt for its attendees. Users have to visits booths to get entered to win prizes. While their version entails getting a stamp after a booth is visited, your scavenger hunt could also include posting photo proof or sending a tweet at a specific location.
- Interviews or Podcast Episodes: Since it’s likely there are many industry experts at the events you’re attending, consider recording some audio or video interviews while at the event. This does entail getting some equipment (a tripod, microphones, etc.) and editing the content, but many times, the expert will consent to giving their advice, which makes it easy to edit and publish as original content. This may take less effort on your team’s part than writing long blog posts or other types of content.
- Digital Contest: Besides scavenger hunts, other ways I have seen brands get attendees involved is to have them send a photo with a business card of an employee they met at the event or even a selfie of the attendee with the employee(s). This creates fun content that showcases your brand’s interaction with the community and in exchange offer participants the chance to win prizes or free products.
Because industry events allow you to engage in person with your audience, think about the above suggestions and other ways you can create fresh content with people at events.
2. Surveys & Exclusive Data
Creating unique surveys and research for your industry can quickly propel you to better thought leadership, more website traffic, and inbound links as people link to your latest findings. In addition, it’s a great way to generate additional audience interaction. Use a service like TypeForm or SurveyMonkey to create your survey and then promote it on your blog, social media, and opted-in email list.
Not sure what to cover or how to format your findings? Here are some examples from a few major B2B brands:
- PWC: Total Retail Survey 2017
- Deloitte: 2017 oil and gas industry executive survey
- KPMG: Global Automotive Executive 2017 survey
If you don’t feel ready to do a large, multi-page survey like the above examples, test the waters with a few poll questions on social media. Launched in 2015, Twitter polls allow any user to create polls and run them for a set number of days. These polls are a great way to gather data. Once created, share it on other social media networks and ask employees to retweet to their followers.
We used this approach during my time at Search Engine Journal. Every week, we created a new poll and used a custom hashtag (#SEJSurveySays) so the series could be branded better and people knew what to look for. At the end of every poll, a staff writer would write a news post about the results. Not only were these exclusive findings from data we were collecting ourselves, it allowed users to be more engaged with SEJ on Twitter.
Additionally, some users weighed in with their opinions about the question via a tweet reply, and this allowed us to get even more content for our news posts and gauge audience reaction to hot industry topics.
Whether you have large annual surveys or want to keep it low-key with Twitter polls, creating surveys that your audience can participate in leads to better engagement and positions your brand as an industry resource for insights and data.
3. Employee Involvement
UGC doesn’t have to come from your online community or your target audience. It can also come from your employees. Because we all have smartphones, we can take photos, videos, and audio recordings with little notice. Leverage your employees to showcase important aspects of your company that may not be created otherwise when it comes to “regular” B2B marketing efforts. These could include:
- Event photos: Photos of trade show booths, conference speakers, event crowds, and other aspects of events employees are attending. These snapshots make for great content for social media or as part of a blog recap.
- Fun outside of the office: Does your company promote a positive work-life balance or have an amazing vacation policy? Encourage employees to showcase that by sharing photos of their families, vacations, and regular days. These types of photos can make for great blog post recaps (especially if you are a remote-only or distributed workforce) and can show your company’s creativity. Buffer takes this a step further and promotes their remote culture on Instagram by focusing on beautiful photos from around the world taken by their employees and customers.
- Overall company culture: Does your company have half-day Fridays, catered lunches, or ping-pong in the break room? Encourage your employees to share photos of what it’s like to work at your business. This not only gives customers an idea of who they are working with (thus humanizing your brand), but it also shows potential employees what your company culture is like. Use a hashtag (e.g. #LifeatAcme) and ask them to geo-tag their posts to your office so it shows up in local searches. Some bigger brands even have their own Twitter accounts to showcase company culture, such as @LifeatSAP.
If employees are willing to get involved, ask them how they’d like to share and encourage photos, videos, and posts. While some industries and brands have guidelines about what can be shared publicly, there is usually some type of employee content that can be used, whether it’s capturing a unique aspect of the office or how much fun everyone is having at the company picnic.
4. Product Use
Oftentimes, photos of real customers using a product or service can be much more appealing than stock company photos. AdWeek reports that a whopping 85 of those surveyed said visual user-generated content is more influential than brand photos or videos. Encourage customers to share photos of your products in use in their office, warehouse, or workplace, no matter what it is.
Here are some examples of how B2B products can be captured by customers:
- SaaS: Your software being used during a company presentation, meeting, or workday, and how it is solving challenges for your customers.
- Manufacturing: Your products installed and working with your customers’ existing machinery or supplies. This shows a seamless integration that is making your customers’ service or own supplies work better.
- HVAC: Showcasing new buildings your systems were installed in or customers enjoying pleasant heat or air conditioning during the seasons.
- Advertising: A blinded screenshot of client results on Google Analytics or their incoming order screen that is a direct result of your advertising campaign.
- Construction: Finished buildings, offices, remodels, etc.
In any case, make asking customers for photos or videos of your products or services at work part of the project completion process. Some companies give a small discount or coupon for a photo or enter customers into a monthly drawing for a free product or something desirable, like a new iPad or Kindle.
By making this a habit, as your company grows, you’ll have more content to share with potential buyers. Some businesses choose to display submitted photos on a dedicated landing page, while others consistently share them on social media and publish blog posts about the projects. Using a combination of all three is certainly leveraging this type of user-generated content to its highest potential.
In addition to showcasing your hard work in photos and videos, arguably one of the best types of user-generated content your customers can give you is a testimonial. Not only are these first-hand accounts of what it’s like to do business with you, it also gives your brand more credibility and trust with potential buyers.
Some companies do produced or submitted video testimonials, but if that proves to be too difficult for customers to commit to, ask them for a written testimonial of one to four sentences about their experience with your company. When gathered, edit it for typos, but don’t change their words, as this may prove frustrating or untrustworthy to the person who gave you the review and other potential customers if they find out.
Many companies choose to display testimonials on a dedicated page or as part of a widget on their home or about page. When possible, include the testimonial giver’s name, job title, company, and photo.
Another option is to include a short survey as part of your project completion process that’s filled out immediately after working with you. By making it automatic, you don’t have to manually ask for feedback and it makes the process easier, thus usually gathering more responses. The survey can ask for a short one-sentence piece of feedback, or just gather data that can be turned into statistics.
For example, survey data could be compiled to say things like, “82 percent of our customers say they would recommend our products to others” or “75 percent of customers loved our customer service and attention to detail.” Even though these aren’t personalized testimonials, they give potential customers relevant feedback that they can use when deciding to work with you.
One Caveat: Get Permission First
With all forms of user-generated content, make sure you have user permission before posting it on your own social media channels or website. For social media posts, retweeting it or embedding the URL of posts from public profiles don’t need explicit permission. For other UGC, make sure you ask the content creator via email or another written form of communication for permission so they know how their content will be used.
It may also be beneficial to include a disclaimer or explanation of how any type of UGC is gathered or shared for transparency. What’s said in these types of statements is probably best decided by your legal team, but just explaining that users aren’t incentivized to provide positive content about your brand (unless it was a contest of some sort) can help ensure that customers feel like they can trust the UGC they are seeing.
User-generated content, in whatever form, provides a wealth of benefits to B2B companies. It allows brands to interact with their community better, get content created more easily, and grow trust and thought leadership within their industry.
Think of the type of content your target audience would be most open to creating and sharing. Focus on those angles in order to drive more engagement. Whether it’s through polls, data collection, testimonials, or events, leverage UGC as a way to create unique content that appeals to everyone who may need your product or services.