If you’re reading this, you’ll likely agree that user-generated content (UGC) is a hot trend in content marketing. You’ll likely further affirm that user-generated reviews are a key part of UGC. When consumers love your products and tell their peers via review, your brand benefits. However, getting customers to review your products is only the first step. Taking this type of UGC to the next level means incorporating those user reviews into a complete marketing strategy.
Why User-Generated Reviews Matter
In the book Absolute Value authors Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen explore the importance of UGC, like user reviews. They conclude that consumers make decisions based on “O sources” — defined as other information sources like user reviews and opinions from friends and experts. People no longer decide on a product or service based only on prior preferences, beliefs and experiences.
For brands whose customers depend on these “O sources” of information, Rosen says, “This should affect everything from a company’s market research program to its communication strategy.” That means marketers need to understand how important this type of information is to their customers and then plan their marketing strategy around it.
User-Generated Reviews Within Content Marketing Strategy
However, user-generated reviews simply can’t stand-alone, they must be treated as one part of a content marketing strategy. To complete the package brands need to further build trust using their own branded content such as blog posts, research reports and content from trusted third-parties like journalists and professional reviewers or critics. User reviews form the final piece of a complete content strategy—real world evidence and social proof that supports the other content.
While many brands are utilizing user-generated reviews, there two brands that stand out and truly understand their importance as part of their content marketing strategy: Amazon.com and TripAdvisor.
Amazon.com and User-Generated Reviews
As anyone who has ever bought from Amazon (and who hasn’t) knows that user reviews are a critical element of every product page. They have becomes such an important part of their model that some users skip the official descriptions of products and jump straight to the user reviews.
Customers want to know, does it really fit? Is it the kind of book I will actually read? Does it work as promised? Many times the authenticity they get from a review from an actual customer holds the most value.
In the early days, when Amazon was just an online bookstore, they hired editors to write reviews. But they soon learned that reviews from users were preferable—they cost Amazon nothing and provided just the kind of content they needed to sell books. Amazon has always relied on word-of-mouth as part of its marketing strategy, so it was easy for them to incorporate user reviews into that approach.
To make the model work, they make the review process crazy simple. After a consumer purchases a product, Amazon sends an email asking the user to rate the purchase. Just one click—choose one to five stars. After that click, users have the option to write a brief review. They make it easy long after the purchase, too. Users can also review a long list of past purchases, where they are offered the chance to rate and review any of them.
For users of the site looking for products, the reviews are prominently placed and hard to miss. Users can see the overall rating and mouse-over to see three short reviews and a breakdown of how many people rated it at each level.
Users also have the option to see the ratings and reviews their friends write for the site, with the “Shop With the Help of Your Friends” program. Users connect their Amazon account with their Facebook account to join. This encourages social sharing and confidence like never before—almost everyone is influenced by what their trusted friends think.
TripAdvisor and User-Generated Reviews
While Amazon sells products as its main business with reviews as part of the marketing plan, TripAdvisor is all about the reviews. Consumers go to the site to learn about destinations, attractions, hotels, vacation rentals, and flights, but can’t purchase anything on the site. When a customer likes what they see and they’re ready to make a purchase they’re directed somewhere else to complete the transaction. It’s a traditional affiliate sales model.
Since, ultimately, sales are their goal, their marketing strategy is all about providing trustworthy reviews that help customers make a purchase decision.
Like many review sites, they’ve gotten a lot of flack for fraudulent reviews. As a site that gets almost 280 million unique visitors every month, they put a lot of effort into making sure their content is reliable, honest, and worthy of the trust of its users. They provide guidance for reviewers, remove suspect reviews, and give owners and management a mechanism to respond to reviews or provide more information, so they are not tempted to post reviews instead.
Like Amazon, TripAdvisor is taking advantage of Facebook for social sharing and building trust. They’ve studied the impact of allowing users to connect their TripAdvisor account with their Facebook account and discovered that Facebook users have a 27% higher engagement on TripAdvisor than other users. And, on average, Facebook users contribute one in every three reviews on the site.
TripAdvisor users who sign on with Facebook get a personalized view highlighting ratings and reviews from friends. The travel “wisdom of friends” plays off the same influences that work for Amazon, we are all influenced by what our friends think and do and where they go.
Something both sites do well is let customers see ratings and brief reviews immediately—at the top of the page or in thumbnails for the product or service. This way, customers know immediately what other users think. Some customers, no doubt, make their choices based on the number of stars or brief reviews they see before ever reading the description.
For many brands, user generated content is a no-brainer and user-generated reviews are a key part of their marketing strategy, not an add-on or just nice-to-have feature. They encourage users to participate and become more deeply connected to the brand. And they encourage other users to buy products or click on ads or otherwise generate revenue. When consumers share their love (or any other emotion, for that matter) with user reviews, it’s a win for consumers and for the brand.