It’s Friday night. You’re celebrating the end of a long and arduous week at work by catching up with a few friends. As usual, where to eat is up for debate, and no one can really decide where they want to go. Someone suggests the flashy new restaurant that just opened up down the street.

You take a moment to have a look at the website menu. Professional photos of perfectly lined up dishes and happy guests are loaded up on the main page. The decor looks good, and seeing all this food is making you hungry. But another one of your friends disagrees.

“No. The servings are small and the service is so bad. Trust me, I checked it out last week.”

Someone opens up a review site and suddenly you can see all the photos and reviews posted by recent customers. Your friend is right, other people don’t seem to like the service, and so you opt for a smaller restaurant with a better reputation, another gem found while on the review site.

Your customers are overwhelmed with options

Where’s the best restaurant to go to for dinner, which hotel package offers the best value for money? Is the coffee round the corner overrated?

When confronted with these questions, the go to response has become something of an exercise in social surveys. We rely on the opinions of friends, acquaintances, colleagues to steer us in the right direction when we can’t quite make up our mind about that next purchase or holiday destination.

Opinions matter, and these days everyone has an opinion on everything. Studies show that we are more likely to accept or reject a product or service based on the experience of our acquaintances. 92% of people put their faith in peer recommendations, according to Nielsen. If your friend mentions that the coffee down the street tastes like dishwater, you’ll be less inclined to try it yourself. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when we see our social feeds flooded with photos of food, colourful products or cinematic views, we get the compulsion to try out and see those things ourselves.

The wonders of word of mouth have evolved into online review sites and social networks. We tend to turn to our digital peers in order to seek second opinions on retail brands, dining scenes, places of accommodation, anything and everything that can be reviewed. 70% of people claim to trust the online reviews, despite being posted by people they don’t know.

Most brands and businesses have acknowledged this, and these days you’ll find websites and homepages that feature glowing customer reviews and testimonials. However, the potential to incorporate user generated content (UGC) still remains widely untapped.

The benefits of UGC

User generated content, or UGC as it is most commonly referred to, is a cost effective way to increase your company’s advertising reach by using content by customers, for customers. Successful brands will create a pervasive user experience where UGC is encouraged to generate more customer experiences to attract more users to your brand.

User generated content leads to more time on site, increased traffic to your webpage and helps to generate chatter about your brand. Doing this can create a huge impact on your online audiences, but these moments are also opportunities to translate the digital into real life discussion and word of mouth promotion that can help sustain your brand presence. In fact, UGC driven advertising has been proven to outperform traditional modes such as TVC and other mediums.

So how can you make the most of user generated content?

1. Create the right environment for sharing

If you want your customers to post and create content about your brand, you have to provide the right conditions for content generation. The most obvious thing would be to make sure your brand is visible, but you also want to create something to talk about.

From colourful campaigns to cleverly designed window displays, you can put your brand out there to encourage sharing on social media. Effective use of decals or hashtags on signage can prompt your customers to take a photo or mention your brand when making that status update on social media. People want to share their experiences, but you have to give them something worth sharing.

2. Tap into the visual content available. 

85% of shoppers are more likely to buy a product after watching a video. Combine this with the fact it was posted by an actual customer, your chances of enticing a new visitor or buyer will increase.

3. Find strategic opportunities to feature guest content

Most brands these days have a trove of UGC at their fingertips, but have not channelled this wealth of content into any meaningful outlets. UGC needs to be curated and implemented in the right places for your business, and this of course depends on what you want to do. Having a sound understanding of the value your product delivers to customers can help you better gauge what content will be useful to you, and what will eventually drive customer powered marketing.

For example, rather than just sharing posts of your customer reviews or photos to your social media pages. Why not take the opportunity to turn this into an interactive gallery on your website?

Or for restaurant owners, you might feature guest posts on live screens around the restaurant to give your patrons ideas on what to order off the menu. Hospitality management can use TV screens around the hotel to showcase the best of their facilities.

Your customers are your best advocates, and harnessing the user generated content around your brand showcases the best of what you have to offer through the eyes of those who have experienced your brand first hand. By creating a UGC centric strategy, you can increase the reliability, reach and return on your advertising.