User generated content and social content – what’s the difference?

Content created by your customers (or would-be customers) can be a valuable marketing asset. However, there are some clear differences between content that customers post to their own social channels, and content they contribute directly to you – user-generated content.

Sometimes the term “user-generated content” can be confusing – is it content that customers create on your website (such as a product review), or is it also content that they share on social networks, which in some cases can be leveraged for your campaigns?

We make the following distinction, and I will discuss in a minute what the differences are, and why you would want to use one or the other:

  • User-generated content is content that customers (or fans) provide to you for sharing in your channels. Examples include product reviews, photos, and questions and answers, and the customer is usually creating or uploading the content to your own website.

  • Social content is content that customers share in their own social channels. Examples include photos on Instagram, comments on Facebook, or tweets. Some of this content (such as Instagram photos with a certain hashtag) can be collected and shown on your own website, even if it has originally been shared somewhere else.

Below, I review the different steps along the buying process, and what kind of content fits where. I’m drawing on Avinash Kaushik’s excellent See-Think-Do-Care framework (which you should read if you haven’t already) to divide the process into different stages.

Do: Influencing a purchase decision

At the point of purchase, customer reviews and customer-contributed product photos have been proven to have a big impact. This holds true both for retail but also for industries like hotels and restaurants.

Having good customer content is a competitive advantage, and the psychology of making a purchase lends itself well to having some kind of “social proof” for a particular product or service.

My advice here is to go with user-generated content, for these reasons:

  • The content that customers contribute is valuable over a long time, i.e. a product review submitted a few months ago is still valid.

  • You can offer a way to submit structured content, such as describing the fit of a jacket, or the kind of trip or hotel a visitor is looking for.

  • You can moderate and respond to reviews in an easy way. Remember, even a negative review is valuable, but even more so if you can respond and show that you care.

  • You own the content, which makes it possible to use it in different scenarios (such as an app) without requiring any additional considerations.

  • Scalability and delivery might be an issue if you have a lot of traffic and/or a lot of content, and user-generated content gives you the ability to optimize its delivery. While social networks are certainly extremely scaleable, if you want to show content on your own site you often need to provide intermediary storage.

If you are also considering social content (such as product images), make sure that you have a process to moderate them. Also, some customers might not be comfortable with their images used at the point of purchase since they haven’t given explicit permission for that.

Think: Raising awareness of a product or service before a purchase

At this point in the process, the customer (or potential customer) may or may not be on your website. They are certainly doing their research though, and studies show that consumers often use a variety of different sources for that.

I would, therefore, recommend a mix of user-generated content and social content. For social content, in most cases it makes sense to keep it on the original social networks, i.e. not presenting it in the context of your own website.

Examples of when user-generated content would be the best choice:

  • When doing research, consumer and professionals use organic search as one of their tools. User-generated content such as reviews and questions/answers (from customer service boards) can be very helpful here, and often provide answers to many long-tail search queries.

  • If you are driving traffic through advertising, having some kind of social proof on your own site is valuable. The same tactics you would use for the Do stage (below/above) can be useful here, such as customer images from a hotel.

When social content is a good choice:

  • If you are doing a time-limited campaign, or are hosting an event, it usually makes sense to use existing social networks (and use hashtags, for instance) to create awareness and excitement. The reach is typically much broader than what you have through your own website, too.

  • If you offer customer service through public social channels, this might be an important factor for a customer deciding to investigate your products more thoroughly.

See: Communicating brand values or giving helpful advice

Many consumer brands use brand-building campaigns as a means to gain mindshare among customers, even when they are not in the Think or Do phases of their buying process. These campaigns can often have elements of consumer participation, i.e. social content or user-generated content.

It is often the mode of communication and the timescale that dictates which kind of content you would use.

User-generated content that you manage and own yourself is often more applicable in these cases:

  • When you need full control over moderation and exactly what content is communicated.

  • When part of the experience or campaign is actually capturing the content, e.g. in an owned app.

  • If you want to keep content over a long time, user-generated content is also preferable.

On the other hand, social content would be useful when:

  • You would like to use the potential reach of social networks.

  • When people would benefit from being able to easily share content, such as when they share a helpful review or other interesting content to friends or followers.

  • If the unpredictability and diversity of the contributed content is actually valuable and something you want to embrace in your initiative.

Finally, many brands and retailers use networks of bloggers and vloggers who produce content published in their own channels. Depending on the channel, this could technically be considered social content, but the tactics would be very different, since you as a brand or retailer in this case would have a relationship with the influencer.

Care: Making sure customers are happy and come back

Once customers have purchased a product or service, this stage is about helping them make the most of it and resolving any issues they might have.

User-generated content is helpful to:

  • Build customer communities. While “communities” might seem like a blast from the past, to have a product-focused way for customers to ask questions and help each other out is an excellent way not only to resolve issues but also to create long-term value for them. User-generated content is the obvious choice here, unless there is already an established community for your market and industry.

  • Customers showing other customers how they are using your products is both helpful and also serves a purpose before a purchase is made. User-generated content allows you to gather content after a purchase, and use it to help other customers.

Social networks are now often considered a customer service channel, so social content obviously has a big role, too:

  • Make sure that you have processes in place to serve customer requests through social channels, too. Different organizations have different strategies – some resolve issues entirely in the customer’s channel of choice, and others direct the customer to their own service channel.

  • While not social networks, there are a number of third-party review sites (both for products and services) that consumer businesses need to be aware of. Sometimes this content can be included on your own site as well. Since these review sites often have a business model of licensing this content (or the content in aggregate), it is usually pretty easy to do.

What Episerver Social does

Episerver Social is a cloud API to gather, manage, and deliver user-generated content of any kind. It could be reviews, photos, or posts to a discussion group.

Episerver Social makes it very easy to capture the data on your web or ecommerce site, reliably stores it, and then finally delivers it with very high performance. Episerver Social also makes it easy to set up custom moderation flows.

Do you want to add user-generated content to your Ektron website or to your Episerver web or ecommerce site? Episerver Social is fast, lightweight, and very easy to begin using. If you are a developer, we offer access to a developer service you can try out. 

Learn more about Episerver Social and contact us to get started!