User-generated content for consumer brands: authentic marketing

Consumer brands, even those that don’t transact online themselves, have much to gain from a more authentic voice online. User-generated content can be a valuable asset not only for campaigns but for building the brand and customer relationships over the long term.

Some brands have created long-running campaigns comprised mostly (or entirely) of user-generated content. Burberry is probably the most often quoted example – “The art of the trench” is said to have been part of the revival of the brand.


Watch Justin Cooke’s presentation from Ascend 2015 – Cooke was Burberry’s VP of marketing communications at the time.

Another, slightly more risky approach was taken by Swedish underwear company Björn Borg, who urged customers (mostly men) to upload pictures of themselves in their underwear. A similar campaign by a women’s underwear company backfired though, with customers judging it sexist, and the campaign was subsequently pulled.

Another use case, which can be a good fit for many companies, is to use user-generated content (UGC) to let people share how they use your products or services. While you might think of UGC only for transactional (ecommerce) websites, many consumers and professionals go to the manufacturer’s website as part of their research before a purchase.

Since most of the time you can’t know when a customer has purchased a product or a service, it requires a little ingenuity to find a good way to encourage customers to submit content. You could do it as part of a campaign, linked to a product registration, or perhaps to any activity through customer service channels.

Customer service

User-generated content in a customer service scenario warrants its own section, given that there are so many different applications. These range from a customer community, to a Q&A section with the customer service team responds to article comments.

Customer communities: While user communities might have gone out of fashion (and mostly have given way to interaction in social channels or on third-party sites), they do still exist and can provide a positive impact. Episerver customer and sewing machine manufacturer Janome, for instance, has set up a community for sewists, where they encourage customers to share helpful advice and designs.

For a community, you often would want to offer a deeper set of tools available to the visitor, such as the ability to follow a topic or to get a stream of updates that might be interesting (“activity stream” functionality). In some cases it is also useful to offer different groups that customers can join.

A special case of customer communities exists for software companies, where they solicit ideas for new features from users. Salesforce and Microsoft are both examples of this. The benefit of such a solution is not only to gather new ideas (in fact, that is not a driver at all), but to be able to respond to input and update customers on progress, and also to give them justification for why one idea is prioritized over another.

Microsoft’s site for user feedback for Word for Mac. Users can submit feedback and feature requests, and vote on other people’s requests.

Finally, from a customer service standpoint I would like to point out that most consumer brands should also consider using social channels, even if you have a community of your own.

Open Q&A: These are applications where the customer expects a response to a question from a representative from the company. Sometimes, responding can also be open to fellow customers, but more often only questions are open. A variation of this is where you collect questions from visitors, but then rewrite them before publishing the question and answer on the web. Read more about this in my article on UGC for ecommerce, where companies like Amazon offer product-specific Q&As as well.

Article comments: This is something that is mostly seen with media and online news, but other organizations, such as non-profits, cities and municipalities also might offer commenting for article or news content. Comments for blog posts is also a very common application.

If you have a lot of visibility and traffic, opening up for comments might come with considerable risks and effort. While many organizations now allow only for non-anonymous comments (perhaps through the use of Facebook), that hasn’t stopped different kinds of inappropriate or downright abusive behavior.

On the other hand, if the target audience is narrower or consists mostly of professionals, the moderation effort would be much smaller. You would still need it, and obviously have the usual provisions for stopping spam. (It’s worth mentioning a soon-to-be launched product – the invisible reCaptcha – which offers a very smooth experience. It wouldn’t stop a determined individual though, so it doesn’t take away the need for moderation.)

Allowing visitors to rate user-generated content

In many cases it makes sense to allow visitors to rate content submitted by other visitors. This helps highlight useful content, and removes or hides less valuable content. New content still needs to be exposed though, even if it hasn’t got any feedback yet. A special case of this is for a community or Q&A section where the original poster can tag a response as the answer to a question.

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!