How to Leverage User-Generated Content in Internet Marketing

Instructor: Sunil Hazari

Sunil teaches in the Business School at a state university in Georgia. He is also a Digital Marketing Consultant in Atlanta.

Consumers are increasingly relying on other users to help with decisions about purchases of goods and services. In this lesson, we will learn about user-generated content (UGC) and its role in Internet marketing.

Characteristics of User-Generated Content

Before Internet shopping became popular, consumers had to rely on manufacturers and sales personnel to provide information about product features and benefits. Consumers were dependent on sales associates for information that would help them with product purchasing decisions.

As Internet shopping started becoming more popular, virtual communities were formed online where consumers could share their experiences with products and discuss features, as well as problems, associated with the use of a product. Other consumers could then read this information, which in turn could influence their purchasing decision.

This type of content, where consumers share their experience and knowledge about product use with other consumers, became known as user-generated content (UGC).

Application of UGC in Internet Marketing

Virtual communities, where consumers share information by posting comments, used to be primarily found on blogs and social media platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube. However, online shopping sites, such as Amazon, quickly took notice and created platforms where customers are encouraged to leave product reviews. Amazon is a prime example of how to leverage the use of UGC to inform other customers about the benefits (or problems) associated with products so customers can make informed decisions prior to purchase.

As an example, Amazon invites its most trusted reviewers to post opinions about new and pre-release items to help other customers make informed purchasing decisions. These members, who are considered 'influencers,' are provided free products that have been submitted to the program by participating vendors in exchange for them providing independent opinions of the products they use. By being active in encouraging UGC, Internet marketing companies (such as Amazon) are trying to influence purchasing intention and buying behavior of consumers.

Consumer-Centered Model of UGC

Today, UGC is found on most social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Pinterest. As a result of UGC's popularity, the balance of marketing power that was primarily held by manufacturers has now shifted to a more consumer-centered model where consumer experiences drive the sales of items that are available on online shopping websites. This new model, also called social commerce, is empowering consumers to make informed purchasing decisions.

User-generated content can influence purchasing behavior at different stages of a purchase cycle. For example, let's assume a consumer is browsing a website that utilizes UGC without any intention to purchase. Having come across a product, the consumer looks at a five-star review that extols the benefits of the product. The consumer becomes interested and motivated to purchase the product, which has now moved into the consumer's consideration set. Reading more UGC can move the product deeper into consideration, after which the consumer makes an active decision to purchase. The purchasing action can be attributed to favorable comments provided by other users.

After the consumer has purchased and used the product, there is a possibility that he or she would be willing to share his or her experience with the product to reciprocate and help other consumers. UGC thrives in active virtual communities that serve to influence buyers who may be interested in making a purchase of the same product. Social interaction with other users can influence attitude towards online shopping and impact purchasing behavior.

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