If you have customers, you have a community. It might be a fragmented one with no particular place for people to call home, but customers will still be talking about you online. When they want to share feedback, they’ll be heading to consumer review platforms. If they want to ask their fellow customers for advice, they might take to Facebook to seek further information. An industry influencer who owns a blog, for example, may take things a step further by creating a full-blown video review or in-depth blog post. These are all examples of community content.

Also known as user-generated content, or UGC, community content is anything about a brand, product, or service, that customers publish online. With the web giving anyone with an internet connection a voice, this sort of content has the power to influence purchase decisions and define an organisation’s reputation. No longer is the power in the hands of brands now that we’ve entered the Age of the Consumer. That’s something that companies fast need to wake up to if they’re going to survive the world of social shopping.

Why does community content matter?

Despite the unprecedented rise of inbound marketing over the past decade, we’re surrounded by advertisements everywhere we look. Even way back in 2013, a study by Infolinks showed that 86% of consumers ignore banner ads on websites. A more recent study found that over 40% of desktop users in the US use ad-blockers to avoid distractions while browsing and keep companies from using their data for advertising purposes. Why? One of the main reasons is that people don’t want to be told what they should be buying.

In the age of social shopping, consumers are far more likely to base their purchase decisions on recommendations from their peers. In other words, they’re more interested in community engagement rather than direct brand engagement. Salespeople can talk all day about why their products and services are better than everyone else’s, but an unbiased recommendation from a peer is vastly more authentic.

Community content doesn’t just help shape purchase decisions. It also helps boost customer success by enabling peer-to-peer support. Brands with more complicated and sophisticated products or services often depend heavily on their customers to support one another, simply because it’s usually too big a job to manage alone. To that end, community content often takes the form of how-to guides, tips and tricks, or something as simple as a short answer to a query on Twitter.

So, in a nutshell, that’s why community content is so important – it drives purchase decisions and boosts customer success. It’s why successful brands are, well, successful, in a time when they no longer have nearly the degree of direct control over their reputations as they used to.

Bring your customers together with a community content platform

Whether it involves evaluating competing products or getting more out of an existing purchase, conducting online research can sometimes feel like a stab in the dark. Online review sites are in great supply, and the mainstream social media is often too busy and chaotic for meaningful content engagement. Your customers will still be using these platforms no matter what you do, but to really take advantage of community content, you’ll need a platform of your own – a place your customers can call home. This may take the form of a simple community forum on your website or a fully-fledged brand social network exclusive to your potential and existing customers.

By consolidating disparate groups of customers, you can nurture an environment of solidarity where people can come together to share their interests and provide feedback. At the same time, it returns a degree of control to your brand, as you’ll be better placed to drive the conversation and, in doing so, lead by example. With the right approach, you can encourage and reward the creation of community content that adds value to your entire organisation.

Generate desire with an army of brand advocates

Let’s start with one of the best-known examples of all: Apple. Apple customers don’t just buy phones and laptops. They become fans, loyal brand advocates who see their iPhones and MacBooks as more than just tech products and instead parts of their lifestyles and identities. It’s a phenomenon that’s often used as a metaphor for brand advocacy, in which Apple customers tend to have an emotional connection with the brand that goes beyond a mere transaction. Fuelled by desire, they’re also happier to spend significantly more on Apple’s products than those from competing brands. In the end, it’s about more than functionality and design alone – it’s about the community.

Now while your brand might not have the reach of one of the world’s largest consumer tech companies, the same rules apply. Apple’s success is, in a large part, down to the way it uses community content to generate desire and take content engagement to a whole new level. It leverages reviews to bolster its reputation, while tapping into powerful influencers, such as early adopters, to help spread the word about up-and-coming products. That’s why so many people are happy to queue for hours outside an Apple store the moment a new product launch is announced.

Envy is an innate human trait. Sharing exceptional user-generated content offers a great way to generate brand desire and encourage emotional connections. This applies to virtually any product or service in any industry. Brands in highly visual industries, such as travel, fashion, and food, for example, might hold photography contests.  

Augment your existing content strategy

Digital content, whether in the form of blog posts, videos, photos, or any other medium, is the lifeblood of any modern brand. In fact, content marketing alone accounts for over a quarter of all money spent on marketing in both business- and consumer-facing organisations. Not only is it a constant and expensive challenge to create fresh, new content that your target audience will love – if all the conversation is one-sided, you’re not going to get the return on investment your efforts deserve.

To be clear, community content isn’t meant to be a replacement for your content marketing strategy. You still need plenty of your own branded content to provide that inside connection, as well as demonstrate your industry expertise. But by adding user-generated content into the mix, you can add authenticity, offer fresh perspectives, and build up your existing content library so that you’ve always got relevant content to share with your community.

Leveraging community content is all about fostering long-lasting customer relationships by openly recognising peoples’ contributions. People who create and share community content are often amongst your biggest fans, which is something that deserves recognition. There are many ways to collect and share community content, such as by encouraging the use of branded hashtags. However, when sharing content created by others, particularly if it involves taking it outside the platform it was originally posted on, you should always request permission and credit the original author. People will appreciate your respecting their privacy, and most will treasure a public display of appreciation. You can also offer something of value in return, such as an exclusive discount or loyalty programme.

Learn from your customers to build your brand

On a final note, brands should always be prepared to learn from user-generated content. Their communities aren’t just venues for generating engagement and brand loyalty – they’re also important resources for product ideation and support. By consolidating your community and regularly monitoring its members’ participation, you can continuously improve your offer and better align it to the needs and desires of your community. That way, your community becomes an integral part of the direction of your brand, which is precisely was a great community is all about. 

Disciple social spaces help brands enjoy all the benefits of community with an independent, valuable, and trusted platform in a safe space that they own and control. Start building your brand community by telling us about your community goals.