How to Use 'Consumer Generated Content' to Promote Internet Marketing

Lesson #16--CONSUMER GENERATED CONTENT

Welcome to our continuing Internet Income Course. Like those before it, lesson sixteen aims to bring out the ins and outs of starting and running a profitable online business in today's unpredictable global market by breaking down key principles in simple English. Course author, George Little, is back and continues to reveal tips, real-world advice, and in-depth, step-by-step instructions on setting up your Internet-based business. Read the 15th lesson here.

WHAT YOU WILL LEARN
In our foundational lessons thus far, we've taken an overview glance at both the tried and the true and the exciting and the new. We have outlined the basic principles that have stood the test of time and, in our last lesson, mentioned a few new things that have promise. In this Lesson, we begin to move away from our overview discussion and take more detailed looks at specific tips, tools, and strategies. We will start with something new: "Consumer Generated Content."

HISTORY OF THE CONCEPT

The phrase "Consumer Generated Content" dates back to 2002. Peter Blackshaw, a Swiss, currently Nestle's Head of Digital and Social, coined the term to describe information and testimonials about a company or product that appeared in the comment sections of Websites, blogs, on bulletin boards and the like. This was before the days of social media as we know it today. It was also before the proliferation of Web cameras and video cameras on laptops and smart phones. Thus, he was referring primarily to textual testimonials and not to the media rich content the phrase implies today. The concept has evolved to apply to media rich (photos, audio and video) content created by people unassociated with the company who have had a positive experience with the product.

WHY IT IS IMPORTANT

Do you ever read reviews or testimonials before purchasing a product or service? I know that I do. My most common experiences with reviews have been on the TripleClicks and Amazon Websites. I never buy anything without first reading the reviews. Apparently, I'm not alone in this. Recent studies show that it is more and more common for users to thoroughly check the reviews before buying.

As I have a very busy life, I find it hard to take the time to write reviews for the things I purchase. If I have a significantly good or bad experience with a product, though, I will take the time. I appreciate those that do take the time to write detailed reviews. They are very helpful.

I don't believe all of the reviews I read, however. It is pretty obvious that some reviewers are there due to their negative personality. You can tell from their attitude that they are likely dissatisfied with most experiences in their life. They use reviews as an opportunity to share their negativity. Sometimes you can tell that the reviewer just doesn't have a clue how to properly use the product or service. Many negative reviews, though, are sincere and persuasive. You learn from them that there is a serious problem with the product or company. Positive reviews are very reassuring. Not all positive reviews appear credible either, though. Some are obviously planted promotions. The art and science of reading reviews can become an interesting pastime in itself.

Sometimes, very imaginative people use reviews as an opportunity to express their creativity. When this occurs, it becomes a medium of entertainment. Did you know there are luxury fountain pens for sale for over $60,000? (Yes, there are more than one of them and, yes, they do cost over $60k!) One witty reviewer said it was the free shipping that sold him on making the purchase. Another warned not to be fooled by the low price--"they make their money on the expensive ink." The longer reviews tell elaborate and imaginative tales of being visited by magical people after purchasing the pen under review. I'm pretty sure that none of these people actually purchased the fountain pen, but used this as an opportunity to showcase their wit. Almost all of the reviews are extremely entertaining. Some wit and humor also routinely show up on less interesting and unusual products. Product reviews are becoming an art form.

I cannot begin to speculate what goes on in the minds of the manufacturers of these ridiculously expensive fountain pens, but I have to think they are pleased by these reviews even though they are tongue in check. Why? Because they bring attention to the product. If indeed there is someone out there...somewhere...in the market for a $60,000+ fountain pen, he or she will be much more likely to find these pens due to these entertaining reviews which make them popular, bringing traffic to the product page.

What Motivates Customers to Create the Content?
The concept of customer generated content has now evolved far beyond just product reviews and testimonials. With the advent of Web cams and smart phones with cameras, video is becoming the most common medium. Here's an example with which I am very familiar. A young singer/songwriter wrote a song and created a video for the television series Pawn Stars. I am familiar because the song in this video was written at my house. The singer/songwriter who produced this video is a young artist for whom I was providing consultation at the time. Being in the area one Friday night, he dropped by my house, explaining he had something he wanted to do--just for the sake of doing it. He had been absolutely fascinated with the History Channel show Pawn Stars for quite some time. He wanted to share his appreciation for the show while showcasing his talent at the same time. After discussing the idea, he pulled out his guitar and wrote the song. He had no contract with, or payment from, the show or the network for promoting it. It was just something he wanted to do for fun--because he liked the show.

If you're curious, here's the video:


The video did come to the attention of the show's stars on social media and they gave it some mention. I think they missed an opportunity, though, by not giving it even more attention.

What we learn from examples like this is that many fans of a product or service are willing to express their appreciation in entertaining ways. More and more, consumers have come to distrust traditional advertising. Content from a fan of the product or service is inherently more trustworthy. Positive content from a customer is more inspiring. Many large companies are beginning to see the value in this type of home-spun promotion. They are coming up with ways to encourage their customers to produce and share such content, which they then use in their promotions.

Another interesting recent example (at the time of this writing) is the new Tesla Autopilot--a self-driving electric car, made possible by a software update released on October 14 2015, for the Model S. Tesla Motors has traditionally maintained a section on their Website for "customer stories," where they share blog posts from their customers. They have also set their Facebook page to allow posts that tag them to show up on their timeline. On Twitter, they often retweet customer tweets and videos about their cars. There has been an avalanche of new customer videos since the self-driving software was released, and Tesla Motors makes full use of them.

While, unfortunately, I do not have a Tesla, I see that Chevy is also utilizing this concept to some degree. This morning in my email inbox was a message from my local dealership. The message invited me to utilize one of the stencils they were providing to include the Chevy emblem while carving my Halloween pumpkin. When done with my carving, I am encouraged to share a photo of my creation on the dealership's Facebook page.

Product Development

The larger companies are also learning to have conversations with their customers regarding the direction to take with new product development. Instead of guessing, why not ask your customers what new products and services they need? Studies have shown that intense customer input often results in "disruptive technology" rather than "evolutionary technology." While the word "disruptive" may sound bad, it's not bad in this context. It disrupts the existing market in a good way, one that is good for the company and especially good for consumers. Evolutionary technological advances, on the other hand, just add additional value to existing products and services. Disruptive technological advances create entirely new markets offering a different kind of value which replaces the need for old products or services--which is often a very good thing for consumers.

The difference between disruptive technology and evolutionary technology can be demonstrated by looking at the second installment of the Back to the Future movie trilogy. The week I write this lesson turns out to be the week that the characters Marty McFly and 'Doc' Emmett Brown visited 2015 in their time travels from 1985. The movie was made in the mid 1980's. It is interesting to compare the movie's predictions of October 2015 to the world we have today. The October 2015 predicted from the 1985 perspective of the movie has flying cars and flying skateboards, but apparently no Internet, smart phones, or tablets. Thus, the movie predicts evolutionary advances, but not disruptive advances. In the movie's version of 2015, cars and skateboards are given the added value of flight. Such cars and skateboards, of course, do not exist in common use today. Yet, the developments that have transformed our society--the Internet, smart phones, and tablets--are not predicted.

By focusing on customer input, a company is much more likely to create disruptive advances. Paying attention to and learning from your customers, allowing your customers to be creative and expressive is apparently the right path for the future.

How can Customer Generated Content work for you?

How can you, as an independent entrepreneur, utilize the concept of customer generated content? You do not have the reach of a large corporation. Your product or service is most likely not already well-known. You are not promoting a self-driven car or a well-known television show. So, how do you do it?

You face the problem faced by all new startup promoters: how to create interest where interest does not already exist. Chin up, the answer is starring you in the face. You create interest by doing something interesting.

Facebook now ranks just behind television commercials as the most common way consumers discover new products. Do something to make your product interesting on social media. If you have no product or service of your own, but promote the products or services of others through an affiliate program (as many people do, I suspect, through SFI and TripleClicks), you, yourself, can produce customer created content. Most likely, you are a customer of the product or service you are promoting. (If you're not, you should be.) Your testimonial is the perfect starting point. Pull out your smart phone or use your Web cam to make a video of yourself promoting the product or service. Then, challenge others to use the product or service and respond to your video with their own. You can always fall back on the tried and true motivator--a contest. Offer something of value for the best customer created content. Don't pick the winner yourself, let other followers vote on the most interesting video. If you do not have a blog with the technology to allow voting, just use Facebook and Twitter and let the 'likes' and 'favorites' of other followers pick the winner. Do everything you can to keep people engaged. Create a conversation. But, know when to step back a little and let the conversation build its own momentum, blaze out its own path, follow its own direction. Moderate where needed, but let your followers have the creative control.

You should, of course, check with the rules associated with your affiliate program or the particular product and service as to how it can be promoted. Also check the rules of the social media site you are using. Sometimes there are legal concerns that come into play. The service or the seller may suffer consequences if you make unsubstantiated claims. While these rules are usually relaxed with customer generated content, if you have an affiliate relationship, there will still be rules to consider. It is usually not difficult or time-consuming to find the rules and check them out. Make sure you follow the rules.

With the applicable rules understood, you are ready to pursue the magical possibility of "going viral." If your video is cute enough, entertaining enough, or informative enough, or just fascinating in some inexplicable way, it could indeed go viral. Even if it doesn't go viral, it may catch someone's attention. That person may become a good customer and may lead you to many other good customers. Among these customers, one of them may create that viral video testimonial.

Rather than a testimonial--and perhaps even better--you could just create a video while using the product or service. It could be incidental to the theme of the video perhaps. Viewers like to pick up on incidental things in the background of these videos. They will feel like it is their own discovery rather than something being pushed at them. Be subtle. Be confident. Let the product or service you are ultimately trying to promote speak for itself. People like to make discoveries rather than being spoon fed their consumer choices.

But, more importantly, try to motivate your followers to include your product or service in their videos. Motivate your followers to discuss it. Listen to their input. Give them the creative reins. Let your followers generate content for you. That is "customer generated content."

CONCLUSION
We have only recently begun to realize the importance of Customer Generated Content. Customer generated content is important because it draws attention to your product or service in a way you cannot do yourself. It creates interest. That interest spreads. Customer generated content has more credibility than content created by the promoter. Customers are motivated to create content for you because it allows them to be creative, to showcase their own talents, to speak and be heard by others on something of interest. Product development can be greatly enhanced by focusing on customer generated content. It allows the customers to express the changes and improvements that would most benefit them. Listening to customer generated input about your product or service is more likely to lead to disruptive advancements rather than evolutionary advancements. In this context, "disruptive advancements" are good--they disrupt the existing market in a good way--a way that improves the lives of the consumers. You can put customer generated content to work for you even as an independent entrepreneur. If you are an affiliate, start with your own content. Then motivate others to make similar content. To truly utilize the concept of customer generated content, you need a group of followers on social media and you need to motivate them (the more subtly, the better) to create content that brings attention to the product or service that you promote.

WHAT'S COMING NEXT
In our next lesson, we will continue to explore specific techniques and strategies for Internet Marketing and how best to implement them. Read the next lesson here: Formulating A Plan.

Author
By George Little, Panhandle On-Line, Inc. For more information on the Internet Income Course and other works and courses by George Little, see http://www.profitpropulsion.com

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