Handing Over Control: The Switch to User-Generated Content

Andrea Miller

Written by Andrea Miller on Fri, Mar 20, 2015

It can be hard to give up control as a marketer or business owner. After all, it’s our job to ensure that our brand is being represented well and consistently. But keeping up with content creation is becoming more difficult as more companies embrace content marketing and tell their stories online. So, it’s okay to look outside your office space for content creators. In fact, your best storytellers may be your biggest fans. Marketers, it’s time to put our Type A personalities aside and let our customers take control of our brand’s content.


A December 2014 Forrester Research study revealed only 14% of US consumers trust an ad created by a brand compared to 48% of users who trust the words, pictures and videos created by other consumers.


This reliance on customer feedback no longer just applies to big purchases like TVs or cars. Today’s consumer researches everyday purchases like toothpaste and diapers. In fact, 64% of US online consumers conducted online research before making a purchase in the past three months.

With all of that online research going on, it’s important to maintain high ratings and good reviews, but that’s just scratching the surface of user-generated content (UGC). True UGC offers real brand building potential because it establishes trust.

Warby Parker: Visionary User-Generated Content Adopter

One brand who has been at the forefront of this strategy is Warby Parker, a company who strives to make the process of buying glasses online as fun and easy as possible. Warby Parker is a good storyteller, because they have been telling a compelling story from the very beginning. The brand began when one of the founders lost a $700 pair of glasses. The story continues as the founders figured out a way to cut out the middlemen of fashion brands and eyewear retailers and sell directly to the consumer. They are able to sell a pair of quality eyeglasses, and distribute a pair to someone in need at the same time, at a fraction of the cost. GQ has dubbed the company “the Netflix of eyewear.”

The brand’s story continues to be told through their consumers. With Warby Parker’s Home Try-On campaign, users try on different frames at home and upload photos to their social channels using the #WarbyHomeTryOn hashtag.


The arrangement works because consumers get valuable feedback, and Warby Parker gets product exposure. Plus, those who try at home are 50% likelier to buy. There’s even a LiveChat option where Warby Parker offers their services as “personal styling consultants.”

TOMS Shoes is another big brand that embraces fan-provided content. The popular shoe company that donates a pair of shoes to needy children for every pair purchased encourages user-generated content on its YouTube channel. The passion is translated to their Facebook page, where people share pictures of places their shoes have been and how they incorporate them into their everyday style.

But what if you aren’t a consumer fashion brand, and you need more than customer selfies to help tell your story? Perhaps you are a B2B company who depends on content, especially blogging for your business. If so, you and other brands can take a lesson from digital publishers.

Publishers Turned Curators

Publications are faced with the challenge to produce more editorial coverage while watching their staffs shrink. Forbes is combating this by creating digital channels for reader contributions. Instead of relying on in-house writers, Forbes turns to hundreds of guest columnists for its online magazine site at a fraction of the cost.

Another example of curating content like this is HubSpot’s blog. The all-in-one marketing software giant publishes more blog content than any company I’ve ever seen. I used to think they had a basement full of writers cranking out content at all hours of the night. But once SPROUT Content reached Gold Agency Partner status, we were invited to contribute to the different blogs: marketing, sales and agency partners. That’s when it became clear that while HubSpot does produce a ton of content on its own, they also rely on their partners, those who are already sold on the product, to do it for them.

This type of brand-contributor collaboration offers benefits to both sides. Brands get free content from contributors who may already be industry influencers. In return, the contributors get the reach and amplication provided by a larger brand.

Getting Started with User-Generated Content

Now that you are convinced it may be time to relinquish control over some of your content to your customers, how do you let go?

  1. Invite customers to contribute content.

Turn on comments, provide a rating system for your products and create forums so that people can easily discuss what they love about your company. There’s a caveat here, and that is you must pay attention to what’s being said about your brand online. If an issue pops up on a forum, provide a timely response so that you can address any problems right away. Leaving a complaint up and hoping it will go away is not a marketing strategy.

  1. Take control of your online reputation.

The same rule applies to online review sites. Claim your listing on review sites, and become an active participant by engaging with customers. Have a happy customer? Ask them to write a review. There’s nothing wrong with asking a satisfied customer to share their experience. Take this a step further by adding a request for reviews at the bottom of email marketing messages targeted at your best customers.

  1. Give customers a reason to engage with your company and talk back to them.

Twitter posts are now showing up in Google search results, so use your social media channels to engage your fans. Ask their opinion on products and services, highlight customer success stores and ask them to share their experiences.

  1. Run a contest.

Contests can be used to harvest content. From posting videos and pictures to simply sharing a success story, there are lots of ways to get people to interact with your brand, especially if the prize is worth their while.

  1. Create case studies.

Case studies may be the most ideal content format for UGC because it highlights a customer but you maintain control over how the information is presented. Use different formats from video testimonials to slideshows to downloadable content, which are easy to share online.

  1. Be transparent in the source of your user-generated content.

Gone are the days of marketers spinning messages to match consumers’ dreams, so make sure it’s clear that your UGC is coming from your customers and not your PR department. You can install a ratings and review vendor that provides a “trust mark” next to each review to ensure it’s not fraudulent activity.

  1. Show that you have nothing to hide.

It’s great to have lots of online chatter about the parts of your business you want to promote, but you must also foster conversations about less transparent aspects of your company. Whether that’s a recall or defect, it’s important to never hide from the bad as you work to share the good.

As SPROUT Content Co-founder Dechay Watts explains in this video, you should never be worried about giving away your "secret sauce."



It’s absolutely essential for brands to do business with transparency these days. We show you how to incorporate transparency into your content marketing strategy in our book Brands in Glass Houses.

Read a Free Chapter

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