From online ads to blogs, business owners use a large array of tactics to try and attract consumers. However, after generations of advertising, it's understandable that consumers are a little wary of traditional advertising pitches. The rise of social media and user generated content has given business owners and marketers new, more genuine ways to connect with fans and that connection can be a better advertisement than any commercial. Recent research shows that reviews and user generated content are essential for online and in-store retailers.

A study by Reevoo, that was cited by eConsultancy, found that 70% of consumers place peer recommendations and reviews above professionally written content. While there will always be a need for some professionally written content (you can't depend on fans to say everything that needs to be said), this data does show that there is a value in encouraging and utilizing user generated content for business owners and marketers.

According to eConsultancy, Airbnb reviews increased by 140 percent in 2015. Given the popularity of Airbnb the growth in usage and reviews suggests that "even a stranger's opinion is more valuable than a company's sales messaging".

One of the easiest and most cost-effective way to take advantage of content created by fans is to use customer reviews. According to a recently published study from Bazaarvoice, more than half (54 percent) of online shoppers, and nearly two out of five (39 percent) of in-store shoppers, who buy online check online reviews before they make purchase decisions.

"Seeking out the opinions of like-minded consumers has been a central component of an informed purchase journey for decades, but as a percentage of shopping has moved away from the physical store, many brands have focused their efforts on the online researcher," said David Moon, VP of Strategic Consulting and Global Pre-Sales at Bazaarvoice. "We are bringing additional credence to the notion that online consumer-generated content greatly influences the in-store shopper, and has a significant impact on in-store revenue."

The Bazarrvoice data showed that for customers shopping in variety of different industries, online reviews are an important part of the decision making process. This is shown to be true for online and in-store shoppers.

For example, for buyers of fitness trackers, 71 percent of online buyers and 64 percent of offline buyers check reviews.Similarly, 70 percent of online and 28 percent of in-store cookware shoppers read reviews before buying an item.

Reviews and other user generated content matter the most with large ticket items and products that consumers can easily try before they buy. A study from Crowdtap found that about three out of five (59 percent) of millennials say they use user generated content to inform their purchase decisions about major electronics. Electronics were most influenced by reviews followed by millennial shoppers looking for cars (54%), major appliances (53%), mobile phones (46%), hotels (45%), and travel plans (40%).

Besides encouraging reviews, brands should encourage customers to share images and videos of them using their products. It helps to have a hashtag setup for this for easier sharing. While there is an inherent risk that some people will make negative videos (it is the internet afterall), research has shown that brands do better overall when they use platforms like YouTube and Pinterest to support user generated content.

According to data compiled by Zefr, there are many huge brands whose most popular online content is from fan-made videos. In fact, more than 9 out of 10 views on the YouTube channels for CoverGirl (99 percent), Revlon (99 percent) and Oreo's (92 percent) come from people clicking on user generated content.

This data shows that the way people interact with brands is changing. User-generated content is a good way to showcase the good points of a brand or product without relying too much on overly formal marketing.

For more information on using reviews and other online marketing tactics, read this article on data from Nielsen showing how customers shop online.

Published on: Mar 14, 2016
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