So, let's say you've been reading this column for the past several months, and have determined that your brand and customers could really benefit from adding user-generated content to your site. However, you need real information that backs you up, because your CEO, owner, or CFO aren't as easy to convince.
This is a common issue - many companies feel uncomfortable about "airing their dirty laundry," as they may see it, on their site. Here's a rundown of the most common issues your execs may have, and how to answer them.
"What if our customers post negative comments or say bad things about our products?"
This is a great question, and one of the most common concerns when "opening up" a brand site to contributors. But think about it: if your products are getting a bad rap, people are talking about them where you can't listen or - more importantly - respond. More than likely, you'll get positive content - research we've done at my company shows that more than 80 percent of all reviews are positive. And those negative reviews can really open your eyes, not only giving you specific information about what customers may not like, but also giving you a chance to respond to customers directly, and even potential new product ideas.
Oh, and if you're worried about profanity, that's a legitimate concern, too - that's why you need to make sure you have guidelines for moderating content before it goes live on your site.
"User-generated content is great for retail, but it doesn't apply to our business."
It's true that business use of user-generated content - comments on YouTube videos, sharing on Facebook, and especially writing customer reviews - began with retail. Today, though, all types of businesses (insurance companies like USAA and Nationwide, plus other highly-regulated industries, such as banks) are finding ways to let users contribute. It comes down to what your business wants to accomplish with the customer voice. In most cases, consumers of all types - even B2B clients - will look for input from their colleagues, friends, or industry experts. See how you can get these voices engaged in your business.
"What's the real impact going to be? How will we measure it?"
I agree - the bottom line is truly the bottom line. This answer depends on your overall business goals. Take an honest look at what your company (not just your website) aims to do, and connect that directly to the impact the customer voice can have on it. If the goal is to sell products, you'll want to tag user-generated content interaction to conversion. If you want to gain marketshare, how can increased search traffic, customer interaction, and improved products - all potential benefits of user-generated content done well - help in that goal (and how will you measure it)? If your company aims to totally delight its customers, how would customer input help with this goal? Because user-generated content lives on your site, it can be tagged and tested to quantify its impact on the business. What's more, since it builds over time, you can track its impact far longer than a one-off campaign.
"There are so many other priorities. Why should we do this now?"
Prioritization is always a concern - this was a huge issue when I ran the retail site for Dell Corporation. I weighed several variables when making a decision - both long- and short-term goals. Many times, the net present value calculation (commonly calculated as the profit your company gains from an investment, is equal to sum of that investment's impact over time) became the determining factor of what came first. When looking at priorities, compare the net present value of all options. In general, the addition of user-generated content will dramatically increase the amount of relevant information on your site, which can improve conversion rates and search traffic, even though it needs to build over time.
As with any new initiative, it's important to have your ducks in a row when you're ready to sell it upstairs. Align these objections with your own exec's concerns, and the impact the customer voice could have on your organization should be clear.
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Sam Decker is founder and CEO of Mass Relevance, the leading enterprise social curation company. He speaks and consults on digital growth strategy, based on years of experience in technology and social markets. He has written two books on word-of-mouth marketing and is an award-winning blogger (www.deckermarketing.com). As former chief marketing officer of Bazaarvoice, the market leader in hosted social commerce applications that drive sales, Sam worked to help brands present the right user-generated content at the right time in the purchase path, bringing real value to the consumer and the business. Prior to Bazaarvoice he drove Dell's customer segmentation, their customer-centricity strategy, and led Dell's consumer website, building Dell.com into the largest consumer e-commerce site at $3.5 billion in annual sales.