User-generated content (UGC) provides a haven for relevant, useful and fresh content in the form of ratings and reviews, social media conversations, blogs and forum material. So many conversations happen digitally through these channels and businesses are learning how to best leverage this content on-site.

Ratings and reviews add enormous value to the online shopping experience and give customers greater confidence in making purchases. Five years ago, a very small number of retail businesses had customer ratings and reviews on their websites. Amazon was one of the first companies to pioneer the ratings and reviews functionality. Today, it’s a regular feature on many e-commerce sites.

Exploring and Utilising Banter

There’s long been a growing trend of the consumer having a louder voice. We’ve moved on from the ‘blog revolution’ to find ourselves in more social territory. Companies have had to think innovatively about how to harness these online conversations in a measurable way to drive their e-commerce business.

Not only is UGC great from both technical and marketing perspectives, it can also be used for feedback on the products you sell and the customer service you provide. Retailers recognise the value of consumer feedback, noting that other customers are often influenced by what the people in their networks say. Ratings and reviews are also directly linked to products so you can directly align it with the sales performance of those products, forming actual sales metrics to assess product offerings.

UGC features heavily on whitegoods and electrical online retailer Appliances Online’s website. The below screenshot shows a selection of customer reviews for a fridge, which are plugged into the site through customer feedback system Feefo.

But what if all the reviews suck?

This used to be the most common objection to using UGC. If the feedback is completely negative, it still equates to valuable commentary on products and services that allows companies to actually see why a person has such a strong negative opinion. These findings in most cases can be addressed and improved.

If you find yourself in a situation where all reviews are negative, you have much more to worry about than the reviews themselves. If you’re not fundamentally committed to customer satisfaction and delivering the best products, the best shopping experience and the best customer service, you need to rethink your sales strategy. Be committed to being the best business you can be and these online conversations will amplify the positive aspects.

The Search Advantage

Business-to-consumer companies were once tentative about publishing customer comments and feedback on-site, but search engine optimisation (SEO) benefits and the growing demand for transparency have forced retailers to rethink its purpose.

With changes to Google’s search algorithms, preference has been given to relevant, informative content. This includes the content posted by genuine customers about services or product offerings on blogs, forums and social media channels. User-generated content is something the search engines like. It’s fresh. It’s updated frequently. It’s organic – it’s always being modified and growing organically which allows the search engines to crawl the content. It’s authentic – it’s in the customer voice. It’s linked to social channels frequently. All of these factors make UGC a valuable addition to your website if you want to rank higher in the search results pages.

The Viral Power of Content

The changing ways in which people communicate online has given credence to user-generated content. Social media networks are a haven for comments, statuses and conversations about any manner of topic. It has opened the flood doors to social counsel.

Scott Cook, the Founder of Intuit is famous for his quote “A brand is not what we tell consumers it is. It’s what consumers tell each other that it is”.

Social media is an avenue for engagement and retailers are relishing the concept by establishing communities to interact with customers and let them converse themselves. Combining these social channels on-site can help enhance the online shopping experience and influence buying behaviour by highlighting conversations about products, services or brands.

A JWT Intelligence social commerce study highlighted the effect social media is having on consumers, finding over 40 percent of men and over a third of women are more likely to purchase if a friend has made a social recommendation. Hubspot found that 71 percent of online consumers are more likely to purchase based on social media referrals.

Online retailers are utilising Facebook to gather crowd approval. Bambini Pronto posts Facebook statuses to highlight products and promotions with a direct website link. People within the brand’s community can ‘like’, share or leave comments, and it also entices website visit. The Facebook page is also where followers can post comments, ask questions and upload photos to share in the conversation.

B2B and B2C companies can tap into the affinities of social relationships. There’s a huge opportunity to help customers discover things through their social affinities.

Make the Most of UGC

Consumers now have a level of control and businesses can help to use this to their own advantage by actually listening to what customers are saying and responding accordingly. Multiple social channels give consumers a stage and a following to which to project their views and ideas. Companies can leverage this successfully if approached wholeheartedly and not with reproach. Brands are waking up to the fact that the vocal minority wields a lot of power and it’s in their best interest to spread this content widely.