Some recent studies point to the idea that the most persuasive content may not even be content created by you, but rather user generated content.
A report titled The Rise of Digital Influence by Altimeter Group takes a deep dive into how digital influence works to generate coveted word-of-mouth marketing. It is required reading for inbound marketers who want to succeed in leveraging interactive media for their business.
The report defines digital influence as “the ability to cause effect, change behavior, and drive measurable outcomes online.” This is achieved by the ideal balance of three pillars of influence: reach, resonance and relevance.
Each is vital to driving measurable outcomes, but in examining the pillar of relevance we gain insight into how user generated content can create powerful influence via social proof in a shared community of focus. The report outlines three traits of relevance:
- Authority – the individual investment in the subject of topical relevance earned consistently over time
- Trust – the firm belief in the reliability, truthfulness and ability of someone in your community of focus
- Affinity – the level of connection within your community of focus
Gaining social proof with user generated content
You don’t have to spend much time on social media to see that much of the user generated content is meaningless commentary. Just counting Likes, Followers or Comments doesn’t guarantee you will establish meaningful engagement of topical relevance in your community of focus.
But when you focus on the traits of relevance you can turn user content into dynamic social proof that engages and leads Web viewers through the decision funnel.
One of earliest references to social proof I have seen was by advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins. Sometime around 1910 he said:
People are like sheep. They cannot judge values; neither can you and I. We judge things largely by others’ impressions, by popular favor. We go with the crowd. The most effective thing I have ever found in advertising is the trend of the crowd.
Wisdom of the crowd social proof
Hopkins was talking about what we now call wisdom of the crowd social proof. It is based on the idea that we follow the behavior of others based on the assumption their actions reflect correct behavior. The theory has its detractors. Mostly from expert opinion leaders.
A study of Amazon book reviews by The Harvard Business Review highlights the effectiveness of collective intelligence. It found that consumer reviews were every bit as reliable as those of professional critics. Turns out the average opinion of the crowd is a better filter of fringe opinions and bias than expert reviewers. It demonstrates the traits of relevance at work in the community of shared focus.
In his book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki covers this topic in depth. He notes the TV studio audience of Who Wants to be a Millionaire guesses accurately 91 percent of the time, while expert guesses are only 65 percent accurate.
Surowiecki summarizes the key elements of wise crowds:
- Diversity of opinion
- Independence of members from one another
- Good method for aggregating opinions
Why customer reviews are golden
Customer reviews and testimonials are becoming more important in consumer decision-making. According to a 2012 Local Consumer Review Survey 72 percent of consumers trust online reviews more than personal recommendations. Sixty-five percent of review readers view 2-10 reviews, and 58 percent trust a business with positive online reviews.
Combining wisdom of the crowd with customer reviews and testimonials can lead to a perfect storm of user generated content that drives conversions. Here are the online marketing takeaways for when they work best:
- They are specific. Vagaries don’t sell. Persuasive reviews hit on specific benefits or personal situations with quantifiable facts and results.
- They answer objections. When your user content raises and answers objectives it lends credibility you can’t match with your own message.
- They sound authentic. If it sounds insincere or cliché, it will work against you. Mom may be your greatest fan, but she probably won’t give you the most useful reviews.
- They embody the keys of relevance: authority, trust and affinity within your community of focus.
SOUND OFF: Tell me what you think. How are user generated reviews and testimonials working for you?