6 Methods of Building User-Generated Content
The fanciful curlicues adorning the crockery from Boleslawiec, Poland—four hours northwest of Krakow by car—somehow make the dishes appear too delicate to survive much travel. So perhaps the first item readers notice on the testimonial page for Alexandria, Ohio-based Polish Pottery House is how well the company packages its precious cargo. It's these kind of intangible nuggets that businesses can capture through building user-generated content, which can translate to increased customer interaction and sales.
Cynthia Kowalkoski Boles of Polish Pottery House says after she hired Needham, Mass.-based customer feedback and e-mail marketing firm RatePoint in August 2008 and built her site's user-generated content, she saw sales conversions increase 10 percent.
"I didn't really know how my customers felt," she says. "And if they did have a problem, of course they would call the business. But you don't get a lot of feedback from other people, good or bad."
The CEO and co-founder of RatePoint, Neal Creighton, and Sam Decker, chief marketing officer of Austin, Texas-based social media marketing firm Bazaarvoice, provided more advice about how to gather user-generated content and what direct marketers can do with it once they've amassed it.
1. Ask for it. "Whenever you do a transaction with a customer, whether it's an online transaction or you have a Web presence and you're a landscaper and you've gone out and you've done their lawn, you should ask for a review of your business," Creighton says. For Polish Pottery House, RatePoint created e-mails for customer that led them to a landing page to provide specific reviews about that business.
RatePoint customer GoGreenSolar.com, a Los Angeles-based seller of environment-friendly energy products, credits its 20 percent growth in overall sales each month to the feedback. Company CEO Deep Patel calls high-end customers personally and asks them to fill out reviews. Then he plugs in the RatePoint widget—which carries the reviews—wherever he blogs or posts online.
2. Have continual campaigns or an in-place feedback process. Decker says Bazaarvoice first asks for reviews, then gives customers an "ask and answer" opportunity as well as a chance to tell their stories. In other words, customers who've written reviews receive "thank-you" messages that provide more questions. "We know that they own the product, and so it's very easy for them to answer these questions," he says.
3. Provide customers with feedback links and buttons throughout the Web site and in e-mails. "It needs to be easy for a customer to know how to do a review," Creighton says. "We do that through buttons. We do it through e-mails. Whether it's e-mail marketing or direct solicitations, we have testimonial pages that we build for businesses. But you need to do a variety of different things."
4. Provide incentives. A sweepstakes can jump-start user-generated review volume, which then can self-perpetuate, Decker says. San Diego-based PETCO was getting 10 to 20 reviews a day before the company launched a sweepstakes for a $50 gift certificate back in 2006. "They were going to give one $50 gift certificate away over an eight-week period. ... They [sent] an e-mail campaign out to their users, they promoted it on the Web site, [and] they had an 800 percent increase in review volume for not only that period of eight weeks, but even after the sweepstakes ended ... People start to see the reviews, and then when they buy the products, they know that they can go back and write reviews."
5. Pursue a multichannel approach. Decker's clients are putting requests for online reviews on customer receipts, shipping boxes and shopping bags. Loblaw, a Canadian grocer, had thousands of employees wear T-shirts announcing, "Come write reviews on our Web site."
6. Allow negative feedback. That's why this content is valued, Decker says. "[Customers] can feel like they've fully vetted the product right there without having to go to nine other Web sites."
Northbrook, Ill.-based children's bedroom furniture and accessories company, The Land of Nod, notes any products receiving reviews below four out of five stars. In the case of an ill-fated laundry hamper, The Land of Nod's product team made a change at the manufacturer level based on customer reviews and sent the improved product to everyone who complained about the old one. Then Land of Nod removed the old product and replaced it with the one that customers improved. "We see that as a big trend," Decker says.