UGC or EGC, that is the question…

In the cut-throat world of online retail, everyone is talking about user generated content (UGC). As the online space becomes increasingly crowded and consumer mindshare harder to retain, many retailers have found opportunity in social media. It’s easy to see why. Customers are spending less time on retailer websites and more time chatting and sharing with their friends on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

UGC is made when a customer becomes the creator of a brand’s engaging online content. It can happen when, for example, they talk about a product on a video or share their recommendations through a post on social media. Through this engagement, many loyal customers become brand advocates, eager to share their experiences and new purchases with friends and family

Retailers ignore this phenomenon at their peril. When used correctly, UGC offers unlimited access to customers’ positive sentiment and promotion in a form that users inherently trust. A survey of Millennials by research house L2 found that 59 per cent of respondents viewed UGC as an honest evaluation of a product or service, higher than any form of paid advertising or promotion. In-house created, airbrushed content of strangers modelling products matters in broad stroke marketing but it might not speak as directly to the individual customer. UGC on the other hand, represents an authentic customer journey that opens a two-way conversation between customer and brand, with a trusted friend and advocate acting as the go-between.

However, UGC is only one part of the wave of new content hitting online retail. Its lesser known but closely related cousin, employee generated content (EGC), must also take some credit.

EGC is simply online brand content created by the employee instead of the customer. Usually created with the encouragement and curation of the brand, EGC typically ends up more controlled than UGC and arguably less authentic. However, customers still like to see brands act like them and engage them on their level. Far from being a retailer’s pale imitation of UGC, EGC has its own special purpose.

Where EGC truly excels is as a form of ‘lo-fi’ but highly engaging content. What do I mean by lo-fi? Unlike traditional, professionally produced content, EGC doesn’t require a high-end photographer with a price tag to match. On a basic level, all a retailer really needs to create EGC is an enthusiastic employee, a smartphone camera and a Snapchat filter or two.

Though low cost is certainly a benefit of EGC, the speed and turnaround of its production shouldn’t be forgotten. In modern retail, where fashions change at the drop of a hat and where a piece of professionally produced content can take months to prepare, agility is a killer advantage.

Consider the world of fast fashion. A brand like Missguided thrives because it can have a new item created and available for sale in a matter of days, while traditional retailers typically plan six months to one year in advance of a particular season. Yet how do you market a product launch to a largely young, easily distracted audience with so little time? The answer is with EGC. A photo of an employee wearing the latest release, taken in minutes and posted on Instagram can reach over two million of Missguided’s followers that same day. That’s an audience few other forms of content can reach so quickly.

Ultimately, it shouldn’t be a battle between UGC, EGC or any other form of content when a retailer plans their customer engagement strategy. Every variety has its place and utility in moving the customer journey forward. What matters is your ability to learn to use all the tools in your content toolbox effectively, and to deploy them when and where they count most.

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