Instead of creating content, we should be creating opportunities for content creation: instagrammable moments, inspiring experiences.

And instead of broadcasting, we should create opportunities for conversation.

Audiences are in control of their own digital story. Businesses are no longer in the driving seat but instead must adopt the role of navigator, cleverly guiding the user’s journey, but ultimately remaining vulnerable to the whimsy of the consumer.

The expression ‘content is king’ has become something of an industry cliche and, like all good cliches, it’s true as a blue sky is blue.

For years content marketing has been gaining traction – according to Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 Benchmark, Budgets and Trends report, 86% of businesses now use content marketing and of those, 70% are creating more content than they did a year ago.

But the definition of content marketing is evolving. It’s no longer just about “creation and distribution” but focuses on value, relevance and consistency to “attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

What drives content is also changing. The CMI report found that 78% of B2C companies are planning to use user generated content (UGC) in their marketing strategies this year – last year, the practise wasn’t even included in the report.

UGC is not a new concept, but it is snowballing to become the most powerful tool digital marketers have at their disposal. UGC is the modern version of talking over the garden fence – nothing brands can create themselves can even compare to the basic human love of gossip, and themselves.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s have a look at the facts:   

Peer recommendations above sales spiel

A recent study by Reevoo found that 70% of consumers place peer recommendations and reviews above professionally written content. This is a pretty sweet deal for many brands – all you have to do is be good at what you do, create a space for your customers to talk about you, engage with them back, and the rest will follow.

The psychology of social proof is also a pivotal part of content marketing – people are automatically drawn to a product or service that they know others already engage with and trust.

Airbnb reviews have increased by 140% over the past year, showing the alternative hotel company’s explosive popularity, and proving that even a stranger’s opinion is more valuable than a company’s sales messaging.  

Mass takeover

According to Mary Meeker’s 2015 internet trends report, UGC is exploding across all media platforms. Facebook users watch more than four billion videos a day, up 33% from last year.

Youtube gaming also means huge business – Youtube gamer, PewDiePie, who publishes himself playing video games, makes $7.4 million a year and has more than 37.7 million subscribers.

Users are increasingly the first source for news via social media platforms such as Twitter, considerably changing the role of the intrepid reporter.

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Gaming companies are really embracing UGC, with fantastic results. Players can create their own content, expressing their creativity while keeping the game fresh. Nintendo’s Mario Maker does this particularly well, allowing players to create 2D Mario levels, indulging fan fantasy and creating more engagement around the game.

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Because social says so

A third of young British folk felt social media would influence their vote in the past General Election, not because the political parties had become more savvy with their social presence (although of course they had), but because young people are more likely to be influenced by what their friends are doing.

More than 1 million people clicked the ‘I voted’ button on Facebook, of them, the majority were aged between 25 and 35.

Studies found people were more likely to click the button if their peers had, regardless of whether they actually voted. UGC takes advantage of the power of the collective, and smart marketers will react to trends by creating opportunities for users to tell their own version of the story.

So why is UGC so powerful?

Because it’s centred around you.

We can see it in the rise and rise of Instagram and the self-made stars it creates. In the 75% year on year increase in Pinterest pin creation, and the fact that over 65% of Snapchat’s 100 million daily users are taking photos and creating ‘stories’ of their lives.

As marketers, instead of creating content, we should be creating opportunities for content creation – instagrammable moments, inspiring experiences. And instead of broadcasting, we should create opportunities for conversation – live communities of digitally-savvy warriors, engaging with your brand from various corners of the globe.