Welcome to our Intro to Social Proof series. In this collection of articles, we will be introducing and explaining key concepts relating to social proof, a.k.a. the process of your users influencing each other (in this case, to buy your products).
As Part 1 (and the kickoff) of our ongoing Social Proof series, this week we are diving into user-generated content, specifically user uploaded photos.
Shoppers who interact with user-generated content are 97% more likely to convert with a retailer than customers who do not.
The truth is that other customers are much better at selling your product than you alone. Many brands, especially highly image-conscious ones, are hesistant about opening the floodgates to the masses when it comes to their photography, however. Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons of having user-uploaded content and photos.
Authentic customer experiences
In an age of Photoshop and Instagram, having real customer photos is a badge of authenticity that isn’t something you can fake. Customers trust other customers to tell it like it is, from praising the product benefits to showing horror stories about broken shipments, chipping pigment, and frayed fabric. It shows that you are proud of your product, and unafraid of what customers say about it, because you have absolute faith in the quality.
A variety of customers
Chances are high that if you are selling products, you are using photography with a model of some sort. This is great for setting the tone and mood of your product, but customers are skeptical of how your product might work for them. With a variety of customers sharing their experiences, potential converts can compare to real people, which is much more relatable and persuasive.
You can get away with less product photography on your behalf if you offset it with user content. One or two great photos per product is enough when you have dozens of user photos to supplement it from every angle imaginable. If a customer provides a video that’s even better, as videos are very expensive to produce.
Chances are not every single one of your customers are professional photographers, and uploaded photos will reflect that. If you are very brand image conscious you might be sensitive to other people taking dark and cluttered photos of your product.
However, customers expect that user-uploaded content is going to be of less that professional quality. Again, it makes your brand seem more authentic if you let people upload their real experiences with your products, and if you heavily curate user reviews and photos, it can come across as fake.
In the age of Instagram, you might be surprised at how well people photograph your product if they are properly incentivized, such as with a contest or giveaway.
Actionable ways to take control of your user generated content
You can be explicit about what kind of photos you feature on your site, listing rules or guidelines for your selection process. You can even brand it, similar to how Urban Decay does (see below), and turn it into a campaign.
Curate, with a light hand
Don’t filter out the bad reviews by default, but if there is something completely inappropriate, feel free to remove it from your site.
Let your customers moderate
You can also leverage your audience to vet your user generated content for you. You’ve doubtless seen those “X people rated this review helpful”. Reviewers reviewing each other and keeping the community in check is a highly effective way to moderate your website. Your brand enthusiasts will jump in and defend your brand for you, especially if your product was improperly used or slandered.
Another way to encourage customer moderation and curation is to add a simple voting system such as hearts or likes. Many shoppers will strive to upload photos that gather the most votes, thus ensuring you receive photos of high quality.
Incentivize quality content
Run a contest or a giveaway on your site or Instagram. You can implement the customer moderation tactic of the voting system to let your participants choose your winner, or you can randomly pick one for an easier technical implementation.
Examples in action
Urban Decay has a hashtag campaign running where Instagram fans (dubbed UD Junkies) can tag their looks and be featured on the website. By framing it as an honor to have their photo selected, Urban Decay challenges their customers to use their products as creatively and flatteringly as possible.
Free People has a section titled FPMe which invites customers to upload their pics for votes and comments (an incentive to upload the best photo possible). Highly voted photos are pulled into the main site and featured under the brand product photography and description.
Black Milk has a hashtag-curated selection of user photos for their products. Their automated system creates hashtags for each product and they go through by hand to select the best composed ones to supplement their product photography.
Langly was an obvious choice for user-uploaded photos, as they specialize in making camera bags and backpacks. Langly runs a hashtag campaign and hand selects photos to feature with their products.
Ringly has a small product line of wearable tech jewelry, and a lovely “How Others Wear It” section featuring user Instagram photos and their hashtags. This is particularly well designed because it spells out the user hashtags but doesn’t explicitly link to them, providing uploaders with exposure but making it a little difficult to immediately click off their site and get distracted.
When to avoid user-uploaded photos
Make sure you have a realistic understanding of how many people will upload photos of your products. This approach may not fit with every single brand. These campaigns work best when your customers are creative and motivated.
For example, a women’s lingerie brand might be a little too personal for women to feel comfortable about uploading photos.
Another example is if you have a high volume of products, or a high rate of new products added. You will need to design your user-uploaded photo section so that it can still look elegant (or hide completely) if there are only one or two user photos per product. Customers might get a bad impression if all of the products they are shopping through have empty sections without any user photos.
As you can see, the most successful user-uploaded photography programs use social communities to encourage each other to upload the highest quality photos possible.