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UGC (user-generated content) marketing is an appealing yet often underutilized marketing strategy. On the surface, UGC sounds like a great proposition: It's free, earned content that leverages consumers and influencers (customers or not) to advocate on a brand's behalf. The bigger the brand, the more content and the greater the reach.

But for marketers looking to capitalize on UGC for smaller clients or companies, it's easier said than done. Let's face it: Sometimes, your client or company doesn't have a well of thousands of influencers or even consumers to tap. Perhaps it's a fledgling brand or a bootstrapped startup. Maybe the funds aren't there to kick off a massive influencer marketing campaign. If you're a marketer in 2017, chances are you've been there.

Enter CGC (customer-generated content)—a form of social proof, as it has come to be known.

By harnessing the voices of people who are already customers, marketers can turn those customers into advocates. Better yet, these advocates are already familiar with the brand and messaging you're trying to promote.

Interested in kicking off a CGC strategy? Here's how to gain social proof in the form of customer reviews.

Use customer reviews to stockpile CGC

Collecting fair, accurate customer reviews and displaying them prominently is a marketer's first step toward an effective CGC strategy. Reviews offer a powerful way to capture content and use that content to your advantage.

Besides, reviews come with other benefits, too: Fully 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, and 58% consider a star rating essential for a business, a Brightlocal survey found; moreover, almost 70% of consumers say they need to read a minimum of four online reviews before they can trust a business, the same survey found.

So, while marketers are building up a good CGC stockpile, they're helping the brand in the process.

Use a third-party, independent review platform

A brand's reputation and ratings are only as strong as the platform its customer reviews are built upon. After all, what good is a customer review if nobody is reading and buying into it?

Today's marketers are savvy, but so are today's consumers. The second they start questioning the validity of those reviews, the CGC battle has been lost and you've potentially done serious harm to the brand's reputation. Choose a platform with a third-party profile page to show you're not manipulating reputation.

Be consistent

With your ask, that is. Trustpilot, a global online review community with more than 30 million reviews of 160,000 businesses, found that companies that actively invite their customers to review their experience not only received more reviews but also earned more genuine, authentic feedback. That's exactly the kind of feedback that potential customers value when making purchasing decisions.

Companies that proactively asked for reviews also, on average, received 83% positive feedback. And for negative feedback? Simply responding and addressing the concern is enough to bring 95% of unhappy customers back to your business.

Be authentic

Marketers, it's not just your reputation on the line, but also that of your client or brand. By flagging or deleting negative customer reviews, you're breaking an unspoken bond between the brand and the public—and that bond is built on trust. It's not a matter of whether you'll get caught... but when.

Today's consumers can spot a fake, and third-party review platforms like Trustpilot have built robust systems and compliance staff to spot them on consumers' behalf. Furthermore, it's not uncommon for review platforms to impose penalties and even remove you from their platform for violating negative review policies.

Flagging, reporting, or deleting negative reviews also has a negative impact on your CGC strategy. Customers may be wary and potentially lose trust in the brand if all they see is page upon page of glowing, five-star reviews. No brand is 100% perfect. And there's no need to fear a negative review; plenty can be done to win that customer back—and other customers in the process.

Integrate CGC for added benefits

Smart marketers harness reviews across multiple campaigns. Digital marketing, advertising, print, SEM, are all conducive to CGC success.

Rich-snippets stars, which show up on search engine results pages (SERPs) as a result of reviews, can lead to a 10-20% increase in click-through rates (CTR), Econsultancy has found.

Reviews can also help businesses qualify for Google Seller Ratings, an automatic extension in Google AdWords that can lead to higher CTRs.

Reviews are a form of UGC that can lead to measurable and impactful gains. They not only provide a more authentic way of marketing but also affect the KPIs that really matter to businesses.

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How to Boost Your Content Marketing With Social Proof: Customer Reviews

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Trustpilot is a global online review community bringing the power of trust and transparency to the Internet economy. The company empowers consumers to make smarter purchasing decisions while enabling companies to grow their brands by harnessing the power of consumer reviews.