Sharing the mic: How user inspired content redefines influencer marketing

by Kevin Knight, CMO, Experticity

Marketers are too focused on who’s behind the camera when they should be focused on who’s in front of the camera.

User generated content is a good start to the problem marketers face with growing consumer distrust, which is why it’s become such a big part of current trends like influencer marketing. UGC is a bit more authentic than typical content and serves as a way for a brand to connect with consumers in a more relatable way. Instead of using a celebrity like Eva Longoria, they’re using someone who seems just like you and me. In theory, this is great, but when brands elect for UGC coming from influencers who have a lot of followers, both the relatability and the authenticity of the content run the fine line between ad and advocacy.

To be clear, UGC is a good tactic, and it can absolutely work. But it only represents one side of a two-sided coin. A big part of UGC’s appeal – particularly when used with influencer marketing – is that the content users create is distributed organically to those users’ social audiences. Organic distribution can feel more authentic than paid distribution, but when brands overly fixate on the size of a person’s audience, they risk missing out on the other — the more powerful — side of the user content coin, which is user inspired content.

The difference between user generated content and user inspired content is as simple as who clicks the shutter button, but what it communicates to the consumer is significant: With UGC, the emphasis is on the content creator and with UIC, the emphasis is on the story being told. And there’s a special kind of magic that happens when a brand tells a real story, using real people, who influence other real people every day.

When brands stop focusing on how many followers a person has, they widen their net and discover potent user stories that would otherwise not show up on their radar. These storytellers are more authentic and relatable advocates, and therefore more powerful — regardless of how many followers they have. Authentic distribution may reach a large audience, but UIC overcomes modern advertising’s headwinds, satisfying consumers’ need for authenticity. Besides, brands can achieve reach through a combination of paid, owned, and earned channels – so user inspired content doesn’t have to be reach-limited.

Brands like Yeti get this. It’s why they’ve invested in their Yeti Stories, content that puts the user front and center. My favorite is the story of Tootsie, an 81-year-old woman who takes care of the grounds of a Texas high school by day, and one of Texas’ most popular BBQ pits by night. Yeti found Tootsie and decided to tell her story – and instead of peddling a product, they let Tootsie’s day-to-day speak for itself. I’m willing to bet that if you needed ideas on how to keep your meat fresh or make pulled pork perfection, you wouldn’t think twice about asking this 50-year BBQ veteran for her advice. It doesn’t matter that she probably has no idea what the word Instagram means: You trust her.

That trust is what led outfitter Filson to their Way of Life series, where they profile “ordinary” people — people we wouldn’t usually expect to find in a marketing campaign. One such story is of the U.S. Forest Service’s elite group of smokejumpers, firefighters who parachute into remote areas to combat wild fires. Filson sent storyteller Charles Post and photographer Cole Barash to Redmond, Oregon, to profile this group and their lifestyle as smokejumpers. While Charles and Cole have close to 100,000 Instagram followers between them, Filson didn’t send them gear with the agreement that they’d post images wearing the items. Instead, Filson went right to where the story is, and Charles and Cole helped facilitate the more authentic content — user inspired content — for Filson, which the brand then posted to its owned channels.

When we only focus on the way content is distributed, we’re simply treating a symptom of a larger problem. By focusing on creating content that people actually want to listen to, or read about, or watch, we’re tapping into credible advocacy marketing that stays true to your brand. Truth is, organic stories are more powerful than organic reach.

As brands get better at identifying and nurturing authentic relationships with the people who already love their products, metrics like follower count cease to matter. If, as a brand, you pass your mic to an influencer, then you ultimately cede the consumer relationship to influencers, too. And that’s a big risk to take considering the large investment you’ve made in cultivating followers and reach via your own channels, your paid media, and your PR efforts.

Instead, provide your advocates — people like Tootsie or Charles Post and the Smokejumpers — with a mic. Their story leads, your brand plays the supporting role, and the consumers believe the UIC, because it’s real.

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