Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with the co-founder and CEO of Yotpo, Tomer Tagrin, to discuss his thoughts on trends and key drivers of user generated content (UGC) and social proof in the ecommerce space. The following interview contains excerpts taken from our wide-ranging discussion.
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Social proof seems to be a major buzzword in the ecommerce space these days. What’s your definition of the concept, and how does it play into ecommerce and UX best practices?
Social proof is something that we spend a lot of time thinking about at Yotpo, because it doesn’t just exist online; it impacts consumers everywhere. Think about how you found out about a new bakery or coffee shop in your area, or a time when you needed a service from a local business. Typically, you seek out and appreciate recommendations from people you trust — that’s social proof in action.
The same phenomenon exists in ecommerce, as retailers compete for consumer attention and acquisition costs continue to rise. Consumers want to make conscious and smart decisions, and in order to do that, they need to be informed. Social proof gives them the information they’re looking for. In a world where eCommerce and product information are continually expanding, aggregating and displaying social proof to consumers is the best way to stand out and differentiate.
What are the primary types of user-generated content (UGC), and how does Yotpo as a solution fit into the overall UGC landscape?
Yotpo’s history is based on the fact that we felt that user experience was broken from a consumer standpoint. We spent a lot of time developing the technology to completely revamp how consumers communicate with brands and retailers. Once we had the technology as a platform foundation, we were able to offer many avenues to collect user-generated content, regardless of where the communication was occurring online. This allowed us to generate much more content for our customers — everything from reviews, to ratings, to photos and Q&A.
When we spoke with our customers, we learned how and why different types of UGC are important to them, for example, Q&A, where customers and shoppers can ask and answer questions in a community setting. We expanded our capabilities to create this conversation and foster a sense of community.
Another place where businesses can collect and share content is on social channels. They help companies generate more organic visual content, like photos. When a customer leaves a review through Yotpo, they can also upload a photo. The retailer can then leverage that photo and share it on their website, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, etc.
It was important to us that our customers have a single platform to collect, manage, and measure the performance of all of this content. Yotpo uses one platform that both creates new customer experiences for our customers’ customers through user-generated content, and manages the data and analytics that monitor how customers interact with a business’s site and content.
Many e-retailers are seeking to or have already begun to enable UGC functionality like ratings and reviews on their sites, but often have trouble identifying where to invest. What are your initial recommendations for a retailer just getting started with UGC?
We’ve been fortunate to have a front row seat as the biggest brands and smartest marketers think about UGC in new ways. The starting point for effective UGC is a group of happy customers. You need that core group of brand enthusiasts, and then you need to understand their behavior.
There are a number of ways you can leverage content from those happy customers, depending on the type of business and the target audience. For visually driven fashion or food & beverage brands, photos and other visual content is extremely important. For companies that are less visually focused, like a technology or electronics retailer for example, things like ratings and reviews become more critical.
It’s important to understand that, regardless of your business type, gathering user-generated content is a must in today’s world. It’s no longer a question of if you should use it. It’s a question of how you should use it.
How has the increasing prevalence of mobile commerce affected UGC programs and best practices?
I would say that the most expensive real estate in the world, even more than 5th Avenue in New York, is actually on your phone. Consumers are only able to install a very limited number of apps on their phones due to space and data constraints. It’s very difficult for companies to convince consumers to not only download an app, but then to actually use and interact with it regularly.
We see that a lot of consumers do extensive research on their desktop computers — browsing, reading reviews, Q&A, and price comparison shopping. They might be doing this at work, so on the train home, when they take out their phones, it’s super important that the mobile site for these stores offer a consistent experience. This is also true when integrating a UGC program. It’s very important to provide the same experience on web and mobile, because today’s consumer is using more devices than ever.
Amazon’s sales keep reaching new highs, what should retailers do to stay in the game?
We spend a lot of time thinking about Amazon and how the future of content is going to look. And we think Amazon will have the same effect on the commerce world as they did on the publishing world. This means that 10 years from now, there is going to be a divide between Amazon and the rest.
Right now, retailers can’t compete with Amazon on price or fulfillment. The only thing they can compete with Amazon on is building an experience and building a brand. Building something that consumers care about, that they’ll talk about, and that is unique to their business is crucial. The craft of building a brand is even more important than the products themselves.
As business owners and marketers, we need to consistently think about how we can reinvent ourselves, and how we can get consumers to care about us – not by marketing ourselves, but by marketing what our customers say about us. We need to capture happy customers’ experiences. This is why Yotpo has spent the past few years working with the Facebooks, Instagrams, Googles, Twitters, and Pinterests of the world to think of new and innovative ways for companies to market their customer experiences. Traditional marketing won’t work anymore, unless you want Amazon to eat your lunch. You need to build your brand.
Can you speak to the idea of brand communities, and how UGC contributes to them?
As the best brands shift heavily in favor of online growth, they also continue to collect and pay attention to content from their customer communities. We’re seeing companies capture customer experiences in the form of photos, Q&A, etc. Not only does sharing and seeing content help bond brand communities, hearing from customer communities through all these channels also allows companies to better understand what their customers want and to refine their offerings again and again. This kind of insight is invaluable for improving your brand and keeping brand communities happy.
We’re launching a new product in 2018 that offers the ability to analyze user-generated content and to harness insights from customers. We’ve spent a lot of time with our data scientists and we’ve been trying to figure out how to take all the content users are generating and to digest it and return it to the company with actionable insights for improving their web experience, their mobile experience, their shipping experience, etc. It’s a matter of understanding what’s working and what’s not working, refining your offering to get happy customers, capturing those happy customer experiences, marketing those experiences, refining your offering again, and doing that over and over again.
What do you see happening in the UGC space in 2018 and beyond?
I see three main things happening. All of them have to do with how UGC connects to other facets of your business.
The first is connecting UGC to tracked insights. It’s not enough to simply put UGC on your website, it has to be connected to something bigger that allows you to drill down into what your customers want.
The second thing is data and the use of AI and machine learning — and, of course, discovering what can be done with the data you have. That’s really one of our biggest pushes and one of the most important enhancements we’re working on — figuring out how AI and data can really impact the type of content you share with consumers, and how you can get consumers to generate more content.
And the third thing is increased consolidation. It doesn’t make sense now to have 5 or 6 different platforms. We’re making a point of offering everything in one platform, because it makes more sense from a customer experience standpoint and a user delivery standpoint.
Any last or closing thoughts about UGC and social proof?
The last thing I want to say is that the very best projects and campaigns we have worked on have happened in partnership with agencies like Gorilla Group. In a digital world that’s quickly evolving, I think it’s very important to work with partners that have the know-how and experience to implement and monitor solutions to see the best return on investment. It’s very hard to do everything by yourself, so we love recommending agencies that are truly working to help establish brands for the long-term.