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The Numbers Tell All: The Future of E-commerce Marketing is Visual, User-Generated Content

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Both visual content and user-generated content (UGC) are commonly cited nowadays for their powerful influence on purchase behavior.

Both visual content and User-Generated Content (UGC) are commonly cited nowadays for their powerful influence on purchase behavior. It only makes sense that the “next big thing” in E-commerce be the convergence of the two forms.

Visual content assets are easier for the brain to decode than text, they drive better engagement than other formats on social media, and they’re especially great for maximizing emotional impact.

There’s nothing like seeing a product being enjoyed by an actual person to drive home the idea that a product can make audience members’ lives better.

UGC, meanwhile, allows E-commerce merchants to build trust with site visitors by showcasing the authenticity of their products’ usefulness. The Internet can be a scary place for consumers, and seeing real people’s expressions of positive sentiment over their purchases can be a major game-changer.

In the form of testimonials, reviews, ratings and comment threads, UGC addresses E-commerce marketers’ needs to amplify social proof and to manage their shops’ reputations.

Related Article: How To Make Content Marketing Work in a Boring Industry

Celebrating Unlocked Accomplishments

And then along came the selfie, arguably the ultimate social media expression of humble-bragging about our accomplishments.

With selfies, we publicly celebrate what we’ve achieved, whether it’s a place we merit to visit, a person we happen to meet, a dish we’re about to devour or a product we’re thrilled to acquire.

By posting photos we take of ourselves in these situations, we’re telling the world that the elating experiences captured in the frames are significant manifestations of our identities.

Google Trends Web Search Interest Unboxing Graph
Google search volume for “unboxing” over time, according to Google Trends

There are more trends in visual UGC that lend themselves well to boosting E-commerce sales. The rising popularity of “unboxing” videos document the ritual of receiving and dismantling the packaging in which highly-anticipated merchandise has finally arrived.

Lowered barriers to entry for self-publishing via vlogs, forums and reviewing platforms mean that “everyone’s a critic” indeed.

Related Article: 4 Interactive Ways to Make Your Business More Engaging

Visual UGC Gaining Momentum

Over time, we’re seeing more and more big brands emphasizing UGC in their publishing, we’re seeing more and more trust for authentic UGC among audiences, and we’re seeing more and more citizen uploaders creating and disseminating visual assets. As a result of the trend, a new ecosystem of visual UGC marketing tech products has begun to flourish as well.

Yotpo, a UGC management and promotion platform, for example, empowers E-commerce marketers to leverage customer visuals for adding impact to offsite marketing and for amplifying trust among onsite visitors.

Rock On Site Preview
Yotpo Reviews Plugin

When the startup was founded in 2011, the focus was purely on textual testimonials.

Today, the platform offers a diverse suite of solutions for E-commerce marketers seeking to leverage the business potential of visual UGC under a unified platform. And yes, that potential is formidable.

Social media trends among teens graphic
Popularity of visual social media among millennials

Visual social networks like Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, Snapchat and Tumblr are among the most used and have some of the most quickly growing user bases.

The bigger platforms that are not exclusively visual, moreover, are now emphasizing visual content more. Facebook and Twitter are each experimenting with their own video platforms, for example. Even LinkedIn is trying to get in on the action, with its recent obscure #workselfie campaign.

At the heart of this trend is the ubiquitous availability of Internet connectivity and quality photography. Thanks to meteoric smartphone market penetration, it’s easier than ever for us to snap and post.

Two-thirds of young adults use their mobile cameras every other day or more, with over three-quarters posting these images for their networks to enjoy.

Millennials Smart Phone Usage graphic
: Smartphone camera use among millennials

Amplifying Borrowed Credibility

Following a landmark 2013 study of American adult behavior online, Forrester determined that the best way to increase trust via online publishing is UGC. Here are some of the most eye-opening stats from the Forrester report:

  • 70 percent consider brand or product recommendations from their existing social circles to be trustworthy.
  • 46 percent consider online reviews posted by other customers to be trustworthy
  • 10 percent consider banner ads on websites to be trustworthy.
  • 9 percent consider direct messages from companies to be trustworthy.

A more recent study from BrightLocal found that people are increasingly turning to online reviews to assess business reputations.

Today, some 92 percent of consumers check out online reviews whether regularly or occasionally, compared to 88 percent in 2014.

Online customer review graphic
Rising attention for online reviews over time

Leveraging those Relationships

E-commerce marketers are still in the process of figuring out how to leverage all of this great third-party content to build social proof, trust and rich product discovery experiences.

It has huge implications when it comes to advertising techniques, advocacy programs and content syndication. In the meantime, the data shows that our opportunities are only growing.

“Our customers love sharing pictures of themselves in our products,” says Pura Vida Bracelets CEO and co-founder, Griffin Thall, who uses the Yotpo platform to compile and promote community posts.

“Now that they can easily add these images to their reviews, we're able to collect tons of written and visual content from them. This really adds value to the visitor experience on our site.”

Encouraging visual posts among customers and promoting collections of these assets is just the tip of the iceberg, though. E-commerce marketers can now use visual UGC to create personalized, dynamic advertising on social networks, for example, and can identify and engage with top advocates via gamified reward programs.

Related Article: The Science of Selfies: Why Narcissism Sells in 2015

Getting Started with Visual UGC

With social commerce development on the rise this year, we can expect plenty of new innovations over the months ahead. The principles at play, however, are relatively established. It’s all about emphasizing emotions, trust, social proof and lifestyle contexts for maximum impact on owned properties, social media and search.

Superior ecommerce marketing in 2016 requires that merchants develop, engage with and amplify communities of visual UGC advocates.

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