"Billions and billions served."
"America's favorite mascara."
"Kid tested, mother approved."
What do these famous advertising slogans have in common? They all appeal to the psychological concept of social proof. When we humans hear that lots of people like something, it makes us want to check it out, too.
But there's an even more powerful form of social proof, one that doesn't come from a marketing department brainstorming session or an advertising agency with an eye-popping monthly retainer:
User reviews. They're the ultimate form of social proof marketing. With user reviews, potential customers don't have to take your word for it: they can hear about your products and services straight from the people who have actually used them.
When applied correctly, user reviews can add some serious oomph to your content marketing. But how do you incorporate user reviews in a unique way that makes prospective buyers truly respond to them?
Tell a story
In 2012, Pepsi turned 21-year-old basketball star Kyrie Irving into Uncle Drew, an old-school street hoops legend in his seventies. Uncle Drew starred in a three-part web series that mostly featured the young-but-old-looking NBA player embarrassing hapless opponents on the basketball court. In later episodes, Drew recruits his old friends to teach the newer generation how to "get buckets", while viewers learn about Drew's on-court glory from decades past.
The premise: zero-calorie cola Pepsi Max is disguised (as a real cola), just like Uncle Drew.
What does this have to do with soda? That's beside the point — the value of the campaign is in the story it tells: an old timer whose best days appear to be behind him visits the courts and winds up ruthlessly crossing and dunking on "young bloods". The public was captivated: the series racked up over 80 million views on YouTube and a treasure chest of advertising awards.
Like the tale of old Uncle Drew raining down buckets on unsuspecting street ballers, you can turn your user reviews into a story that resonates with your audience. All you have to do is apply an age-old storytelling model called Freytag's Pyramid:
When you present your user reviews in story form, you make them exponentially more interesting and relatable. Instead of a case study, take your user reviews and turn them into a "case story".
Here's how: Pick one or more users and write a blog post or email newsletter about their use of your product or service. Tell people who the person is and what they do (exposition), the challenge they faced before they became a customer (rising action), why they became a customer (climax), and how their life changed for the better after they did (falling action and denoument).
Try to tell most of the story with quotes from the customers themselves, but don't be afraid to speak from your company's perspective here and there. And remember, you're not writing War and Peace — you may be able to leave out most or all of the exposition, and you should get through each part of the pyramid a lot more quickly than Shakespeare or Aeschylus ever did.
With some creativity and planning, you can turn a ho-hum user review into a captivating story.
Use "native" user reviews
The native advertising debate continues to rage: some deride the practice of publishing promotional content next to journalistic pieces as unethical, while others argue that it adds value for consumers and is much less annoying than banner ads or pop-ups.
With spending on native advertising continuing to increase, why not take the same concept and apply it to user reviews? Don't restrict your user reviews to the standard system with a star rating and a quick blurb — instead, match them to other formats you're already using in your content marketing.
- Have a previous customer write a guest post on your company blog that provides a more in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of your offering
- Allow a customer to appear as a guest on your podcast to talk to others about their experience with your services
- Let a customer write an article or section of your monthly newsletter that explains why they decided to work with you
Of course, these native user reviews might be harder to get than a star rating and two quick sentences. There's absolutely nothing unethical about offering a small reward or compensation for a customer to provide something like this, as long as they are allowed to be honest and talk about the good and bad parts of their experience with you.
Speaking of which…
Accept the good with the bad
Despite what you or your charismatic VP of Sales might tell customers, your company and its offering are not perfect.
I know, it's a tough pill to swallow. But it's true. There's not a single successful company out there that hasn't made some mistakes in the past, and many of them have involved customers. With the high level of authenticity that user reviews bring also comes a high level of honesty. If customers experience a problem or your team makes a mistake with them, there's a good chance they will mention it in their review.
And that's perfectly fine.
Why? Transparency. Customers have never appreciated being lied to, but thanks to the power of the Internet, today's buyers can find out if they have been deceived in a matter of seconds. And once they find out they've been lied to, you've likely lost their business forever — not to mention any chance of acquiring their friends or family members as customers. It's not worth it.
Instead of trying to sweep your missteps under the rug, embrace them. Acknowledge that a mistake was made, apologize, and talk about how you are trying to make things better.
In Extreme Trust, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers explain the importance of trust in business:
"As standards for trustability continue to rise, the companies, brands, and organizations shown to lack trustability will be punished more and more severely."
By being transparent when your user reviews contain something negative, you show that you care about your customers and establish your brand as a trustworthy one — and consumers would much rather do business with a trustworthy, imperfect company than a dishonest one.
Authenticity + Originality = Powerful User Reviews
Don't let one of your most powerful forms of content waste away at the bottom of your page, tucked into a tiny box. With some innovative thinking, great customer relationship-building, and a willingness to be transparent, user reviews can give your content marketing a real boost.
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