Making the Most of User Generated Content [Podcast Episode]

Amanda Milligan
By Amanda Milligan
October 13, 2020

User generated content is popular because it’s benefitted multiple companies’ growth.

 

But how can you utilize it for your brand?

Foti Panagiotakopoulos, founder of Growth Mentor, talks about how user-generated content grew his company and provides insights you can apply to your business.

 

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Want more advice on how to get the best content marketing ROI? Sign up for our monthly podcast newsletter to get exclusive access to bonus interview content and resources!

 

In this episode, you’ll learn:

    • The benefits of user generated content
    • How it can benefit every aspect of your marketing funnel
    • How customer success programs tie into UGC
    • How to encourage users to create content
    • How to repurpose UGC to maximize its ROI

Related links/resources:

Transcription:

Amanda: This week on the show, I am pleased to be joined by Foti Panagiotakapoulos. He is the founder of "Growth mentor", which is a site that helps people who need guidance on growing their companies to talk to experts. It's a very cool website. And we're going to talk about user generated content today, which we've not addressed on the show. And I think it'd be really useful. So, welcome to the show Foti.

Foti: Thanks for having me,

Amanda: Of course. So, before we jump in, can you talk a little bit about Growth Mentor? Because that's going to be kind of the case study we're zooming in on in this episode? 

Foti: Sure. So, Growth Mentor is a community slash marketplace platform where founders and marketers can book calls with vetted growth marketing, and startup mentors, and just kind of go over their growth challenges. They could talk wide; they could go deep. But the point is to just get a second perspective and bounce ideas off people that have that been there done that experience, because there's a lot of like nuanced things that you might not get from blog posts. So, like, nothing really beats that one to one sometimes.

Amanda: And this is a very bootstrapped endeavor, correct? So, when we're talking about how you were able to grow this company, this is very much using a lot of growth tactics that like literally you and a few others were implementing.

Foti: Yeah, this is completely bootstrapped. So, I mean, self-funded, but by the time we lost, like, all the runway was kind of gone. So, it was just surviving from the salary kind of thing. So, yeah, we had to be really lean and content turned out to be the best channel for us.

Amanda: Awesome. Yes. Let's talk about that. Before we go into exactly what you did, using user generated content. Let's start with the basics. How do you define user generated content?

Foti: Sure. Great question. So, user generated content is exactly that. It's like any content that's created by people specifically, like your users, instead of by your brand, right? Like a freelancer or an in house employee creating the content, it's created by your users. So, this could be like, even reviews or blog post contributions, it could take the format of video, a variety of different things.

Amanda: Okay. So, how did you use this concept of user generated content? Like when did you decide to start utilizing that and how did you use it to grow growth mentor?

Foti: Yes. So, it was decided really early on before the "Build of growth on tour", even began, I'm generally in SEO and content camp and have been for a very long time. So, it's something that I knew that if I was going to start my own startup, like the foundations of its growth would need to be an evergreen sort of lead generation channel, that would have to compound and build upon itself. And I realized that because it's a marketplace, and we're dealing with people on both sides, it's generally pretty, like there's a lot of opportunities to harness different touchpoints in the customer lifecycle to kind of get that content generated from the user. So, the way I like to view it, it's like, almost like a like a turbocharger on an engine, right. So, like, how that works is the exhaust is then piped right back into air manifest, and then it adds more boost to the engine, right. So, you're using your output, and you're pushing that back into the engine to make it even stronger, right. So, with growth mentor, like when people sign up as mentors, they all they have to fill an application. And on that application, there is a variety of different questions. What is like an out of the box idea pertaining to growth or describe yourself? What's your growth mindset, it means to use a variety of different questions that we can then use as a standalone piece of like roundup content at the end of the month to showcase the new mentors that were added each month. So, that's just one example of UGC. That's part of our systems.

Amanda: So, when we think about the perks of considering user generated content, one of them is obviously now you're just getting content supplied to you. You don't have to create it yourself. So, it's just having that resource. What other perks do you think there are?

Foti: The biggest perk that I can think of is the added conversion rate that it adds on all the other pieces of content that you create. I mean, I think there's like this, this one stat, like 84% of millennials say that UGC, on websites influences what they buy, and that's this trend that we're seeing, people don't trust brands anymore. So, by leveraging user generated content, you can drive like the bottom of the funnel. But, basically I think the coolest part of UGC is when you mix top of funnel UGC with bottom of funnel content as well.

Amanda: Okay, and are you able to measure that? Like, how are you able to know that it was the user generated content that made that difference?

Foti: We have different categories of user generated contents, we have one section called the advice, for example, and then we measure first click interaction, and then we just basically have our goals set up in the back of Google Analytics. And we see how many conversions that content pushed. So, it's just really basic stuff like just goal tracking.

Amanda: Do you have any other examples of how people can start thinking about ways to collect information from people? So, like, in your case, you said you had a form that people who are applying to be close mentors filled out? Are there any other ways you would recommend people consider collecting that type of information? Or prompting people to supply them? 

Foti: Yeah, I think that a good way would be by creating a Customer Success Program, you may be thinking, okay, customer success, what does that have to do with UGC? But I think it has a lot to do with it, because, essentially, the way I view customer success, it's like a social proof factory that you create. So, like the steps that we like to follow is we recently made a hire for a full time this time, Customer Success Agent. And what they do is, because we have a community on slack as well, it's after users have engaged both the first couple of calls, there's a one to one reach out, just to kind of like test the temperature and see how they're doing. And if there's any recommendations we can make. So, that like, what's the one interaction, and then when you do that in pitch, and you have real conversations with people that are successful using your service, you can then really easily ask them to do customer stories, right. And I think that that's a very high impact. Content move that pumped up brands could do, is add a customer story section to your site, because it's really not that difficult. You just have to have enough positive touchpoints with your users, just organize a zoom call, where you just interview them as how they're using your service, transcribe that call. And then boom, you've got a customer story where you can have an editor edit it for like, 30, 45 minutes, post it to your WordPress and if you're clever with your SEO on page as well. You could even potentially try position that customer story to rank for some actual, like, bottom funnel intent keywords or like maybe even problem specific keywords. Like how so and so SAS company increased conversion rate by 300%, right. Like, that could be the title.

Amanda: I think I just saw a growth mentor video like this, I think when you reached a certain number of calls. And I think I saw it was like a compilation of customers talking about how it's valuable to them. So, you are like practicing what you're preaching. 

Foti: Yeah.

Amanda: You do it yourself.

Foti: Which is very awesome by the way, those are really good because you get content, UGC, from various different users. And then you can make little compilation videos, right. They're so cool for social media, because they're engaged in making like 30 seconds. And it doesn't really sound like one person talking the whole time, right. So-

Amanda: Yeah, and that speaks to repackaging it too. So, not just using this information in one way, it's once you've collected it, you could probably use it in multiple ways, right. Like you even just said, okay, we made a video and then we move to social, like what other examples of that you have? Or how, when you collect this, how many different places do you actually end up using it?

Foti: It's quite a few places. So, for example, the customers story videos, we can repurpose them and use them as Facebook ads for remarketing, the mentor profile videos, is the same thing, that can be ads, we also have this thing that we launched on November called the summit, the growth mentor summit. So, imagine like a massive webinar with like, 50 speakers, right. So, like, all of that content was kind of caught up, repurposed, as well, for social and quite a few of those talks were transcribed and turned into blog posts. So, what we do is for the really, really good summit videos, which were effectively just presentations from select mentors on a Google Slides on a certain topic, like going really deep. And some of them like I looked at it, wow, this is really good. So, we transcribed them, and then just edited it out and contacted some of the mentors and said, hey, we've transcribed your talk for you. Here it is, do you mind if we publish it on the advice section? Which is like a separate editorial, like a blog just for content that the mentors want to create. So, that was one way that we leveraged, UGC, and  that kind of helped them out to make it super easy, because I think if you make things easy for your users, they're just much more highly to engage and to help you out with it. It's like a polite thing to do.

Amanda: Right. I mean, that's the case for almost anything in marketing, right? You want to make like the least amount of friction as possible to increase the chances people will actually take the action you want them to take. Yeah, I really like the idea of talking about if you have any more examples of, you know, in one way you had a built in, or you had them submit the questions as part of like the initial form, so they had to kind of give you that information of like you said, growth stories or the times they took risks. Is there any other way that people can solicit this information? If somebody's listening, and they're like, I don't even know how to collect this yet, what are the ways in which they can start building that kind of a mechanism to get this type of information?

Foti: Sometimes it's just a matter of sending out a broadcast email to your users and asking and saying, hey, we're open to guest posters, and as a thank you, we'll promote your blog post that you write all over social media, it helps obviously, if you have a lot of followers, and you can also mention the fact that they're going to get a default backlink, people tend to really like it, do follow backlinks could be an incentive. And I think it's important to take a step back and see if certain business processes that you already are doing are also kind of giving you content, but you're not really realizing or maybe there's an opportunity to easily add one more step that could help enable some sort of a collection mechanism. But generally speaking, like the best, the easiest form, as I was saying earlier, like what I think a lot of people should do is those customer stories. 

Amanda: Right. 

Foti: Yeah.

Amanda: Have you iterated at all? You've launched this since 2018?

Foti: Yeah, in September 2018, we officially launched.

Amanda: Have you been able to kind of use the same techniques you were using then now? Or have you iterated on it and kind of seen ways you can tweak it or improvements that you can make?

Foti: We've definitely iterated, it's more like, expanded on things and just added more different types of UGC that we're collecting. And we're just getting a little bit more creative as well with how to repurpose content, because I think it's more exciting to get the content and to just create it and post it. But then the act of thinking, alright, well, I posted it here. What can I do with this, if we cut it up and repurpose it on the core like, that's the time consuming kind of ground work, which a lot of people don't want to do. But I think that you could easily create a process manually, but I mean, it's part of the job to create processes for and then maybe delegate things to virtual assistants or interns to kind of keep that going.

Amanda: You're absolutely right, and that the first part isn't the fun part, and then a lot of it just falls off because it becomes a little more time consuming, at the very least time consuming to repurpose, repackage. And it's a really common topic in content, I think to make the most out of what you're doing, which helps you get buy in to do this sort of thing. If you can say, yeah, we're collecting this information, it might take a little more work, but also we're going to be able to use it in like, literally 10 different ways and for months or years. So, when you're talking about some kind of a process or something in order to distribute this, when you said you repurpose it for Quora, or Reddit, what does that look like?

Foti: Repurposing for Quora is taking snippets from your blog posts that answer specific questions that have high number of followers on Quora and just reposting it as an answer. So, one might worry, well, isn't that duplicate content, then? Because it's on my blog, and I'm posting a copy paste on Quora? It's not, if you're not doing the entire post. But let's just say that you are copy pasting your entire blog post on a Quora answer, because it was indexed first on your site, Google's not going to attribute that content, since Quora is the original source. So, I mean, Quora is a low lying, low lying fruit for his content repurposing from your blog, and it doesn't give you any do follow links. But just like those added no follows, they're also kind of signals to help with indexing as well.

Amanda: Right. There's always a debate over that. But recently, I think it's more accepted that no follow matters to a certain degree. 

Foti: Yeah. I think they're always kind of changing. 

Amanda: Are there any other like, low hanging fruit type of opportunities like that?

Foti: Do you mean like with cross promoting content?

Amanda: Yeah.

Foti: I mean, Medium is another big one. I mean, you can do the canonical thing, right. So, it gives you the page ownership content, but Medium, I mean, there's a lot of different micro communities, every single listener to this probably is in a completely unique situation, right. So, it's just about knowing your ICP and knowing where they kind of dwell.

Amanda: So, what do you suggest, a question I often ask on the show, is, if somebody had to get by and like you run this company, you can make whatever decisions you want and test things out. But if somebody wants to do this, and they have to report to somebody or get buy in from other teams, what do you think is the biggest mistake people make when they set out to do that? Like, what advice would you give to somebody who is trying to--?

Foti: Decide to get in? 

Amanda: Yeah.

Foti: So, here it's specifically, right. 

Amanda: Yeah. 

Foti: Yeah. So, I definitely harp on the very small marginal cost to create content, because it's literally free and it just requires some added cost to process at UGC, because UGC in its rawest form, sometimes, many times, I mean, at least in my case, it's not really that useful. So, you do need time to process it. But once you do, it's the gift that keeps on giving and consider putting  you on one column, how much money you actually have to spend hiring freelancers to create a plus grade content, because let's be honest, I like the days of getting by with B, D plus grade content, I think they're kind of over. It's very difficult to rank now, it's competitive. So, like, if you're going to invest the time and effort to do content, you want to do at a really high level, right. So, paying for that sort of content on a consistent basis, yeah, it's much more expensive. So, if you can kind of nail that automated content, row flu, it's something that does have exponential compounding effects. 

So, yeah, I mean, that's one way to kind of sell it on a higher level. But then, like, moving further down, like, how do you actually quantifiably show the effects of that, and I think that that's possible by just doing the basics on Google Analytics and writing it, you'd be surprised how many people just don't even like track goals, or the really basic stuff just by using the destination URL as the goal trigger, like, the thank you page. Of course, remembering to kind of going and looking at your first click attribution, meaning that all right, someone's coming from Google to your content, and then at some point they purchase, right. So, like, what was that first page, they landed on? Disregarding everything, all the steps that happen in between, because by just looking at the last click, like most of the times not going to really know, like, what that initial source was that they came in from? If it was from organic? And yes, so just having a good overview on like, the basics down on your attribution settings is super helpful, if you want to get buy in because you'll start seeing signs probably within the first two months if it's working or not. And it's good to share this model of successes.

Amanda: Absolutely. Do you think that all brands could benefit from user generated content and your case, you were saying it was platform, you're building a community, it really inherently makes a lot of sense to do it. But do you think it's something that's beneficial across the board, or that certain brands would benefit from it more than others?

Foti: I think that brands that companies that in their product or service, there's a human to human interaction would definitely help benefit from this. Because like, even if you don't have a community built in, or you don't have a very clear and obvious way, like Pinterest, right, like any social network on how to create user generated content at scale, like, you can always fall back on just leveraging customer stories and how people are using your service, which then, in turn can help you, at least in the ideation stage, think of what sort of solution pages you might be able to make her long tail landing pages you can make. So, I think that there's a lot to be said about UGC and how it can also inspire content, like ideation for new blog posts, basically leveraging the voice of the customer, it all comes back to your users, like, how are they using your product? Why did they stay with it? And to find out the biggest reasons why people love you, and just double down on those types of stories. And that's level of insight, you only really get when you talk to your customers as well. So, that needs to be like a built in loop in any business, I think if you want to get not just UGC, which is any sort of content marketing strategy to work, just that you're constantly on the customers also, and see what sort of pain points they're having, and how solving them using your products helps.

Amanda: Yeah, I think for people who haven't done this at all, that it's a great place to start by just talking to their customers. And like you said, highlighting those stories. Well, that's a very bottom of the funnel effort. Is this something that can be just as effective, more mid or top other examples of ways to use this type of content in order to just build brand awareness, for example, rather than trying to convert somebody who already knows who you are?

Foti: For sure. Yeah, brand awareness. I mean, one of the things that we're actually going to launch in the next site iteration, which is probably going to go live, next month is a section of the site called use cases. So, these are going to be pages, specifically talking about how people are using, real fans, for example, how to decides what keywords to use, right. Like for my keyword research. And then talking about how people are using Ralph mentor to get answers to that question, but at the same time, adding some value by giving some tips and so on on those pages. So, that's targeting a top of funnel concept, but it's also interlinking, how the product could be a solution as well. So, it's basically taking pain, if you could create UGC in order to attract top of funnel, problem aware, but solution not aware visitors, and then kind of introduce your solution, your product as a potential solution. I think that's like the ultimate sort of thing that you can do with UGC but it's quite difficult to do at scale.

Amanda: Yeah, it sounds like the best of both worlds, which it's rare for something to hit all those different targets for sure. 

Foti: Absolutely.

Amanda: But hey, if you can, there's an opportunity. Absolutely. So, knowing the objective of the show is to help people, marketers with their content initiatives, understand the value and get by in, who would you recommend being future guests on the show?

Foti: I would definitely recommend Benji Hyam, from Grow and Convert.

Amanda: Yeah. I've seen him on growth hackers, I've seen him around sharing all kinds of content advice.

Foti: Yeah. And his content is really good, I always subscribe with his concept of pain point SEO.

Amanda: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on the show and sharing your experience with user generated content.

Foti: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

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