In four years, the number of Instagram users skyrocketed to 300 million. Each day, 70 million photos are uploaded to the platform. In a year, that totals 26 billion images.

This story first appeared in the March 20, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

It’s a staggering amount of content.

“The intense velocity of consumer content hitting the Web is really hard for any brand to ignore today,” said Nicole Tiberia, director of brand strategy, beauty and luxury, at Olapic. “We can’t turn a blind eye to it, and, certainly, consumers are demanding more content.”

Thanks to this tidal wave of photos, brands are now understanding the power of user-generated content and how it can be utilized in visual marketing. According to an Olapic study, 63 percent of people prefer and trust consumer photos over brand photos. “Authentic content really guides their purchasing decisions,” Tiberia said.

For its part, Lancôme started a social campaign called #LancomeLovesLips, where users uploaded photos of themselves wearing their favorite lipstick shades and tagged the posts. Lancôme used the photos in e-mail marketing campaigns, livestreamed them to a landing page on the Web site, started a Pinterest board and more.

“The opportunity is in the willingness of the consumer to cocreate your brand,” said Alessio Rossi, vice president of interactive marketing and e-commerce for Lancôme Paris. “This is revolutionary. These people are taking the time to come to you with their own point of view.”

Lancôme has proof of the power of user-generated content. In a few months, the brand will launch a new product in the U.S. that is already available in some European countries. “[The product] is the second most searched term on the U.S. Web site,” said Rossi, “without us telling absolutely anything about it.”

 

But it doesn’t stop with social. Tiberia predicts the ways that brands utilize user-generated content will continue to expand. Already, West Elm prints photos in its catalog and incorporates them into advertising. “One area that we anticipate really picking up speed is syndication,” she said. “For a brand like Lancôme, they are taking their content and sharing it with retailers because, just as you’d want to share a text review, why wouldn’t you want to share your visual content?”

Rossi agrees. “Customers may be loyal to a brand, but they are not loyal to a retail channel,” he said. “The more you take the content that is generated and display it across the touch-points, then you increase the chances of narrating your story and keeping consumers engaged.”

Moving forward, Tiberia also expects brands to feature user-generated content more prominently on their Web sites, particularly on the homepages. She added, “Having user-generated content front and center is very much the brand saying, ‘We believe in our user, we love to celebrate them.’”

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