When the Fort Wayne TinCaps printed the names of their then-6,000 Twitter followers on a special jersey in 2013, they got national praise.
ESPN’s official Twitter account said: “Followers of the @TinCaps aren’t just fans anymore. They are literally part of the team.”
That’s what user-generated content is all about. It includes fans and consumers in the process of creating and producing, so everyone is on the same playing field – sometimes literally – and it’s ushering in a new era of advertising in which users or consumers are becoming the most important members of any marketing team.
A survey published in 2012 by the global information and measurement company Nielsen found that 92 percent of consumers around the world say they trust casual word-of-mouth advertising above all other forms, marking an industry shift toward inclusion and authenticity as opposed to manufactured messages.
Take the TinCaps, for example. This year, the team continued using user-generated content by making jerseys featuring the usernames of their now-11,000 followers on Twitter for their annual Social Media Night on June 26.
With a combination of the user-generated jerseys, the regular Thirsty Thursday promotion and fireworks after the game, a record-breaking crowd of 9,015 went out to Parkview Field. The record didn’t last long; it was surpassed by the July 4 attendance of 9,182.
Michael Limmer, vice president of marketing for the TinCaps, said all aspects of Social Media Night’s promotion worked together for the perfect storm. But beyond special promotions, the team leverages user-generated content on a regular basis by asking fans to post photos on Twitter and Instagram, then sharing those posts on the field’s video board between innings.
As the end of the season approaches, Limmer said the TinCaps are working on more ways to bring fans into the game experience. The team is even making a new jersey for Fan Appreciation Day on Aug. 29 that will incorporate hundreds of Facebook profile pictures of fans who liked or commented on a post on the TinCaps’ Facebook wall between July 8 and Monday.
“We’re trying to use social media to reward people who like or follow us,” Limmer said. “We want to listen to them, and we feel like it’s our mission to make sure they have as much fun as possible.”
Even so, as anyone who manages social media for a business or organization knows, keeping up with the demands of a 24-hour network can be a grueling task, especially for a small marketing team.
Workers at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo have many animals to feed on a regular basis. But Cheryl Piropato, director of education and communications for the zoo, said that social media is one of the most demanding.
With the help of a part-time worker, she does her best to connect with the zoo’s social media followers by giving them a behind-the-scenes peek at parts of the zoo they might not experience if they aren’t on staff.
But she said content from visitors often helps the zoo fill gaps in its advertising strategies, especially when parents capture a special moment of a child’s encounter with an animal that the staff might miss.
With the parents’ permission, the zoo has even used some of these user-generated photos on billboards around town after they’ve been shared with the zoo on social media, Piropato said.
In her time working with the zoo’s social media, Piropato said fans seem to be craving an authentic voice.
“I think what makes the zoo’s social media work is that it’s authentic,” Piropato said. “Animals are being animals; kids are being kids.”
Among the millennial generation, user-generated content is seen as more authentic and more trustworthy than traditional marketing and media.
The global research company Ipsos published a study in April revealing user-generated content is 20 percent more influential in purchasing among millennials and 35 percent more memorable than other types of media.
So if you want your marketing to be successful, include your consumers in the conversation. See what users are already saying and posting about your brand on social media, and build on messages that reflect your goals.
In an age of social marketing and citizen bloggers, a humble human touch can speak loudly. The most important members of your marketing team might be people you’ve never met.