Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Google adding real people’s visual content into searches is a wake-up call for digital marketers

By Damien Mahoney, Chief Strategy Officer, Nosto

Google’s new Perspectives feature means that its search results will now feature relevant user-generated content (UGC) from real people. So, if a user searches for Nike trainers or ski holidays, the results will potentially include images, videos and reviews from social media, alongside more traditional links.

Rolling out now, Perspectives highlights the importance of authentic UGC shared on social networks and discussion forums. Seen as a response to both the growth of TikTok in search and the expected explosion in AI-generated content, Perspectives puts the focus on real photos, videos and posts created by real people.

For digital marketers, it further demonstrates the vital importance of having a UGC strategy, adding improved SEO to the existing benefits that UGC delivers. It is already proven to provide social proof that accelerates the buying journey, and to save money by supplementing professional photo shoots with a continuous stream of quality content. Demonstrating the credibility of UGC, posts showcasing customer images often out-perform a brand’s own posts featuring professional images in terms of engagement. 

With increased search visibility now adding to the benefits of UGC, brands need to invest more heavily in this area, and make it a core part of their marketing strategies through three key actions.

Encourage greater UGC sharing

Customers are increasingly open to sharing their photos and videos on social media. However, it is always good to encourage them to share about your brand in particular by showing that you value their visuals and making the sharing process as easy and rewarding as possible to grow volumes. Look at running competitions to increase sharing – these can be themed around specific products or marketing campaigns that you want to promote or link to what’s happening in the news agenda. You can also create dedicated webpages, such as inspiration galleries, where people can easily upload and view images on your website as well as social media.

Given the volume of social media posts out there, you need to ensure that you can find and share relevant images. Therefore, start the curation process by creating branded, relevant and unique social hashtags (such as #summerwardrobeBRAND XYZ) and publicising them widely, on both digital channels and physical locations, such as shops or ad campaigns.

Build a UGC community 

Analysing your UGC will also identify superfans and creators that are particularly interested and engaged with your brand. Nurture these creators by demonstrating that you value their work. For example, you can reward them with discounts and free merchandise for developing UGC around specific briefs and launches, or even give them early access to new products before they hit the wider market. Some marketers might worry that leaning too heavily on UGC risks losing control over their brand. But your most engaged customers can sometimes interpret and communicate what a brand stands for more authentically than anyone else. 

This approach often delivers more credible content than working with traditional influencers, is  more cost-effective and can include your entire customer base. 

Embed UGC into your marketing strategy

UGC shows what customers really like and engage with around your brand. This means it provides a unique, authentic perspective and insights that can inform your wider marketing strategy. What aspects of your products are they taking photos of? In travel and hospitality, what areas of your hotels and properties are being snapped and shared? This customer insight can be used in multiple ways. You can adapt themes for your own photoshoots to ensure they are on message for your customers or launch new looks or collections based on clothes or products that are being photographed together. 

Additionally, go beyond simply using UGC in your social channels and ads. For example, add it to your website so that it spans the customer journey and encourages people to engage and move to purchase. Drive the discovery and sales process by making customer images interactive, allowing people to click on them to find out more and even letting visitors add items directly to their shopping cart.

An increasing number of brands have already integrated UGC into their strategy, benefiting from cost-effective access to a wider range of more authentic, engaging images. The introduction of Google Perspectives further demonstrates the importance of UGC, adding SEO to its list of benefits. All of this means that, whatever sector you are in, now is the time to embrace UGC across your marketing programme.