By Dema Zlotin/CEO, Rio SEO
User-generated content can be an excellent way to engage with consumers and build your brand. Here’s a look at how Allrecipes.com has managed to leverage its users’ enthusiasm to grow its company.
Quality content is the foundation on which all of your marketing efforts and customer experiences are built. We know that written and visual content has the power to drive search rankings, inspire social sharing, compel consumers to take action, and ultimately impact sales.
Imagine, then, having a veritable army of content creators at your disposal, pumping more than 1,300 pieces of written content and 50,000 photos each month into your content arsenal.
This is the reality for Allrecipes.com, a brand that has proven itself incredibly adept not only at building community, but at harnessing the power of that community to drive their business goals. This massive volume of content created by their 40 million monthly visitors and 12 million registered members populates their newsletters, ad placements, articles, videos, and social channels.
Of course, you can’t just let the community steer the conversation around your brand. I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Elizabeth Martin, senior manager for community and content marketing at Allrecipes.com, at a local search event hosted by my company in San Diego. In it, she shared invaluable tips for marketers looking for creative ways to build community and increase both the volume and efficacy of their content marketing efforts, based on the proven strategy employed by Allrecipes.com.
Creating a Culture of User-Generated Content Sharing
Allrecipes.com users are sharing a ton of content to the site – reviews, recipes, photos of their favorite foods. Martin’s team encourages their community to create this content by making it as seamless as possible a process for them.
Consistency is critical in all content, whether user-generated content (UGC) or crafted by your brand. However, it’s also important that brands empower their users to create without the constrictions of strict editorial guidelines that could make the process tedious and discouraging. Allrecipes.com employs a team of content staff who review all UGC, format it properly, and optimize it with the correct meta data and markup.
Image via Rio SEO
Site visitors are reminded to create reviews, submit recipes, and upload their photos in ads and alerts on-site; members receive email reminders of the same.
Even so, with all of these millions of people visiting and interacting and sharing their own content, there’s a tiny segment of users who have proven Allrecipes.com’s most passionate advocates – and most valuable content assets. This elite group of “super users” have been responsible for the creation of more than 40,000 reviews and photos over the last two years, Martin said.
So who are they and how can you build a super user base of your own?
Building a Community of Brand Ambassadors: Meet the AllRecipes.com Allstars
The Allrecipes.com Allstars program was initially conceptualized not by staff, but by the brand’s most involved fans. A group of members who were active in the forums and on the site decided to get together. Martin laughed as she recalled the alarm expressed over one user inviting anyone who frequented the Allrecipes.com site to come to a get-together at her home. The brand’s staff knew they had to get involved; that something truly special was happening when their users were willing to come together from across the country to celebrate the brand.
So it was that in 2011, the Allrecipes Allstars were formed.
The Allstars are an incredibly passionate (and productive) group of about 125 volunteer brand advocates who are active in promoting Allrecipes on-site, but also around the Web. You’ll find them raving about their favorite recipes on Facebook or Twitter, or sharing their favorite Allrecipes photos on Instagram or Pinterest.
These people aren’t necessarily influencers, Martin cautioned. Brands needn’t seek out those in their user base or membership with the largest social followings, or the biggest blog audiences.
Instead, recruitment for the inaugural program was based on the members’ activity, contributions, passion, active participation in the on-site forum, and their willingness to go the extra mile (literally) to meet other members.
Today, the Allrecipes Allstars receive their own newsletter, which gives them exclusive access to behind-the-scenes brand news. They have their own Facebook group for communicating with one another and often receive gifts and other incentives from the brand. Allrecipes looks to this group often for honest insight on everything brand-relevant; after all, these are the people who know the company best – and love it most.
Authenticity the Key to Content That Resonates
Yes, the Allstars are incredibly passionate and love the brand, but don’t mistake them for an army of cheerleaders. Martin cautioned conference attendees to avoid seeing brand advocates as a group who would only speak positively about the brand.
It takes authenticity, she said, to create trust – advocate trust in the brand, that their voices will be heard, as well as user and reader trust in the content created. Food brands, for example, can interact with the AllStars, which Martin said is the most effective way for them to leverage the authentic voices of the Allrecipes community. Editorial oversight ensures that the interactions remain friendly and useful, but she reminded attendees that constructive criticism comes from the same place of passion as effusive praise. Brands should avoid looking only to their advocates for approval or admiration and seek out authentic feedback, instead.
Allrecipes has built a group of passionate, loyal, and hyper-engaged advocates around their brand. How can you do it, too? Martin advised:
- Find your advocates.
- Be authentic.
- Follow through.
- Give them tools.
- Allow them their own voice.
- Celebrate their individuality
Motivating your most enthusiastic users to become brand advocates and content creators, while ensuring consistency and editorial control, enables brands to use UGC to protect and even amplify their core values.
The payoff is incredible: tons of referral traffic, active and engaged forums, and a massive volume of UGC to optimize and use across marketing campaigns. As brands continue this shift into the role of publishers in their own rights, the power of consumer as content creator cannot be overlooked.