When 2020 began, no one could have predicted the state of tragedy and uncertainty we find ourselves in today.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of our everyday lives –; drastically shifting consumer behavior and putting many businesses in a tough position. The people, tools and resources at most brands”; disposal have changed, and many companies were forced to temporarily shutter stores and are now faced with the daunting task of preparing for recovery.

But by keeping the following goals and tools in mind, brands can turn their COVID-19 challenges into opportunities for near-term recovery and long-term growth.

Overcoming the Challenges of COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down travel and closed non-essential stores, many companies were forced to take steps to diminish the financial fallout, causing budgets to be slashed and teams to be reduced.

Meanwhile, marketers needed to quickly respond to the situation, providing ongoing health, safety and service communications to customers and pausing campaigns as needed. Yet, the “;always on”; nature of digital marketing still required a constant flow of visual content which was more challenging to create with additional coronavirus photoshoot concerns and less resources.

And with consumers turning to social media for personal connections and eCommerce sites to make purchases during quarantine, many brands were forced to renew their focus on online customer experiences.

To address all these challenges and changes in consumer behavior, brands must develop recovery plans that aim to rebuild customer trust, provide social proof and foster community. The most important type of content to help brands achieve all these goals is user-generated content (UGC).

Building Your Brand’s Recovery Plan with UGC

By definition, user-generated content is any form of content –; posts, images, videos, reviews, ratings, etc. –; created by consumers on an online or social network. It has proven to be the most authentic, cost-effective and trusted source of content that marketers can get their hands on.

Since 92 percent of consumers say it”;s the most trusted form of content, it can go a long way towards helping you assuage the concerns of post-pandemic consumers who may still be fearful of entering stores once everything reopens.

Although consumers have been forced to shift to online shopping, it”;s still not the preferred way of purchasing for many shoppers. When shopping online, you can”;t physically see or touch the items you”;re contemplating purchasing before you buy them, making written and visual social proof vital. And once physical stores reopen, people will look for evidence that consumers are returning to in-store experiences.

User-generated content offers consumers the authentic social proof they need, with 79 percent of people saying UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions and 87 percent saying social posts help them decide what to buy.

Post-COVID, people who have spent months in quarantine while travel, restaurants and stores were shut down will also be seeking connections with others. User-generated content can offer your brand a more personal way to create inherently social experiences that brings your customers together while forming a deeper connection with your brand.

Many brands have already seen the opportunity UGC offers in terms of closing the content gap and better engaging consumers during these unprecedented times.

In an effort to spark excitement around the return of NFL football while keeping people engaged at home, Doritos kicked off a #CrashFromHome UGC contest, asking fans and ‘anyone who feels stuck at home’ to create and submit Doritos-focused videos for a chance to win up to $10,000 and have their commercial aired during the first Saturday Night Football game of the season.

International jewelry brand, Michael Hill, has also leveraged user-generated content to keep customers engaged and uplifted during quarantine. Recognizing that “;it”;s more important than ever to share moments of kindness, joy, and love in the world,”; Michael Hill launched their #ShareTheLove campaign, encouraging customers to share loving moments in their lives as a “;reminder of the real-life love and kindness happening right now in the world.”; A wide variety of photos poured in, from people sharing the love within their local communities to couples who made the best out of postponing their weddings in response to COVID-19.

“;The response was overwhelming,”; said Tyra Gunnis, Michael Hill”;s Content & Social Manager. “;We were amazed to see people participate; it was so inspiring and helped put things into perspective.”; Michael Hill has used this content to help share their customer stories across social, email and their eCommerce site as well as their new blog which came to life during COVID-19.

“;I think it was great for us to connect with our customers on that personal level and show that we”;re here for them and true to our brand message,”; Ms Gunnis said.

By putting UGC at the heart of your post-COVID customer experience –; from social and ads to email and eCommerce –; your brand can cost-effectively strengthen customer trust, cultivate community and provide the social proof needed to drive post-pandemic success.

For more in-depth guidance on how you can fuel your brand”;s COVID recovery with UGC, check out Stackla”;s free COVID-19 Recovery Playbook for Marketers.

Feature image credit: Mike Petrucci

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