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User-generated content (UGC) produced by customers who support specific brands is a growing trend thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices and social media.
UGC can be a powerful tool to help brands sell products, with 85% of users indicating that UGC is more trustworthy than branded content and nearly 70% of users finding UGC more authentic—and appealing—than classic, brand-controlled product images.
S’well, a company that makes water bottles, food containers, barware and more has over 270,000 Instagram followers. Many of their customers post pictures of their S’well bottle in their personal Instagram feeds.
S’well wanted to leverage their loyal customer base on Instagram, so they partnered with Curalate, a tool that enables retailers to integrate their Instagram presence with their ecommerce website.
Curalate helped S’well turn Instagram into a revenue-driver by using user-generated photos of S’well bottles taken from Instagram and pulling them onto the brand’s website. This increased revenue from website sales, improved website engagement, and keeps S’well connected to their loyal community of customers.
ClickZ spoke with Jinal Shah, S’well’s VP of Ecommerce & Digital Marketing and Curalate’s CEO, Apu Gupta to get a better understanding of how the technology works and to unpack some of the results from this initiative.
Curalate making social media shoppable
Curalate works with roughly 1200 brands to make their social media presence shoppable. Mr. Gupta, Curalate’s CEO, explained what this means.
“Largely, what we’re trying to do is bring inspiration to ecommerce with lifestyle content harvested from social media such as Instagram and make it shoppable by creating a more Instagram-like experience on the retailer’s website.”
Curalate makes images “shoppable” by enabling users to see exactly what product is featured in a given image and providing a link back to the product page on a retailer’s website. Curalate does this by hosting a dedicated page on the retailer’s website (the link to this page is in S’well’s Instagram bio) and listing the featured product(s) featured the user’s original image.” Here’s an example for S’well’s website.
Clicking on any of the products to the right of the image takes you to the product page on S’well’s website where you can purchase the item.
“What we’re really doing is enabling brands to connect a product in an image to that product’s page on the retail website,” explains Gupta. “Users can tap on an image and see all of the products in the image, then navigate to the retailer’s website to purchase the product.”
User-generated content celebrates brand loyalists
Displaying UGC content on a brand’s website isn’t just great for selling products, it’s also great for celebrating loyal customers—the people who are enthusiastically talking about the brand.
“They’re part of a community, part of a movement,” says Gupta. “When S’well asks customers if they can use their content on its website, people feel incredibly excited.”
Curalate’s technology uses a combination of AI learning which recognizes products in an image along with human review and curation. As with most AI tools, it can take some time to set up the software, but once setup is complete, it hums along with minimal human involvement.
“One of the main reasons I liked Curalate is how easy they make it for internal teams,” explains Jinal Shah, S’well’s VP of Ecommerce and Digital Marketing. “My internal team is very lean. We don’t necessarily have separate team members for each digital channel.”
Ms. Shah emphasized that they appreciate that Curalate isn’t just AI-driven. There is some amount of human touch to the product. It’s minimal, but it’s important because the UGC they use represents the brand.
“We get to choose each image after the AI recognizes our products and tags it in the product feed. It drives the conversion efforts from that perspective,” says Shah. She explained that her team spends about 15-20 minutes a day using the tool to select and promote user content. Prior to integrating the sales feature of Curalate, S’well used the tool for analytics and scheduling for about two years. They finished integration of the ecommerce component in February of this year and it’s been live since then.
“A lot of brands start their relationship with Curalate to publish to Instagram and other social channels,” says Gupta. “Then they add their website as another distribution channel for that content.”
UGC shows positive results for S’well
S’well has seen a significant incremental contribution to revenue since they integrated UGC from Instagram onto their website. “Revenue has increased,” says Shah. “We’ve seen more engagement on the website as well. I look at the revenue as a key success metric and it’s very healthy for us.”
Many users who arrive on S’well’s site already know what they want, but there are also many people who engage with site because they like S’well and are looking to discover new products.
“They’re looking for inspiration,” says Gupta. “We see very substantial increases in time-on-site (TOS) for people who decide to engage with this content. We tend to find that TOS gets influenced more when UGC is present on home and category pages and conversion rates are influenced more when UGC appears on product pages.”
S’well is a community-driven business. During their first ten years in operation, they grew without any investment in advertising dollars. In many ways, their customers were their only marketing.
“For us, using UGC as a key strategy is extremely important because we want to make sure that we don’t lose touch with our customers,” explains Shah. “Even if Curalate didn’t drive any revenue, UGC would still be an important component to have on the website because it’s showing the product in the way it’s meant to be used, meant to be seen, and how it looks in your hand. For that reason alone, the relationship and investment in this technology is crucial for the brand.”