The Many Ways Virtual Communities Impact Our World Offline was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Technology has sufficiently crept into every nook and cranny of our lives. From the way we brush our teeth to the way we move about town to the way we interact with people, it’s a part of who we are.

I recently led a discussion along with Jen Lopez, community manager of SEOmoz and author Becky Carroll at the Emerging Media Conference in San Francisco. The three of us, along with the audience, talked about how social media and virtual communities impact our lives in ways we could not have imagined prior. It was an exciting and engaging conversation that allowed us to explore social media and virtual worlds outside the realm of marketing.

And, since the topic is fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share some of those concepts with you today. Let’s dive into some of the research on the virtual world’s impact on the physical world, and explore how these virtual communities have impacted our relationships and what we should do with these discoveries.

Read more of The Many Ways Virtual Communities Impact Our World Offline.

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A certain group of consumers has been gaining attention from marketers recently, because of the strong role they play in the purchasing decision; these power purchasers are known as Generation Y. Whether they’re part of the target audience to which you sell or not, this group is worth considering as part of your inbound marketing strategy because there’s a strong likelihood they either will become part of your target audience in the future, or because they already influence your target audience now.

Let’s break down who these power purchasers are, some of the interesting demographics and inclinations research has uncovered about their role in the buying process, and see how we can align our marketing strategy to better leverage their influence.

Generation Y as a Power Purchaser

Also known as Millennials, this group refers to those born between 1977 and 1994, and it accounts for 25% of the US population. That may not seem like a lot (or maybe it does), but Generation Y is estimated to be the largest consumer group in US history. According to MarketingProfs via a Bazaarvoice survey, Millennials’ annual spending power of over $200 billion will eclipse Baby Boomers’ by 2017. With that kind of purchasing power, what should we as marketers know about this huge demographic of power purchasers, and how do we alter our marketing strategy to align with their purchasing habits?

Many marketers think the recommendation of a friend or family member is the ultimate green light for consumers, but it turns out that Gen Y cares about recommendations from strangers more. More than 8 in 10 say user-generated content from people they don’t know influences what they buy and indicates brand quality, while 51% say it is actually more important than the opinions of their friends and family, and far more trustworthy than website content.

So what are Millennials buying based off all this user-generated content? The top purchases they will not make without first consulting others’ opinions run the gamut:

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How to Target the Largest Consumer Group Ever in the US

Knowing user-generated content is important to Millennials, what should marketers be doing to align our strategies with the way they prefer to research and execute purchases?

65% of users aged 18-24 considered information shared on social networks when making a purchasing decision (source: eMarketer). On top of that, 2/3 of consumers use search engines to help them research and make purchase decisions (source: eConsultancy). So if you haven’t already, get your brand visibility in the social sphere and in search engines, and get control over your online reputation.

When you consider how much more closely social media and search have been aligning over the past year, it makes sense that integrating them both in your marketing strategy will help you achieve more visibility with this crowd that cares what others have to say about you more than what you have to say about you. In fact, Socialnomics reports that if you take a look at the world’s largest brands, 25% of their search results return user-generated content from review sites, blogs, and social media updates. Millennials have integrated social media into their day to day lives, making access to the opinions of others easier than ever. With so much knowledge at their hands, you need to ensure information about your business is easy to find — whether from you, their network, or total strangers.

Getting Started With User-Generated Content

It’s strange to say you need to get started with user-generated content…it’s your users that need to get started, right? Well, you have to make it easy for them to do, and sometimes a little nudge in the right direction on top of ease of use doesn’t hurt, either. Here’s the secret sauce for getting your customers, fans, and followers to sing your praises online so you can get the kind of influence you need over Gen Y — whether they’re your target customer today or years down the road.

1.) Make reviews easy to give on your website. 73% of Millennials say that consumers care more about customer opinions than companies themselves do. They also think companies don’t offer enough ways to share feedback. Be the company that proves them wrong and gives them what they want. Enable comment functions, provide star rating systems for your products, and create forums for people to easily discuss what they love about your company. Moderate these areas of your site so when issues crop up, you’re able to provide a timely response to problems that might otherwise harm your reputation.

2.) Take control over your online reputation. Speaking of harming your reputation, people are probably talking about you online in places other than your website. Namely, their own blogs and online review sites. You can’t ask people to take down a negative blog post about you, but you can take control of online review sites that frequently rank in the top of search engine results pages anyway. Claim your listing on review sites, determine whether your presence is positive, negative, or absent, and become an active participant in guiding a positive conversation about your brand on those sites. Our next tip will tell you how.

3.) Solicit reviews from your best customers. You can make your presence on online review sites and your own website positive by soliciting positive reviews from your best customers. There’s nothing wrong with asking happy customers to write a review. Think about getting customer reviews like getting inbound links: you can’t pay for it, but there’s nothing wrong with asking for one from the appropriate people. Consider adding a request for reviews in the bottom of your email marketing messages targeted at current customers. Get your sales and support team in in the action, too — as the front lines of your organization, they are poised to identify those who are willing to evangelize your brand. Incentivize them to solicit positive reviews whenever they’re speaking to a happy customer, making their volume of positive reviews part of a bonus program.

4.) Create case studies. Case studies are an ideal content format to supplement user-generated content, because it highlights a customer’s opinion like Millennials love but gives you control over how the information is presented. This content can also take on multiple formats — video, PDF, slideshow, blog post — all of which are easy to share and disseminate online.

5.) Encourage social discussion. Social posts are showing up in search results, so use your social media presence to encourage discussion from your fans and followers. Ask for their opinion about your products and services, highlight customer success stories, and ask them to share their experiences using your products or services. Whether these posts are indexed or not, many Millennials will visit your social media accounts to assess how much they like and trust you while they make a purchasing decision. Seeing your social network engaging with you on those accounts will paint you in a very positive light.

Sometimes marketers are reticent of pursuing user-generated content because it forces them to relinquish control. But remember that Millennials have spent the better part of their lives on the internet and were the first wave of blogging and social media adopters. As such, they are better at parsing through fluff on the web and can distinguish between critical content and that which is an unfounded rant or rave. That means content you publish, content you solicit from others, reviews posted to blogs and review sites, and social media comments all go through a sniff test that’s ingrained in how Gen Y consumes information online. If the content being published by you — or by others about you — isn’t quality, these folks are good at filtering it out of their purchase decision-making process.

How important is Gen Y to your marketing? Do you target them directly, or as influencers of your target audience?

Image credit: Lemsipmatt


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