Ask any millennial what an influencer is and you will hear about vibrant social media stars who flaunt the latest trends in food, fashion, and health. These players have transformed who has a voice across many industries, for better or for worse. And now retailers are testing just how influential they themselves can be.
Organizations have begun to tap into user-generated content (UGC) by sharing media created by people who are wearing or using their products. It’s a growing effort of brands to build the authentic interactions that modern shoppers desire.
But for Aldo Group, a Canadian-based shoe retailer spanning 105 countries, UGC needs to be meaningful, genuine, and impactful on the screen and in the real world. With an Instagram following of over 2 million people—many of whom share snapshots of Aldo products around the globe—Aldo maintains a delicate balancing act of finding the right users with the right values to be their voice. Amanda Amar, Aldo’s senior manager of Global Social Media and Influencer Relations, discussed the value of diving into the UGC environment.
What are the advantages of sharing UGC for retailers?
Amanda Amar: UGC is one of the most authentic and trusted forms of marketing for good reason. Customers more than ever want to be inspired by real people. It’s the same way written reviews are so critical in a purchasing decision today. If you’re going on a vacation you’re going to check all the reviews. In a sense UGC is comparable. It’s your inspirational hyper-visual product review.
That’s why it’s so important that each and every single piece of content or collaboration you publish as a brand is authentic in terms of the ambassadorship, even if it is paid. We really let our Aldo Crew do the talking for us in many instances, and we love getting inspired by how they style our products.
So Aldo Crew is more than just a hashtag?
AA: It’s our community we’ve built up. It’s a funny story, we knew we needed a community hashtag years ago and #AldoCrew originated from our store staff who were organically tagging #AldoCrew in posts at work. We loved that they were our front-line ambassadors, and now #AldoCrew is anybody who is an endorser of the brand and anybody who loves Aldo, from our internal employees, to influencers, to our consumers.
It’s about that sense of community. We are constantly nurturing our community with two-way engagement tactics and seeding strategies, which contributes to us being tagged in over around 33,000 tags on #AldoCrew in the past two years. Our fans love following it and tagging it so they can get a lot of likes and eyeballs [as well]. It’s great for everybody.
How has Aldo’s involvement in social media grown over the years?
AA: We’ve revised our strategies and really amplified our outreach programs, whether it’s through our network of Aldo Crew influencers or getting into the nitty-gritty of consumer and channel insights to really understand what is it that our customers want to see from us, how often do they want to see it, and who do they want to see it on.
What role does UGC play in driving engagement for Aldo?
AA: It’s massive. UGC has become anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of our content mix on social media. It’s really about listening to the voices of our fans and followers. UGC is one of the most trusted forms of marketing today and it’s an organic genuine endorsement. It’s important for us to make sure, especially when you’re working with the top tier influencers, that their endorsement feels genuine and that they’re actual ambassadors of the brand and product.
In all transparency, customers are able see through endorsements that aren’t genuine, whether it’s through the influencer’s channel or if it just doesn’t come across in the right way. So that’s something we have to ensure. We’ve definitely had instances where we’ve tried to work with different talents in the past and maybe they’ve had tremendous channel performance or a really healthy account, but they were not morally up to par, or it felt like a pay-to-play exchange, which is something we do not work further with.
At Aldo our core values are love, respect, and integrity. Those values are very close to our founder’s heart and remain our guiding principles for the 47 years we’ve been in business.
So is there a particular vetting process that you use for the content you share?
AA: Beyond the look and feel, genuine ambassadors are key. We don’t want to work with just anyone unless they genuinely love the product and the brand, even if they’re the hottest influencer in the fashion game at that point in time. It’s integral for our brand fit as well as [the influencer’s] brand that the collaboration be genuine.
We’ve refined our process around vetting influencers as our investments increased. Three years ago it may have been, “They look like the right person, they have a lot of likes, and their feed seems healthy,” but we’ve matured that process. We dig into the values of the talent with as much information that is available.
Besides likes and follows, what metrics do you use to determine if an influencer could be a good fit for your brand?
AA: We’ve discovered it’s so important not to look just at likes, followers, and number of comments on measuring influencers. They’re very broad things and, as we all know, those metrics can often be faked. That’s why it’s important for us to invest in additional tools and services to help us better understand the health of the potential collaborators, as well as having an open and transparent relationship with the influencers we are working with.
Curalate is one of those tools. We’ve seen a lot of benefit from their Influencer suite. It allows us not only to search and discover new talent based on many refinement fields, but then allows us to create “influencer lists” where the tool combines our campaigns and allows us to live view all performance metrics of that specific campaign. If you can imagine, we used to do this manually! I still have PTSD!
Does utilizing UGC give you a pretty good picture of your consumer base?
AA: A standout example for us is when we discover super fans. When I say super fans, I don’t even know if that term can give these people justice because we’ve found them to have over 500 pairs of Aldo shoes in their closet and they’ll send us photos of it and it’s wild. So we try to give these people a lot of extra love; whether it’s creating a custom pair of their favorite silhouette that is monogrammed with their initials or simply ensuring to repost their content and give them a shoutout. We have a social footprint of over 8 million across all our social channels, but we do our very best to engage with each and every one. A like and little comment on the post isn’t enough. These are truly people who love the brand and in no way have been paid, they’re real ambassadors.
Are there other brands that you consider experts in the UGC game?
AA: There’s a ton of companies that are doing a great job. I think especially in the last year, people have really started to figure out and transition into a well-oiled machine. Who stands out to us are [the retailers] ASOS, Revolve, and Nasty Gal. This is because of the propensity and efficiency of their ongoing influencer game, they’re really on top of it and they’re very true to who their brand is. Even if their look and feel might not be ours, you can really feel a point of view. They’re really good in terms of briefing that content and making sure that it’s not just a beautiful piece of content that doesn’t fit with the brand ethos, it’s always authentic.
Any tips for brands who want to engage more with UGC?
AA: The number one thing that people take for granted is that engagement piece with their fans, and not just the influential fans, but the thousands of followers. It’s from the micro-tier to the tippy-top of the pyramid where you’re at celebrity level—make sure that engagement piece is always on.
Another thing that would be incredible, especially for brands who don’t necessarily have the budget for larger endorsements, is gifting programs. That’s making sure that you are getting your product in the hands of the talent that you work with and if they genuinely love the product, more often than not they’ll post about it. So make sure that the un-boxing experience is really true to your brand and they feel your brand DNA, from opening up the package to moments that they are looking at the product and using it.
And it’s that authenticity piece. Don’t sell out just because somebody has 5 million followers on Instagram. If that person is not the right fit or isn’t morally sound, it’s just not worth it.