In today’s noisy digital world, the content that truly stands out is authentic stories and opinions told by your customers. According to Gartner, 70% of consumers today distrust marketers, so customer-generated content is a must when building brand trust and attracting buyers to your brand.

Last week at Insight 2021, I chatted with Cristina Melluzzi, Director, Global Customer & Partner Advocacy at Cisco, on how to create customer-generated content at scale. Cristina is an award-winning marketer, and her Cisco customer advocacy program, Cisco Gateway, was the 2020 recipient of Influitive’s “Program of the Year” award for enterprise organizations.

Here are a few highlights from our engaging discussion.


Dan Cote: What is customer-generated content?

Cristina Melluzzi: It’s all about giving autonomy to customers and partners to share their personal stories of success, all within the first-person experience. Customer-generated content is not that new; it’s rooted in word-of-mouth marketing. What is new and different is that businesses are seeing the necessity in diversifying content creation to put the voice of their customers and partners first.


Dan Cote: How does customer-generated content differ from traditional case studies?

Cristina Melluzzi: Customer marketers know that getting a case study published can be time consuming and require many rounds of internal and customer approvals. The finished product is also often overly positive and polished. While this has its place and can be helpful to read, buyers and customers want to engage with authentic content. 

Customer-generated content is always written in the first person and will often cover pitfalls and challenges, which often don’t make the final draft of a formal case study. Time-wise, the beauty of working with Influitive and Upshot is that the process is considerably faster. Some customer stories go from interview to publication in just a matter of days. 


Dan Cote: What is marketing’s role in orchestrating customer-generated content?

Cristina Melluzzi: At Cisco, we employ a hybrid model of enabling customers to share their authentic stories in the first-person narrative. We give them a menu of advocacy options (e.g., customer stories, testimonials, videos, reviews, etc.) and they decide and drive forward with whatever avenues they are most passionate about or most comfortable doing. Our role as advocate marketers is to build and nurture relationships with advocates so we can match these asks for advocacy to the right moments in their journey with us. 


Dan Cote: How has advocate marketing evolved at Cisco?

Cristina Melluzzi: Five years ago, we started with a handful of advocates. Now, we have hundreds of global advocates and have the right tools and technology to help us identify the best advocates for the right acts of advocacy. In that time span, we kicked off a program with Influitive and its Upshot service to create customer-generated content at scale and so far have completed over 160 customer stories. 

Cisco operates two advocate communities: Cisco Gateway for customers and Cisco Marketing Velocity Voice for partners. Both audiences have a natural inclination to share their knowledge and experience with their peers, so having an always-on community gives them countless opportunities to jump in and help. 


Dan Cote: How do you combat advocate fatigue? 

Cristina Melluzzi: Fatigue is something my team works very hard to combat within our advocate and partner programs. With any large or global organization, you need to be well connected internally to mitigate burnout risk. We leverage our integrations with Influitive for advocacy and RO Innovation (an Influitive technology partner) for references to manage interaction and outreach to ensure we don’t burn out any member.


Dan Cote: How do you encourage advocates to participate in these content opportunities? 

Cristina Melluzzi: Our members naturally want to help each other, so many are excited to showcase their thought leadership and expertise. At Cisco, we recognize and reward advocate contributions in many ways, such as event tickets, VIP access to Cisco executives, branded swag and more. We diversify recognition because we know that an advocate’s reward preference will shift over time as they move through their career. Ultimately, to feed the engine of customer-generated content, you need to give and get! 


Dan Cote: How can a marketer best get started at creating customer-generated content?  

Cristina Melluzzi: Start by looking at what customers are already naturally creating without you even asking. This can include social media posts and online review sites. It’s so critical to have a pulse on what your customers are saying online today. 

It’s also wise to look back at customers who have created content for you in the past and see what future opportunities are out there for them. For example, someone who has already completed a customer story for you may be an excellent fit for a future speaking opportunity. 

If you’re already in content marketing, you’re likely already tackling some customer-themed content. Think about how you can infuse the voice of your customer more authentically in future content pieces. 

Customer advocacy and engagement software like Influitive can help accelerate and diversify your organization’s content creation process. Learn more about Cisco and 15 other award-winning advocacy programs in our 2020 BAMMIES eBook.

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