“Putting the ‘We’ in WEB.” That headline was splashed across the cover of the April 3rd issue of Newsweek back in 2006. Inside its pages, readers consumed stories of “Web 2.0” pioneers, YouTube, Flickr, and MySpace, as they worked to define user-generated websites.

And who would have thought that less than ten years later, user generated content, or fan content, would be leading the charge against traditional marketing resistance.

The reality is, the marketing climate has changed. The use by date of unidirectional marketing has long since expired and consumers have put canned messages back on the self.

Authenticity or “keeping it real” is the new normal, and brands that embrace this change are wielding their power, snatching up mental real estate in the minds of consumers.

A Closer Look

While the term user generated content may sound like a line from the movie Tron: Legacy, there’s no lightcycle required here.  Blogs, videos, selfies, reviews and comments, and social media posts are all examples of this digital word of mouth and consumers are feasting on it in a pre-purchase frenzy.

Consider online clothing retailer ModCloth. Visitors are encouraged to join the ModCloth Community, where as members, they can post photos to the Style Gallery wearing their favorite frocks, inspiring others with their fashion forward prowess and reinforcing the ModCloth brand when they showcase how they wear their purchases in everyday life.

ModCloth Community user generated content

And ModCloth is not alone. Earlier this year, Postano compiled ten examples of popular marketing campaigns, staring user generated content, launched by brands like T-Mobile and Estee Lauder.

It’s Your Turn

Studies show that more and more consumers are turning to one another online for advice on a brand prior to making a purchase. Back in 2012, studies showed that 72% of consumers trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations.  In 2013, that number grew to 79%.  And this year, 2014, that number is up to 88%.

The numbers speak for themselves. Don’t miss your chance to be part of this shift.  Swing the momentum your way by creating and cultivating online communities that give consumers a safe place to share information, get their questions answered, and connect with your brand.

Use what you learn from monitoring and taking part in these conversations to create experiences that deepen your relationship with consumers, and to develop products and services that deliver on your brand promise.