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Content for your customers, by your customers

With the rise of globalization and the advances in technology, competition can come from pretty much anywhere. Not even local service industries are safe from the tide of changing times. Community colleges now compete with online universities in Japan. The travel agent has been replaced by the simplicity of online booking and the cost savings of ticket resellers such Orbitz.

One thing hasn’t changed, however, and likely never will — I need to know about a company before I can buy what they are selling. The increase in advertisers has created more advertisements. We now have companies with the exclusive revenue stream of providing free content with paid ads. As hard as you may try, ads are unavoidable.

With the constant barrage of marketing messages we receive every day, it’s gotten harder and harder to reach our potential customers with persuasive messaging. That is, it’s gotten harder to use traditional methodology to turn marketing messages into sales. It’s just as easy for me to mentally tune out a radio advertisement than it is for my first two or three snooze alarms in the morning.

The random (and immediately muted) actor who attempts to influence my decision-making process rarely does so without a large ad budget. (Man, the things I would do for a large ad budget.) So what are our options as owners of small businesses? My suggestion is to harness the global interactivity that got us into this predicament in the first place.

Take user-generated content. YouTube successfully uses this model, receiving an immense amount of viewership just by providing a platform for its users to share videos with each other. People all over the world turn to YouTube for customer product reviews, reactions to current events and most popularly, entertainment.

The popularity of social media gives marketers an interesting workaround. According to HubSpot, 75 percent of consumers don’t believe the content of advertising, while 70 percent believe consumer opinions and product reviews. Simply put, we believe stranger’s opinions almost three times more than the advertising messaging.

Sounds easy enough. Asking our consumers to submit videos reviewing our products will alleviate our consumers mistrust with advertising and serve as a cost-effective solution to paid advertising. Unfortunately, as I have encountered with trying this for my business, it is much easier said than done.

YouTube has an immense system of servers to host the videos; you don’t. You will also need a File Transfer Protocol uploader widget than can process and encode the 20-plus different video formats out there. Lastly, you will need a video player that has this ability to read the different formats and hopefully play the content on mobile and desktop devices.

For a custom solution like this, expect to pay thousands of dollars in development costs and cloud or dedicated server hosting. Maybe a TV commercial doesn’t sound that bad anymore.

Hold your horses. Like most problems, someone has had this one before, and startups have listened. Through economies of scale and re-creatable coding by trained developers, there are now many options for hiring online services to do all the work for you. My favorite is called Authntk, based out of Annapolis.

Starting at $80 per month, Authntk will allow your consumers to seamlessly record or upload their videos directly from your website. The videos are hosted on the company’s cloud server and you are given the option to curate and choose the videos you would like to embed on your website.

This is a great option if you own a business that regularly pleases its customers. If not, may I recommend panhandling as an alternative? You will probably make more money in the long term.