Web strategists and designers live a sometimes frustrated existence. We’ve learned that our sites have to be all about the customer. We’ve learned not to make content just for content’s sake. We’ve learned that fruitful, human interactions are what make great web experiences – and what will make our businesses prosper.

But design and content directions based on customer centricity are often difficult to sell into the business. Fear and navel gazing prevails. And what about the bottom line?

Then, in walks user-generated content and it’s as if the sun rose after a long dark night. When deployed in the right places, in the right ways, it is engaging, actionable and measurable down to revenue – truly a web strategist’s dream come true.

Here’s how and why UGC can be your web strategy’s saving grace – and why your web team is so hot on the idea.

The lesson of interactivity

Businesses didn’t have a strong model on the web until they could provide something to do – buy things, pay bills, play games, interact with others, create content. On the web, as it turns out, people are motivated to complete tasks for which they’ll gain some response, achieve a goal – not simply to consume content, but to interact with it.

Social theories abound about why this is true on the web and not so much on the living room couch. But web strategists and designers learned this the hard way, and now hold goal orientation and interactivity as driving principles for creating the most successful web experiences.

The lessons began early, back when web experiences were passive: You’d read or watch content. Maybe you learned something; maybe you were entertained. But content owners rarely saw measurable benefit. Efforts to “monetize” one-way experiences focused on the advertising models of other one-way media: TV, radio, newspaper. The results were not stellar.

Giving people something to do – providing an interactive model around your brand, and showing the results of their efforts – changes that equation dramatically.

That lesson’s now being applied in the world of content marketing, where one-way storytelling is quickly fading from preference, in favor of dynamic storytelling: A large-scale interactive model of content creation and dissemination that engages consumers across the web to contribute… then rinse and repeat. It starts with “content excellence,” per Coca -Cola’s Content 2020 manifesto, fed by smart editorial direction, and enlists social technologies to enable the “dynamic” effect. It’s participatory, not passive.

It makes tons of sense given what we now know about behavior on the web. But you don’t need a major program of dynamic storytelling to gain immediate benefits with interactive content. Ratings and reviews, customer stories and feedback loops encourage site visitors to interact with the web interface, the brand and each other. They have a powerful ability to deepen engagement on your site, yet they’re incredibly easy to integrate into web designs of all stripes.

Meanwhile, the potential to scale from onsite interactive content to full-fledged dynamic storytelling across channels is huge. Once you’ve invited voices to speak at the party, the conversation begins to fuel itself. That’s a pre-digital behavioral model we’ve long understood in social life, and now know to apply to the web.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a single more effective element of user interactivity to bring to your web properties. The kicker, and why it’s a mold-breaker in the web design world: It’s proven to provide a lift in conversion and increase sales.

The power of empowerment

Ten years ago, web strategists and designers strived for “stickiness”: We’d do anything to keep people on our sites and get them to come back later. That misdirected goal spawned some pretty awful web experiences, and even worse business models. It was about as far from customer centricity as you can get.

By watching behavior on the web over time, we realized that our websites and content should be designed with the customer’s needs in mind, not just our marketing team’s. We discovered that the key to engagement on the web was to empower people, not to entrap them.

On the web, the benefits of customer empowerment derive from two key actions: Actually empowering your customers to influence your product and brand, and showing that you are empowering your customers.

Customers will talk about you on social channels; they are individually empowered to do so. That’s great for the social channels; they’re the host of that party. But social channels like Facebook are not very good at driving genuine engagement between companies and their customers, as a recent report by Forrester asserts. And importantly, in those channels, your brand is not the one doing the empowering, and your brand is not reaping the benefits. In fact, if you’re not actively empowering your customers, chances are your brand is being trashed in those channels.

You can change this more easily than you’d think: Give voice to your customers, openly and on your own website, and they’ll quickly change their tune. Our own data shows that when ratings and reviews are deployed, the results are overwhelmingly positive. Even negative reviews can play a positive role, providing a counterpoise of believability. In the end, the fact of empowerment of an entire customer base eclipses the details of an individual opinion. It’s that important.

Data that actually means something

A flow of focused user-generated content creates data and insights directly applicable to your products, services and brand perception. You can spend a packet on market research and fail to produce anything as actionable.

Web strategists crave data about their site visitors, and use it to improve. But standard web measures are a complex riddle when it comes to informing business strategy and improving the total customer experience: Page views, unique visitor volume, time-on-page and other raw web metrics feed assumptions that must be tested. Even sheer transaction numbers don’t tell a clear story about product preferences, problems or opportunities.

Real customer input about your products or brand, publicly displayed on your site, breaks through this fog. In the case of ratings and reviews, preferences and problems are definable down to the SKU level. And UGC tells the truth in plain language.

When you use these data and genuine insights to make positive changes to your products or marketing, you’re continuing a powerful cycle of interactivity and empowerment; engagement and trust. This is true customer centricity in action – and a focus on which your web, marketing and executive teams can easily agree.