Updated: Jul 6
Content marketing is a very powerful tool for modern-day marketers. It provides the user with value while promoting the brand. However, trying to differentiate yourself in today’s marketing climate can be a tricky thing. Alternatively, navigating through sponsored content as a consumer can prove to be equally as difficult. With so many brands out there doing paid deals with influencers, sponsored Instagram posts, and social media ads, it can be very difficult to portray a sense of authenticity in the content. User generated content (UGC) gives the marketer power to be authentic while still promoting the best image of the brand or product to the consumer. UGC is the future of marketing by giving the consumers an authentic, meaningful approach to advertising. So what’s so great about it? Let’s take a look.
What is User Generated Content?
User generated content is the future of content marketing and it’s something that every business has the capacity to do. User generated content is by definition, “any content produced by an unpaid user” meaning the brand’s followers are actually the ones producing the content that is shown on Instagram, company blogs, YouTube, and even the brand’s website. The main place to find UGC is on social media. Instagram specifically is a hub for UGC since users can post videos as well as pictures. To get the ball rolling on a UGC strategy, a company will launch some sort of campaign encouraging users to send in content about the specified product. This can be an Instagram post, tweet, YouTube video, blog post or any other form of content that would be useful for the brands marketing efforts. The brand can then take the content that was generated by the campaign and use it in their marketing efforts. Using content created by fans makes the potential consumers feel more engaged with the content because it feels significantly more authentic that content that is put out by the marketer. Additionally, UGC is incredibly low cost since it won’t cost the brand anything to produce the content.
UGC isn’t only reserved for B2C businesses either. It can be an incredibly powerful tool for B2B companies as well. A great way for this is to have employee generated content. A study done by Social Media Today shows that employee generated content has 8x more views that other content in the B2B world. Additionally, when employees actively promote the brand image via social media or word of mouth, it is more likely to be shared than if the brand itself was promoting the brand image. A lot can be said about this. When the employee is actively promoting the brand without any sort of compensation, it is highly likely that the opinions being shared are genuine. For B2B marketers this can be a great way to showcase the authenticity of the brand to other businesses.
How is User Generated Content Different from Influencer Generated Content (IGC)?
The main difference between user generated content and influencer generated content is that influencers are getting paid for the content they are producing. Influencers are a great tool for brands to use in their marketing. They have a clear target audience across their various social media platforms. It is also highly likely that their followers trust and care about what the influencer has to say and what their opinions are of certain brands and products. However, many people have grown weary of influencer generated content. While influencers are required by law to disclose sponsored posts and ads, it can sometimes be unclear if their opinions of the product are truly their opinions. Some people have accused influencers of speaking highly of a product only because the brand is paying them a large amount of money for the deal.
Why Should a Company Use UGC?
The question is, what makes UGC so great? When a brand uses user generated content a sense of community is created with their audience. They can establish a relationship with the consumer and nurture them until they are ready to buy as opposed to delivering highly curated content that they might not resonate with in an attempt to sell them a product. Additionally, user generated content enhances the credibility of a brand due to the authenticity it provides. According to a study done by Stackla in 2017, 86% of users said a brand’s authenticity is the most important thing they take into consideration when making purchasing decisions. The study further concluded that 57% of users did not think that brands were producing authentic content. Why is that? While marketers pride themselves on being able to appeal to various different audiences, this is not always easy and they can sometimes get lost in just blindly promoting a brand. This is why user generated content is such a powerful tool for the modern day marketer.
The marketing industry is constantly changing, as are consumer’s wants and needs. Instead of turning to what the marketer thinks the consumers want, turning to the consumer to produce the marketing content is highly effective. The consumer knows what they want, so why not let them produce the content with no cost to the brand? This can be especially powerful for up and coming brands due to the low costs associated with it. Additionally, this gives brands a huge pool of social proof. Again, this gives the brand a better sense of credibility since their audience is actively promoting the products without being paid to. Large companies such as Burberry and Coca Cola have used this strategy to their advantage. However, with Coca Cola’s marketing budget being somewhere around 4 billion dollars, the cost isn’t really an issue for them. However, a small brand that is trying to gain some traction with their target market can have massive success with this approach while also keeping their marketing costs low.
A study conducted by Ad Age in 2015 shows that the overall population does not trust people who work in marketing and advertising. Not only was it the lowest ranking industry listed, but it was also ranked even lower than trust in members of Congress. This means that the general population trusts politicians more than they trust marketers and advertisers. Given that information, it’s no wonder the average consumer is fed up with the feeling that all marketers want to do is sell them something they don’t need. Again, this is why user generated content is such a handy tool for marketers. When a consumer sees a fellow consumer give a product a rave review on social media, they trust that.
User Generated Content in the Future
Currently, many large brands do not actually own any of the user generated content they use in their campaigns. An article from Ad Age points out that the companies who actually own the content are social media companies such as Instagram. The article points out that while this gives the brand some solid engagement and reach, they ultimately do not own the content. The future of UGC is owned UGC. The brands will need to have complete control over the content and they will experience a higher return. The article also points out that this will help with any legal issues regarding the user generated content.
Best Examples of UGC
GoPro is one of the best examples of a company really going full force with a user generated content strategy. Not only is GoPro a camera company, but they are a camera company specifically targeted to people who participate in insane sports. The whole idea behind GoPro is to capture whatever adventure you embark on. GoPro did something very simple by introducing the #GoPro for social media. Users were encouraged to use this hashtag when posting videos that were taken on their GoPro cameras. By just taking a quick look at their social media pages, it is clear that they’ve harnessed an incredible amount of user generated content through this method. Their Instagram page is about fifty percent user generated content and fifty percent professional content. The result? GoPro created a whole niche community around their cameras all through the use of a user generated content based strategy.
Another great example is Aerie’s #Aeriereal campaign. Aerie is a women’s loungewear brand that has been a longtime advocate for body positivity. Aerie has tons of paid campaigns featuring unretouched photos of women who don’t fit into conventional beauty standards. On top of that, their #aeriereal campaign was launched via social media to empower their fans. They encourage their fans to use this hashtag on social media to help promote awareness for eating disorders while also taking a stand against unrealistic beauty standards that are promoted by retouching. The whole idea behind this campaign was for the users to post pictures of themselves on social media without retouching them. This gained tons of support from fans while also giving them a great pool of content that is consistent with their brand message.
Back in 2015, National Geographic launched the photo campaign via Instagram, #WanderlustContest. This contest encouraged users to post photos on Instagram of the adventures that they embark on. The contest also had a prize attached to it, a photo expedition in Yosemite National Park. The campaign was so successful and garnered such fantastic photos that Nat Geo is still using in their marketing efforts.
How Is It Measured?
Measuring the success of a UGC campaign can be very hard. Sure the company can measure how many submissions they get, likes, and impressions but UGC falls short when it comes to figuring out any hard metrics. With no call to action, proving that there is a conversion after a consumer is exposed to UGC via social media.
However, when UGC is displayed on a website or landing page (easy social proof) then tracking the success becomes much easier. When consumers were exposed to a website or landing page that had UGC displayed on it, the conversion rates will double on average according to PIxlee. Additionally, they suggest tagging product SKUs in the UGC so click-through rates can easily be tracked.
Why Do Customers Respond Well to UGC?
Authenticity is key especially in the digital age that we live in. Consumers crave authenticity form a brand so they don’t feel like they’re being cheated out of something. Additionally, with the trend of ethical consumer behavior that is being seen with the Millennial and Gen Z population, consumers just don’t have the time or want to interact with a brand they don’t feel has the best intentions.
On top of that, word of mouth is incredibly powerful for marketers. When a consumer hears from a fellow consumer that a product is worth the money they are more likely to buy it than if the brand is telling them to buy it. It doesn’t feel like marketing to them. Instead, it feels more like a conversation with a friend about an awesome product. When someone doesn’t feel like they are being pressured to buy a product, the transactions happen more organically and lead to higher brand loyalty.
Downsides to UGC
One of the main drawbacks of UGC is customers not getting paid for the content they create. While this works out great for the brand, overusing UGC especially for larger brands can actually damage the brand reputation. If a brand is only relying on their fan base to produce content without compensation, this can devalue the content creators. If content creators don’t feel like they are being taken seriously, then they will likely stop participating in campaigns and find brands who are willing to take them seriously as creators. This is why UGC can be a slippery slope. When used in moderation, it is a great way for up and coming creators to get their work out on a larger platform. However, the overuse of UGC can lead to upset consumers who will take their work and business elsewhere if they don’t feel like they are being valued by the higher-ups.
Additionally, brands can run the risk of UGC being confused with influencer generated content. Influencer generated content is where the influencer is paid to generate an Instagram post, YouTube video, or blog post. These posts are sponsored by the brand and must be disclosed as so somewhere in the post. Additionally, people are wary of sponsored content as it can sometimes be unclear what the influencer’s real opinion is of the brand.
With UGC the brand loses all control of what is posted. For instance, if a brand runs an Instagram hashtag campaign in the hopes of getting some awesome UGC, they run the risk of negative posts or posts that do not align with the image the brand is trying to put out.
People also crave recognition. If a consumer posts a killer Instagram and the brand reposts that post they’ll probably feel pretty great. Getting recognition from a brand that you like makes you feel valued. In fact, it makes consumers feel less like customers and more like they are a part of some bigger community of like-minded individuals. The sense of community that UGC generates is another huge reason why younger generations are responding so well to this type of content. Since they are the ones entering the professional world and will be the bulk of the consumer base soon, using marketing techniques like this now is a great way to guarantee long-lasting customer relationships.
How to Launch a Successful UGC Campaign
Starting the journey of using user generated content in your marketing efforts does not have to be an elaborate campaign that costs a large amount of money. It can simply be looking through tagged photos on Instagram, Twitter mentions, or brand specific hashtags on the respective platform. This can be a great and inexpensive way to find some great user generated content.
Another great way to generate some content is to ask followers to make photo, video, artwork, etc. submissions to the brand via social media or email. This can ensure that the content that is generated is more brand specific and can fit with the overall image and theme of whatever campaign or website the content is intended for. This can also be in the form of a contest. May companies run contests to generate content such as the Starbucks White Cup campaign. This campaign relied on consumers decorating their plain white cups and posting them to Instagram. This gave Starbucks massive amounts of free advertising as well as a giant pool of user generated content to pick through. Asking fans for specific content and running it as a contest also makes fans feel appreciated and like they are part of a much bigger community.
User-generated content is the future of marketing. UGC creates a sense of community for consumers which in turn compels them to continue to support the brand. Consumers are more likely to purchase or repurchase a product if they hear rave reviews from someone. Not only does this benefit the marketer (hello free and unsponsored content), but it benefits the users as well because it gives credible and authentic content which people are craving in today’s digital age.