User-generated content (UGC) — a guide to getting started
Brands used to rely on traditional media like radio, television, and magazines for their marketing needs, but today there are more options than ever for companies to increase awareness and sales. For brands that want to maximize their marketing budgets, create content, and increase audience engagement, user-generated content (UGC) is a great resource.
This post will cover why UGC is so effective at building a strong sense of community among users and gaining their trust and loyalty, including:
- What UGC is
- Benefits of UGC
- Types of UGC
- Where UGC comes from and how to find it
- Best practices for UGC
- Great examples of UGC in action
- UGC and influencer marketing
What is user-generated content?
User-generated content (UGC) refers to brand-related content that is created by customers and brand advocates, as opposed to an employee or official representative of that brand. UGC comes in many forms — a fan’s Instagram post about a new product, a customer’s unboxing video on TikTok, or a user testimonial on a website.
Benefits of user-generated content
User-generated content is valuable because it’s effective. In fact, The State of User-Generated Content reports that 72% of consumers believe customer testimonials are more credible than a brand talking about its own products. Audiences’ preference for UGC means it offers several benefits to brands that use it.
A lot of buyers don’t trust advertisers, marketers, or brands. This is partly due to the rise of social media and the democratization of content. Unlike marketers, social media users are viewed as authentic and trustworthy, because in most cases they don’t have a vested interest in your company’s success. User-generated content acts as a digital form of word-of-mouth advertising — it creates a connection and tells a story through personal recommendations.
Create brand loyalty
Being featured on a brand’s website or social media page makes customers feel like they are involved in the brand’s story and deepens their engagement. The State of User-Generated Content discovered that 64% of consumers are more likely to post about a brand that re-shares content by its audience. UGC provides customers with a sense of community, which is a natural and important part of the social media ecosystem.
Make your brand more authentic
Buyers expect authenticity and transparency from brands. While traditional marketing techniques are sometimes viewed as calculated and untrustworthy, user-generated content is considered authentic because it comes directly from other users. UGC is less polished than a marketing campaign and this gives it a more relaxed and genuine appeal.
Improve conversion rates
User-generated content improves conversion rates on product pages and via email marketing. Power Reviews reports that audience members who interact with UGC are 100.6% more likely to convert. Social proof is an effective tool for closing business and UGC is a simple way to feature it.
As your brand grows, the amount of user-generated content you’ll have access to will grow with it, allowing you to choose from and alternate between different types of content (video, still photography, testimonials, and more) to best suit your marketing needs. Using a platform that searches for and collects content is an easy solution that saves time and effort.
User-generated content costs less than most other marketing media. Ask your customers for the content and they’ll create it to feel like they belong to a community and interact with a brand they like. UGC lets brands reap the benefits of great content without investing significant time and money on in-house content creation.
Types of UGC
User-generated content can vary in how extensively and thoroughly it includes your brand. But different types of UGC are an important element of brand building and awareness, and a healthy strategy involves utilizing a variety of UGC types.
Visual content includes images, videos, and live streams. It’s the most common type of user-generated content and can quickly be repurposed for social media, emails, or other marketing campaigns. Visual content can include everything from someone using your product or service, photos of the user at a branded event, or the user showcasing the product in a way that matches their aesthetic.
Video content could be a product unboxing, live streamed review, product demo, or even a video about something unrelated but including the product in view. Users posting photos or videos of themselves using and enjoying your product naturally convinces other people to try it for themselves.
Reviews and ratings
Many customers like to leave reviews or ratings, which are incredibly useful for future customers when making purchasing decisions. Customers assume reviews are truthful and trust them more than the words of the company. Ratings are an easy way to engage customers because they usually only require a few clicks to submit.
And both can be extremely versatile. Aside from appearing on online retailer pages like Amazon, you can use reviews in email campaigns, on social media, and on individual product pages to enhance the shopping experience. These ratings can be more convincing than a great advertising campaign.
Social media posts
User-generated content is a major part of many brands’ social media strategy. There are many ways to use UGC as part of your social media strategy, like sharing a screenshot of a positive review on Twitter and then posting it on your brand’s Instagram account. Or you could repost a TikTok and also use it as an Instagram reel. Make the most of UGC by using it across different social media platforms.
Where UGC comes from
User-generated content comes from different sources. Where you look for users’ posts is entirely dependent on the type of content you want. While some industries may have sources specific to them, there are three main suppliers of UGC for most brands.
- Customers. Most user-generated content comes from customers who post about your product or service on their own. They may post UGC organically or they might submit content like a review or testimonial in response to an email campaign.
- Brand advocates. Brand advocates are customers who are already extremely loyal to your brand and create content about your product or service because they genuinely enjoy or believe in it. This group can sometimes be asked to create something specific. The relationship between your brand and its advocates is valuable and should be nurtured carefully.
- Employees. Content created by employees isn’t technically user-generated content, but team members can still create organic content for the brand. This may include behind-the-scenes images or videos, which are a great way to show that your employees are just like your customers — people who genuinely love and use the product or service. You may choose to position employees as social media influencers, since some customers engage more with specific online personalities than with big corporations.
How to get user-generated content
Now that we’ve covered the different types of UGC, let’s discuss how to go about finding and aggregating that content.
Search for it
It’s likely people are already creating content about your brand. Search social media platforms for your company name or any hashtags you use on social channels, and you may find that content already exists. Simply pick what to feature and reach out to the creator to ask for sharing permissions.
Create shareable experiences
Live experiences still matter in the digital age. A great way to encourage customers to show off your brand is by creating a visually stunning storefront, beautiful products, or immersive events that beg to be shared online.
Ask for it
The easiest way to build your brand’s portfolio of user-generated content is by asking your audiences for it. This can be as simple as encouraging them to share on social media, or it can be a more specific request for a particular type of content, like testimonials or videos.
You could even create a marketing campaign with a custom hashtag that you ask customers and fans to use so you can find their UGC easily.
Run a competition
Take the UGC request to the next level and run a structured contest with a prize. If your brand’s social media presence is large enough, the prize can simply be the exposure that comes with being shown off on your brand’s account.
If better suited to your brand, the prize could be using customers’ content to represent the brand in some capacity, like inclusion in a marketing campaign. This may be especially appealing if online, television, or print campaigns are an integral part of your branding or if your brand is still building a social media following. Or the prize might simply be a free product, one-time discount code, event access, or anything else that might be valuable to your audience.
Use a platform to aggregate content
Using a tool that automatically finds and aggregates existing UGC is a great way to find content without having to search for it. UGC aggregators are able to scour different social media platforms for posts that mention or tag your brand and curate the most relevant posts for your review.
Best practices for UGC
Now that you have your user-generated content in place, it’s time to think about how to utilize it. You will develop your own best practices over time, but there are some proven strategies that will help you start strong.
Set goals and plan ahead
The world of user-generated content appears straightforward, but it can get overwhelming if you’re ill-prepared. Before you begin, determine what you want to achieve from UGC marketing and what metrics you will use to measure your progress toward those goals. Use those goals to decide how much content you’re going to aggregate and establish a posting frequency, like once per day or once per week. Scoping out your plan will help alleviate headaches later.
Use different content for different channels
It’s crucial to select the correct type of user-generated content to share on each social media platform or marketing channel. Knowing the right place to post UGC means understanding different platforms, your brand voice, and your audience. For instance, an image might be better in an email or on your product page, while a funny video might be better for TikTok. A photo might look great on Instagram, but could be overlooked on Twitter. And Some UGC might work well on multiple platforms, so don’t hesitate to crosspost.
Be clear with your audiences
When outsourcing user-generated content, make sure your community knows what kind of content you want, what you’re going to do with it, and if any prizes will be awarded if their content is chosen. It’s a good idea to work with a legal specialist to draft rules and terms of service to avoid issues.
Always ask for permission and credit the user
Always ask for permission to share content, even if someone used your hashtag or tagged your brand. Beyond following the guidelines of user-generated content, this builds trust with your audience and others in your brand’s community. Once they give consent, you must also credit the creator and tag them in the post. Alternatively, platforms like Twitter and Instagram automatically credit the user when you share their content on the platform.
Don’t try to be a hit on every social platform
Each social media platform has a different demographic, which means your brand probably won’t be a massive success on each one. Rather than trying to excel at all of them, an effective social media strategy will aim to find the networks that most aligns with your brand and focus most of your efforts there.
If your brand is funny and known for one-liners, Twitter might be a good fit. If your demographic skews younger, TikTok is a good place to start. If you have a lot of aesthetically pleasing products that photograph well, Instagram could be your best option.
It’s certainly still worth exploring other social platforms since trends change fast. You’ll want to have an established presence and be comfortable with other channels, but don’t stretch yourself too thin.
Showcase positive content and use negative content to improve
There’s a lot of negativity on social media, and this will probably extend to your brand’s user-generated content. You’ll inevitably get bad reviews or videos from disgruntled customers. Don’t give negative content attention, even if you’re tempted to respond and defend your brand. Use negative content as an opportunity to pinpoint a part of your business that may not be working and begin implementing strategies to improve it.
Great examples of UGC in action
Now that you have a better understanding of user-generated content, let’s look at UGC in action.
For Michaels’s #MadeWithMichaels program, customers are incentivized to design a craft project based on a theme or season and post it for a chance to be featured on the brand’s social media.
Walmart rounded out its back-to-school social media campaign by posting a video of an employee shopping for school supplies. This is an easy and effective way to make your brand’s social media content feel more authentic and relatable.
Starbucks reposted this Instagram reel from a user who created a simple and aesthetically appealing video showcasing several different Starbucks products. Notice that Starbucks credited the user by tagging them in the caption.
Skincare brand Starface reposted a tweet from a customer on a yellow background to suit the brand’s aesthetic. Sometimes the simplest and most effective UGC is the most eye-catching.
UGC and influencer marketing
User-generated content differs from influencer marketing, but the two coexist. With UGC everyone's an influencer, which appeals to many customers. The benefit to the brand is that you don’t need to hire an expensive influencer with a massive following to sell your product. Instead, find a group of micro-influencers or nano-influencers to post about your brand.
Users with about 1,000 to 10,000 followers have enough reach to make UGC worth exploring, but are still small enough to maintain trust with new customers.
UGC also allows brands to establish their own creator communities made up of advocates that regularly post about the brand’s services and products. This creates organic content that the brand is able retain some control over.
While UGC is a more cost-effective option, influencer marketing efforts are still relevant, particularly when used for brand awareness. For longer campaigns that require several posts from the same person, influencer marketing is helpful for building brand awareness and telling a cohesive story. Using influencers to create UGC is an effective way to build community, engagement, and brand awareness.
Get started with UGC
Now that you know just how valuable user-generated content is, it’s time to create an action plan to determine how you’ll utilize UGC to propel your brand forward. Whether you choose to go the route of social media, testimonials, video, or images, there is an untapped audience ready and eager to learn about your brand.
Turn to Adobe Experience Manager for all of your user-generated content needs, including getting more content without doing more work. Find content that your users can trust, decide which content you want to use, and simply import it directly to Experience Manager Sites — saving you time and money while serving more engaging experiences to your customers.
Watch a quick video to learn how Adobe Experience Manager can elevate your business’s UGC marketing strategies or request a demo to get started