Advertising has existed for just about as long as trade and commerce have. And probably the oldest and deepest truth about advertising is this: There’s nothing better than word-of-mouth.
Of course, marketers have evolved over the years and become much savvier in promoting their brands. But consumers have gotten savvier, too. And for them, there’s nothing they trust as much as good old word-of-mouth.
Fortunately, in this era of digital advancement, we’re able to leverage word-of-mouth advertising in totally new ways. And one of the most effective ways to maximize this impact is through user-generated content.
What Is User-Generated Content?
Really, it’s all there in the name. User-generated content (UGC) is content that a brand’s consumers create. It’s a highly effective form of content marketing that taps into our universal need to seek out the opinions of others. UGC helps buyers understand how a product or service can be used, often by someone a lot like them. So even if they don’t yet trust your brand, they might trust others who are using it.
As we said, word-of-mouth advertising — of which UGC is a big part — is basically prehistoric. But unlike the dinosaurs, it absolutely refuses to die out. So it's really no surprise that almost all marketers have adopted some form of UGC as part of their content marketing strategy.
If you’re looking for a way to ramp up your content marketing strategy, UGC might just be the perfect way to do it. Here, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to leverage the power of word-of-mouth advertising, source and distribute user-generated content, and create legions of loyal customers.
But first, these are a few of our favorite things. (Numbers. Numbers are our favorite things.)
10 Fascinating UGC Statistics
Sometimes data isn’t all that sexy. But sometimes, like in this case, the numbers are absolute showstoppers. Check out these stats about user-generated content, and try to keep that jaw off the floor, yeah?
Check out even more content marketing statistics if you want all the data.
We think those numbers make a pretty hard case in favor of UGC as part of your content marketing strategy — don’t you agree?
But what exactly constitutes UGC, and where do you unearth it? Let’s find out:
Where Can You Find UGC?
On the whole, word-of-mouth advertising goes straight to the source. And if you’re planning on maximizing the impact of user-generated content, that’s what you’ll need to do as well. Where you find your UGC depends on a few factors, such as whether your brand is B2B or B2C, SaaS or tech, and your unique goals. Here’s where to start:
Your existing — and hopefully satisfied — customers are your first stop on the UGC Express. We’ll talk further on about how to get them to create the kind of content you’re looking for. Sometimes, they’ll create the content without being prompted (especially when your product or service is just that good), but often, they’ll need some ideas and enticements from you.
For example, Starbucks’ white cup contest supplied a perfect art canvas to their existing customers, and those caffeinated coffee lovers ran with it.
Fans go a step beyond just mere customers. They aren’t getting into your content just by making a purchase — they are passionate and dedicated brand evangelists. These ambassadors are among the most powerful tools in your arsenal.
Take this campaign from LG, which allowed rabid Stranger Things stans to transport themselves to their favorite 80s yearbook.
Employee-generated content (EGC) is a form of UGC, and it’s a powerful one. It can be an internal tool for recruiting and hiring, but it can also be a way to connect with your employees’ substantial personal and professional networks.
Especially for B2B brands heavily leaning on LinkedIn, EGC can be a great way to expand your followers and make a mark in the thought leadership space.
Why Is UGC Important for Brands?
You don’t need to take our word for it, do you? Especially after seeing the statistics above, you can put two and two together. And in this case, 2 + 2 = endless possibility and exponential growth.
But if math isn’t your jam, here are some of the biggest reasons you’ll want to leverage UGC for your brand:
Become an Authentic Brand
A lot of advertising is seen as disingenuous, which is no big surprise (because a lot of times, it is). If consumers feel you’re only trying to make a sale (and will say anything to do so), they’ll be hesitant to see you as a trustworthy, reputable, and “real” brand.
And yet, most consumers say that authenticity is one of the top factors in choosing the brands they support.
UGC gives your brand authenticity because it shows real people using your product or service and interacting with you in a real way.
Grow your community
Like influencer marketing, UGC relies heavily on building a strong community of consumers and supporters. Marketers hoping to incorporate it into their UGC strategy are planning to include it in the coming year.
UGC is one of the most efficient ways to expand and grow a thriving and engaged community.
Put Customers Front and Center
Your customers are at the heart of everything you do (and if they’re not, they should be). Make them the star by inviting them to create content for your brand. Putting customers in the spotlight communicates a lot about your brand — that it’s authentic, that it’s trustworthy, that it’s fun or hip or heartfelt (or anything else you want to communicate about it). It’s an easy and effective way to make a bold statement because you’re letting your customers state it for you.
You can tell consumers to buy your product until you’re blue in the face, but just telling them to do it “because you said so” isn’t going to earn their trust. However, when someone who’s actually used the product tells them it’s a safe bet, they’re far more likely to listen. That’s because whether or not they trust your brand, they do trust other consumers they know or who are a lot like them. And trust, when it comes to brand selection, is critical.
The bottom line is this: People don’t inherently trust brands, but they do trust people. Make sure you’ve got the right people working to earn that trust.
Influence Purchasing Decisions
How do you know a marketing campaign is effective? Conversions, right? It can sometimes be hard to track the success of content marketing campaigns because they aren’t always conversion-focused. However, there’s tons of evidence that UGC is a major influencer in purchasing decisions, and the proof is in the conversion pudding.
UGC is especially effective on the buying decision when made on social media, which we’ll explore further on.
UGC Is an Omnichannel Approach
Sometimes our marketing strategies can feel a bit siloed. Maybe you only focus on SEO or one social media platform. Or maybe you utilize multiple channels, but they aren’t really connected to each other in any way. UGC is different because it can stretch from channel to channel with ease.
Like all good content, UGC can be repurposed and updated for distribution across all channels. For instance, a social post might become a testimonial on your website or a hashtag contest might become the basis for a video campaign.
Cheaper Than Influencer Marketing
Some of the best news about UGC is that it costs less than other forms of marketing because, well…you don’t have to create it. UGC is totally voluntary, so while that might mean you have to work a little harder to get it, it also means you won’t have to pay as much — or at least not as much as you would if you planned to hire an influencer. Some UGC creators will expect or accept some form of payment (product, contest winnings, etc.), but others will do it simply because they enjoy and support your brand.
Nobody really wants to hear you tell them how they should feel about your brand. But give them a video of a consumer moved to tears because of the solution your product provided — now that’s some powerful stuff. It’s been shown that most audiences — even B2B audiences — prefer emotion over logic when it comes to advertising. And with UGC, your audience is getting real, raw, unscripted, and unfiltered feelings — and that goes a lot further than some numbers ever could.
It’s tough to pinpoint the exact ROI of UGC, especially because you might not have a separate or distinct UGC budget. However, we’re beginning to see a shift in the coming tides, and it seems that while influencer marketing offers the biggest ROI at the present time, the next decade will see the most significant increase in the ROI of UGC.
In fact, it’s almost as if UGC will swap places with influencer marketing, becoming the next big thing in word-of-mouth advertising.
Types of User-Generated Content
Now that you understand why you need UGC as part of your content marketing strategy, let’s find out exactly what types of UGC you can find.
Over 70% of consumers check reviews from real customers before making a purchase decision. That means reviews are incredibly powerful and necessary to your brand’s success. You can collect reviews on Google or various industry sites, then repurpose them into social media ads, display them on your website, or use them in other content assets.
Remember that one of the biggest keys to leveraging reviews is to respond to all of them, both positive and negative, so readers can see you interacting with real customers.
Testimonials and Comments
Testimonials act as a quick trust signal for potential customers as they see the words and perceptions of other actual customers.
Video testimonials are even more effective, so aim for those whenever it’s possible to do so.
Social Media Posts
Social posts are probably the gold standard for UGC. It’s incredibly easy for followers and fans to tag you in a quick social post, and the few seconds they take out of their day can add up to big impact for your brand.
Be sure your social posts are all enabled for tagging.
Video and Images
The rise of TikTok has caused another huge surge in UGC. It’s a platform that encourages content from loyal customers, and it’s a highly effective way to engage and connect with existing fans and find new ones.
Content with images and video nearly always performs better, so encourage customers to share as much visual content as possible.
Hashtag contests are simple and effective ways to give your brand a big boost. You set the hashtag for the campaign, then encourage followers to share an image or asset tagged with your selected hashtag.
It’s easy for you, easy for them, and it creates a whole library of UGC at your fingertips.
Content Around the Holiday Season
Everybody loves the warm coziness of the holiday season (unless they’re a Scrooge). And for the most part, consumers love sharing the ways they’re planning to celebrate — especially if there’s a possible reward for them.
Get into the spirit of the season and offer contests, but also offer ways for customers to do some good. Come up with a fundraiser and matching donation, or provide a meal to a needy family for every share.
Make UGC extra fun by making it a game. Contests always perform well among consumers, but it’s not always about the prize. Sometimes it’s just about winning. Quizzes, games, contests, and competitions are all gamified forms of UGC.
Starbucks’ summer bingo didn’t offer a prize, but it did offer consumers a quick and fun way to share their favorite summer moments.
Is influencer marketing a part of UGC? The answer isn’t so straightforward. Influencer marketing is a distinct type of marketing from UGC, but some influencer marketing can be UGC.
It can help to look at UGC through the lens of influencer marketing. Let’s say you have a micro-influencer you partner with, and that person has 10K followers. You can work with them to collaborate on a UGC campaign in which they ask those followers to submit a certain type of content. Influencer followers are highly engaged and motivated, so they’re often more likely to participate.
5 Examples of User-Generated Content
Ready to see some fabulous examples of UGC in action? Let’s get to it!
GoPro’s YouTube Channel
UGC is a pretty natural fit for the camera brand GoPro. In fact, most of the time, the top videos featured on the brand’s YouTube channel are all user-generated. And the videos receive hundreds of millions of views.
GoPro has also ramped up its UGC game by holding regular photo contests and awards.
Lululemon wearers are passionate about two things: leggings as pants and the Lululemon brand. Okay, they’re also pretty passionate about fitness and wellness. The brand tapped into their fanbase with #thesweatlife campaign and asked customers to post photos of themselves wearing Lululemon clothing while showing off their stretch-loving lifestyle.
Coca-Cola #ShareACoke Campaign
This campaign comes around every now and again, and it’s always a big hit. Coca-Cola started the #ShareACoke initiative by launching bottles bearing the top 150 names in the U.S. Since then, the campaign has expanded to include more diverse names and titles.
The campaign created a wealth of UGC for the brand because, hey, who doesn’t want their name on a bottle of Coke?
Apple’s #shotoniPhone Campaign
A while back, Apple customers weren’t exactly in love with the iPhone’s camera capabilities. The brand launched a campaign to educate users on taking photos in low light and asked them to share their results.
It was a resounding success. Not only did users take and share some amazing images, but Apple was also able to repurpose many of them into an eye-catching advertising campaign.
Another successful hashtag campaign comes from sparkling water maker LaCroix. LaCroix does an excellent job of branding, as its 90s Miami retro vibe comes through in nearly every post. To make sure the brand stays consistent, LaCroix holds contests and sends out tons of branded swag to followers.
This ensures that the colors, tone, and feel are spot on when they snap a pic in their LaCroix gear.
How to Incorporate User-Generated Content Into Your Marketing Strategy
Now it’s time for what you’ve been waiting for — your step-by-step guide to incorporating UGC into your content marketing strategy. Let’s roll.
Establish a Goal for Your UGC Campaign
As we mentioned, tracking ROI for content marketing initiatives can be tough, but you still need to set easily measurable goals to ensure you’re on the right path. Here are a few goals you can adopt for UGC:
Increasing Brand Awareness
UGC is a great way to get your brand out to a wider audience. People listen to the people they like, follow, respect, or want to emulate, so if they see one of those people shouting out your brand, they’ll be likely to take notice.
Build Brand Trust
We’ve said it before: People don’t trust brands. But they do trust people. And when you’ve got the right users generating content for your brand, they’ll be more likely to extend that trust to you, as well.
UGC is very similar to referral marketing in many ways, and what we know about referrals is that they lead to a major boost in conversion. Once you’ve got a loyal customer, that ambassador will bring new fans into the fold. Focus your goal on nurturing existing customers into returning/loyal/evangelizing customers, then work toward getting them to create content that will encourage others to convert.
Increasing Brand Engagement
A ton of UGC happens on social media, which is, of course, the best place your brand can engage with its community, followers, and fans. This takes a consistent effort on your part, but it’s well worth it as you gather new followers, raise awareness, and lauch successful UGC campaigns.
Educating Users About Your Product
Just as Apple did with the iPhone camera campaign, you can take an opportunity to educate users about your product and ask those who are already familiar with them to share how/where/why they use it.
Create a System to Keep Track of User-Generated Content
You’ll want to have a database of all the UGC you receive from customers, both for your own tracking purposes and so others can gain exposure to your brand. Each UGC campaign will likely have its own staging area, whether it's keeping all images housed under one Instagram hashtag, creating a feed on your website, or managing a separate YouTube channel for user-created videos.
There’s nothing wrong with collecting UGC via a hashtag, but keep in mind that success will depend on how unique/branded your hashtag is. If it’s too generic, you’ll find overlap with users sharing content that isn’t part of your branded campaign, and there might also be questions over usage rights. If possible, it’s typically more manageable to collect UGC assets through an app or portal.
Get Inspiration From Competitors
If you want to see real-world examples of UGC (the good, the bad, and the ugly), check out what your competitors are doing. Make sure you’re following them on social, browsing their YouTube channel, and perusing their website regularly.
We’re not suggesting you rip off what the competition is doing. But keep tabs on what’s being discussed by consumers in your industry and let that spark some creative ideas.
Pay careful attention to which UGC campaigns get the most engagement for your competitors. A killer concept is dead in the water if it doesn’t compel the audience to interact. If you find a campaign that has very few shares, likes, or uploads, you’ll learn what to avoid. On the other hand, if a UGC campaign has exploded in popularity, you can learn a lot from the format, the messaging, and the incentives.
Encourage Followers to Create Content
As we mentioned previously, a lot of customers want to be prompted to create content for your brand. They might be a passionate brand advocate, but they just don’t know what to do or say.
Remember that making it easy and fun to submit content will impact your success rate. Hashtag campaigns are great for this because they’re simple. Make sure any direction you give to your customers is clear and concise.
We’ve also said earlier that incentives are a great way to prompt UGC. Send out some branded merch with clear instructions on what the recipients should do with it. Or offer exclusive discounts, upgrades, etc., for submitting photos or reviews.
Most importantly, understand that while the content creation is up to your customers, sourcing, selecting, and distributing that content is on you. You can’t sit back and wait for amazing UGC to start rolling in — you have to be proactive, strategic, and smart.
Choose Platforms with the Most Impact for Your Brand
So, how do you decide where to start your UGC campaign? It depends on a lot of factors, like where your customers hang out, where they’re most active/engaged, and where you can get the most bang for your UGC buck. Here are some platforms to consider:
Online forums like Reddit are goldmines for UGC. This is a space where brands can interact directly with customers in a casual and conversational way, so you’re sure to get their raw, unfiltered opinions.
Instagram sets the standard for UGC, especially when it comes to hashtag campaigns. If you’re looking for a library of authentic images of real people loving your brand, this is where you’ll get it.
While Twitter isn’t so image-heavy, it’s a great spot to do a little social listening and discover what actual customers are saying about your brand. Check for brand mentions, but don’t forget to see what they’re saying about your competition.
Let’s say you want to freshen up your brand with some new images, but you want something that feels more authentic than a professional photo shoot. See what’s happening on Flickr. The service offers the most free image storage anywhere, so it’s a popular choice for both hobbyists and pros. Find something you like? Reach out and ask for permission to use it, or browse the Creative Commons section, where you’ll find free photos you can use in exchange for attribution.
Video is the king of content, so it’s always wise to see what customers are saying about your brand on YouTube. You may want to host a video contest or simply promote some of the amazing content your customers are creating.
Have you ever just searched your brand on Facebook? Try it! Type in “posts about” and the name of your brand and see what comes up — you might be (pleasantly) surprised. There’s a ton of content creation happening on Facebook, so if your buyer persona aligns with the typical Facebook user, it’s a great place to start.
Review Sites Like Amazon, G2, Capterra, and Yelp
This is such a great way to find little snippets of UGC you can repurpose in multiple ways. A great review can be used on your website, in an ad campaign, or on social media. And in fact, a bad review can be even more effective!
Clearly Explain What You Need and What You’ll Give in Return
So, your customers are out there loving your brand — they just need a little nudge to get them cranking out crazy cool content. As we mentioned, you’ll want to be clear and direct in what you’re asking them to provide, and remember KISS (keep it simple, stupid).
Remember how we said previously that over 50% of consumers want brands to tell them what type of UGC to provide? Well, as it turns out, only 16% of brands are actually stepping up and doing it. Sure, you don’t want to come off as too pushy, but you can’t expect your customers to read your mind.
Also, if you are planning to offer any type of incentive, contest, discount, etc., be sure that’s clear right from the get-go. You’ll want to have detailed rules and regulations in place before you get started.
Display UGC at Live Events
If you’re a B2B brand or using EGC to source content from employees, you’ll likely end up with a treasure trove of images, videos, and testimonials to display at your live events. It’s a fantastic way to get the energy up and help your attendees feel involved and build connections.
And if you’re hosting mainly virtual events, you aren’t left out of the fun. Many virtual hosting platforms will provide a space to ask digital attendees to upload photos or leave messages.
Seek Legal Advice
Here’s an important best practice if you want to CYA. Before you begin a UGC campaign, talk to an attorney. The rights to digital content can be a sticky subject at the best of times but even trickier when it comes to using content created by your customers. You aren’t buying rights or licenses to use particular images, names, likenesses, etc., so you want to make sure that you and your customers are protected.
Use UGC on Content Marketing Campaigns
It might go without saying, but just in case it doesn’t — you should be incorporating UGC into your overall content marketing strategy and using it whenever possible for your content marketing campaigns. Content marketing can be overwhelming due to the sheer breadth of possibilities. Take some of the weight off and let your customers tackle the content creation for a bit.
Focus on the Community
One of the benefits we called out previously is that UGC helps you build a brand community. As you’re growing that network, you’ll need to nurture it. That means you can’t just put out a call for UGC and then ghost all your followers. You need to be just as engaged as they are, ready to comment and like their posts, then share them with the rest of your community.
Focus on Customer Retention
You don’t want new customers only — you want to make sure your existing customers feel seen and valued so they keep coming back. Retention and referral are essential to creating a sustainable growth engine for your brand. Happy customers tend to become repeat customers, and then they become brand ambassadors and evangelists. It’s possible for customers creating UGC to feel a bit used and abused after a while, especially if you’re only focused on bringing in new buyers.
Instead, ensure that your UGC creators feel important and know that they matter. You might want to offer exclusive deals or even start a loyalty program, especially for your best UGC creators.
Credit the Original Author
This is the golden rule of UGC — you must give credit where it’s due. That means whenever you pull anything a customer has created, you’re citing their name, username, handle, etc. You may even want to give them a link back to their website. On social, you’ll probably want to tag them. But if you’re in doubt, reach out. Ask them how they’d prefer to be credited, and honor their wishes.
Request Permission Before Republishing Customer Content
Never repost or share anything without getting explicit permission from the creator. You can reach out individually, or you can include an opt-in or terms and conditions checkbox during the submission process to make it easier.
It gets trickier with something like a hashtag campaign, where people might tag something unrelated to your brand. Keep a close eye on that, and do not share anything you’re unsure was intended for your campaign.
Show the Positive, Learn From the Negative
While it doesn’t hurt to show your sense of humor and repurpose a handful of those negative reviews, you don’t want to put all that bad energy on blast to your entire following. The truth is you will get negative feedback and some pretty crappy UGC criticizing your brand (maybe fairly, but often not).
Take the opportunity to take a good hard look at your brand through the lens of the negative responses, but don’t dwell too long. Instead, showcase what’s positive, upbeat, funny, or uplifting about your brand. While you might get a chuckle from a scathing Yelp review, that should be the exception, not the rule.
Showcase UGC on Your Website
UGC adds an element of authenticity and visual interest to your website, but it can be a major undertaking to sort through all the content assets and choose them individually. Instead, try using an aggregator tool that will pull in images from social media; alternately, add a widget that embeds your social media feeds right on your website for live, real-time UGC updates.
Analyze and Measure Efforts
Way back at the beginning, you set specific goals for your UGC campaign. Now it’s time to make sure you’re on the right track to achieving those goals. Make sure you’re monitoring important metrics like social engagement, likes, shares, and so on. It’s helpful to have a great social media analytics tool, but you’ll also want to pay attention to other numbers, like website traffic, conversions, follower count, and more.
UGC Is Not a Hashtag: Create a Strategy That Works
UGC hearkens back to the history of marketing and advertising when word-of-mouth was the most viable and reliable choice. Today, UGC is so effective because it provides cost savings, improves your brand perceptions, and builds relationships between you and your customers.