What is user-generated content?

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Discover what user-generated content is and how this free online marketing method can help you reach new customers and grow your business organically. 

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User-generated content (UGC) is a powerful tool for businesses and advertisers when marketing their brand. The clue is in the name – user-generated content marketing is content created by consumers that promotes a business’ product or service. Not only is user-generated content an organic way to market, it also helps create trust between potential customers and your brand by highlighting genuine positive experiences from your existing customer base.

Why does user-generated content work?

At present, user-generated content can be just as (if not more) important than customer reviews. Think about restaurants, bars, and clubs. Whilst of course, good reviews matter, many will go to restaurants simply because they’ve seen people post about it on Instagram or will buy a product because they’ve seen it discussed in a forum. It’s a way to build hype around your product with the endorsement of genuine customers.

Consumers are more likely to trust the word of other consumers – especially those they already follow on social media – than they are to trust the carefully crafted words of the brand itself, or often-faceless written reviews. User-generated content has a more organic, authentic feel, while still highlighting the features and benefits of your product. Users want to hear from real people about their genuine experiences.

Consider an apparel brand, for example. A full photoshoot with a fashion model and professional lighting will certainly appeal to many, but there’s a large group of shoppers who would much rather see how the clothes look in normal lighting, modelled by those who actually bought the piece, offering a more realistic look at what’s on offer.

Of course, it depends on your brand. If you’re a luxury brand selling high-end products, perhaps the traditional marketing approach will appeal more to your core demographic, but it’s becoming increasingly popular to use more authentic, realistic marketing – and that’s why user-generated content performs so well.

Where is user-generated content found?

Social media is one of the most important vehicles for a brand, and it’s where you’ll see most UGC. A lot of UGC is completely organic; customers aren’t necessarily posting knowing that they’re creating content – they simply want to share their positive experience of a service or show off their cool new purchase. Instagram, as well as other social networks like Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and Pinterest, are packed with user-generated content from both influencers and everyday users. 

It’s not limited to social media, though. Online forums like Mumsnet, where communities discuss and compare products, typically parenting and home products, are spaces where user-generated content thrives. .

Community sites, such as hotukdeals.com, allow users to post strong deals whilst also sharing their insight on the product or service. Other users can then vote on the deals, allowing the best content and offers to rise to the top. These online communities are trusted by consumers as they rely on user-generated content to promote strong offers and bargains. 

Who does user-generated content work for?

User-generated content can be beneficial for just about any business, but there are certainly some sectors and products where it’s more prevalent.

If you run a hotel or bed and breakfast, you could encourage guests to share photos online with a specific hashtag – and  you’ll soon have an entire library of visuals promoting your brand without having to pay for professional photography.

The same goes for restaurants, bars, cafés, and other hospitality businesses. Often you see someone you follow on Instagram posting a photo of a dish or a cocktail and tagging the venue – and this is a very valuable way to attract new customers.

You’ll notice user-generated content being used frequently by beauty and cosmetics brands too, and fashion is of course a sector that’s primed for user-generated content.

Even places like gyms, universities, and many lifestyle brands benefit hugely from user-generated content; so long as you have a product or service you think people will want to talk about - it can work for you.

Examples of user-generated content

In 2020, after months of absence amid the pandemic, KFC capitalised on user-generated content in a TV advert announcing their return.

KFC cleverly enticed customers to return to the fast-food chain by showcasing users’ unappealing homemade attempts at replicating their food.

Another great example of how to make good use of user-generated content comes from home security company Ring, which encourages users to send in footage taken from their Ring doorbell and post it on YouTube, creating hundreds of viral videos showing their product in action in the process.

Starbucks also ran a highly successful UGC campaign in 2014, encouraging customers to doodle on their Starbucks coffee cups while using the hashtag #RedCupArt, gaining millions of submissions.

How to encourage user-generated content

User-generated content is not necessarily a paid promotion. Much of what makes UGC so effective is that it’s customer-centric and authentic – so it often does not involve any payment. However, you might still offer incentives to those who post content. Perhaps you’ll hold a contest, encouraging users to tag you or use a specific hashtag in the post and offer a discount or free item to the best photo or video.

Offering something in return doesn’t necessarily have to be something of monetary value. Some users will be happy to post about your product with a branded hashtag simply for the chance that you may repost – which could lead to more likes and followers for them.

It’s best practice to ask permission before reposting anyone’s content – even if the post is about your product. You can do so via direct message, or simply in the comments section of the post. Be friendly and appreciative of their support, and make it clear that you’d like to use the content on your own social channels.

It certainly helps to credit the poster – generally by tagging them. Tagging the creator of UGC also makes it clear to other users that it truly is user-generated.

Many influencers earn income as affiliate marketers, and running an affiliate program is a great way for you to encourage user-generated content from them, expanding your reach with their large platform. Affiliate marketers can sign up for your program and receive a unique affiliate link to your product. Affiliates can then include that link in user-generated content, and whenever someone clicks through and makes a purchase, they receive a commission. 

Awin has a number of tools to help advertisers connect with affiliate publishers. Our voucher attribution tool allows you to provide an exclusive voucher code to a publisher and track all transactions made using that code – with or without an affiliate link. This is designed to facilitate partnerships between businesses and a variety of affiliate types, including social media influencers, making it a great way to encourage effective user-generated content.

Shaping your product for user-generated content

You’ll certainly have an idea in mind of how your UGC will look – but once it’s in the hands of the people, that hashtag might yield unexpected results. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You might find through UGC that customers are using your product in a way you hadn’t considered, or that they call out a feature that you hadn’t prioritised in your marketing strategy. UGC is a great way to understand how customers engage with your brand and identify strengths, weaknesses, and trends that you can use to guide your approach going forward.

Presentation and packaging are more important than ever. If you’re selling a perfume; there’s no way to prove your fragrance smells good through a picture or video – but you can create an ‘experience’ around simply opening the box that loyal fans will want to post about. Including little freebies will add a little extra interest that users can call out.

If you have a physical space – like a store or restaurant – try to make the space ‘Instagrammable’. Do some research to see what kind of settings gain traction on social – be it floral arrangements, neon lights, or otherwise. Many shops and venues will have feature spaces designed to be a photo spot; it might even simply be the changing room mirrors. Include a hashtag on things like signage and menus to encourage users to post. Perhaps that neon light can display a catchy, branded hashtag that sits in the backdrop of users’ photos.  

You want to make sure to use a unique, ideally branded hashtag, so that when people browse it, they only see content that relates to your product. You don’t want the tagged posts to be overcrowded with irrelevant, off-brand content.  You also don’t want people to say anything negative about your brand whilst inadvertently using your name and product.

There are certainly some risks when encouraging user-generated content, but so long as you’re confident that customers will love your product, it will be hugely beneficial for brand awareness.

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