The Value of User-Generated Content

Mackenzie Maher
By Mackenzie Maher

Today, anyone who has a smartphone can be a content creator. And in recent years, many average Joes have started to cash in on the courtesy of user-generated content on social media.

What exactly is user-generated content? How is it different from influencer content? And most importantly, how can you leverage “UGC” in your social media marketing strategy to boost your company’s brand awareness and, by extension, your bottom line? Read on for answers to all your UGC FAQ’s.

What is UGC?

UGC is any content that has the potential to ignite and/or drive an online conversation—that was created by someone who:

  • Has no official affiliation with the brand that sources the content
  • Created the content voluntarily without any expectation of being compensated by the brand in any capacity

This compensation aspect is what differentiates UGC from any type of influencer and paid blogger, both of whom have arrangements with major brands that entail them endorsing the brand in exchange for cash payments or free merchandise.

What Are Some Common Examples of UGC?

UGC typically comes in the following varieties:

  • Photos 
  • Prerecorded or live streaming video
  • Engagement (likes, shares, comments, etc.) with social media posts
  • Consumer reviews
  • User forums (i.e. Reddit threads)
  • Augmented Reality lenses or any filters applied to photos or videos on social media

Regardless of what form it takes, all UGC falls into one of two categories:

  • Content Overtly Related to the Brand – e.g. a user writes a Yelp review singing the praises of a Stout Burger location despite not being connected to Stout Burger in any way.
  • Content Completely Unrelated to the Brand – e.g. a user takes a home video of their toddler taking her first steps, and then Apple sources that video as part of their advertising campaign for the latest iPhone.

Why UGC is Currently All the Rage

Several trends among marketers and consumers alike have evolved in a way that has opened the floodgates for UGC to shine. 

The most influential factors for UGC’s rapid ascension include:

  • Ease of Use – “Everyone’s a critic” is an old saying that applied to daily life far before the dawn of social media. But today, with new, free social media platforms entering the fold on what feels like a daily basis, everyone’s a critic (or photographer. Or entertainer. Or virtually anything they’d like to be) for a mass audience. All you need is a smartphone and a pulse.
  • Banner Blindness – Americans spend an average of 7 hours per day on the computer. One of the side effects of this is that we’ve become inundated with online ads. In fact, we’re so sick of intrusive pop-up ads and banners that we’ve trained our brains to ignore them entirely, a phenomenon known as “banner blindness.” 

With the vast majority of consumers today no longer even registering online ad messages let alone making purchase decisions inspired by them, advertisers have been forced to find new, creative ways to reach audiences. 

  • Craving for Authenticity – There’s always going to be a part of us that’s inclined to buy every book Oprah tells us to read which means that influencer marketing is going to keep its permanence.

But the full transparency that social media allows has exposed the fact that the Kardashians and “hey, what’s up, guys?! Some 20-year-old here to tell you about the swag that a brand just sent me for free” of the world are far removed from reality. 

As a result, we’re beginning to care much less about what the rich and famous have to say and find ourselves craving content from normal middle-class people like us that we can actually relate to. In fact, a recent study reveals that 60% of consumers made a purchasing decision based on content sent to them by a family member or close friend, whereas only 23% were inspired by celebrity or influencer content to make a purchase.

  • We Love to Share – One thing’s for sure about UGC: there’s never going to be a shortage of it. We simply love to share our experiences with others, and we especially love to do so on public online forums. According to the aforementioned study, 63% of consumers will post about an experience with a food or beverage, while as many as 85% will do the same for a travel experience.

Why UGC Has Been Able to Capitalize on the Opportunity

The proverbial stars aligned for UGC to make a splash in the world of social media marketing. And market research shows that it hasn’t just made a splash—it’s initiated a tidal wave.

What makes UGC such a bankable advertising strategy? Let us count the ways:

Trust

Because UGC is created without the user expecting anything in return, consumers are much more willing to trust it. And apparently, when consumers can trust that content is authentic and free of ulterior motives, it plays an enormous role in their purchasing decisions.

Just how big of a role? Multiple studies reveal the following mind-blowing statistics about the correlation between authenticity and consumers’ purchasing behavior:

  • 86% of consumers claim that authenticity plays an important role in deciding which brands to purchase from.
  • Consumers are 3x likelier to identify UGC as being authentic as compared to branded content and are 73% likelier to leave a positive comment on social media for an ad featuring UGC than for a standard ad.
  • Consumers trust UGC 50% more than they trust other media.
  • 70% of consumers will read at least one UGC review of a product before deciding whether or not to pull the trigger on purchasing it.

The social proof that UGC provides lends itself to not only short-term purchasing decisions but also long-term brand loyalty. The inherent genuineness of UGC enables you to give consumers a refreshing look behind the curtain at what your company is all about, and how you’ve succeeded in being the perfect solution for customers’ pain points.

Conversion Rates

It’s simple: the authenticity of UGC gives you a markedly better chance of attracting consumers’ attention. And the mere feat of getting their attention automatically puts you in a better position to make customers out of them and, more importantly, compel them to talk about your brand to their friends.

Multiple studies show that UGC is just as effective at making a first impression as it is at sealing the deal. Check out these telling stats:

  • On social media, UGC posts have an engagement rate of 28% higher than their typical brand counterparts.
  • Ads featuring UGC content enjoy click-through rates 4 times higher than average, as well as only half the cost-per-click.
  • UGC videos see 10 times more views on YouTube than branded content videos do.
  • Websites featuring UGC witnessed a 20% increase in return visitors and a whopping 90% spike in the amount of time people spent checking out the site.
  • Overall, UGC generates a 29% increase in web conversions.

Cost-Effectiveness

In addition to generating remarkable results, UGC is also extremely cost-effective. When users—none of whom are paid employees on your staff—create content, they’re doing the lion’s share of the advertising legwork for you. For free.

The same cost of producing a standard video advertisement in-house can get you dozens, perhaps even hundreds of UGC ads.

How to Incorporate UGC Into Your Social Media Advertising Campaign

Every day, advertisers are dreaming up fresh new ways to capitalize on UGC. 

Here are three strategies that continually prove to be winners:

User Reviews on Websites

Another recent study indicated that 86% of consumers consider checking out reviews to be an essential aspect of the purchasing process, and that accompanying product pages with reviews leads to an increase of: 

  • 108% in traffic
  • 92% in sales
  • And the big fish, 65% in conversions

Several brands are taking advantage of this tremendous lift potential by showcasing user reviews on their website landing pages.

Video Ads

Video marketing is an undefeated form of advertising, as videos deliver messages to consumers in the fastest way possible while telling a full, layered story in a way that photos and text simply can’t replicate. 

In the UGC arena, two types of videos have separated themselves from the pack:

  • Crowdsourced Videos – These are the centerpiece of marketing campaigns in which brands send an open call out to users, hoping they’ll submit a video of themselves that exemplifies the campaign slogan. Oftentimes, you can sweeten the pot for users by making crowdsourced videos part of a contest.
  • Viral Videos – These result from lightning-in-a-jar moments when a user stumbles into capturing an irresistible video such as a puppy putting its arm around a kitten. Videos like this are a surefire way of catching viewers’ attention by invoking emotional responses. And because they’re so watchable, they can be used to accommodate just about any slogan.

Event Marketing

Highly anticipated events present a prime opportunity for UGC marketing based on the sheer fact that thousands of people attend them.

Initiating a successful event marketing campaign is a simple process:

  • Step One – Set up shop at a major event (the Super Bowl, Comic Con, etc.) with an attention-grabbing interactive ad that makes people want to stop and check it out.
  • Step Two – Press record on your camera, then sit back and see how people react to your ad.

Conclusion

UGC presents advertisers with the ultimate win-win: it’s cheap to obtain and works like a charm. Follow the above guidelines for a UGC-based advertising campaign that earns consumers’ attention, trust, and most importantly, loyalty.

Resources:

1) “User-Generated Content for Marketing and Advertising” by David Elkins and Clay Webster

https://www.iab.com/insights/user-generated-content-for-marketing-and-advertising-purposes/

2) “21 Stats That Prove Your Brand Needs More User-Generated Content” by Austen, contributing writer for Social Toaster

https://www.socialtoaster.com/user-generated-content-21-stats-ugc/

3) User-Generated Content Marketing & Its Unavoidable Benefits” by Neeraj, contributing writer for Taggbox

https://taggbox.com/blog/user-generated-content/

As a Social Media Account Manager, Mackenzie works to develop dynamic strategies and creative content that will help clients grow their organic social presence. With a strong background in writing and marketing, and an eye for design, her role at PDM allows her to flex her strongest muscles and indulge her outside-the-box thinking. Equally happy when creating a witty caption as she is mocking up a new visual concept, the San Diego local and UC Santa Barbara graduate treats every day as a new opportunity to achieve marketing greatness.