The Beginner’s Guide to User-Generated Content

January 25, 2018

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If you’ve ever tried your hand at marketing any business or brand online — in search and on social media — you’re likely to have heard of “user-generated content” or UGC.

What exactly does this term mean? And why is it getting thrown around a lot in so many marketing conversations?

To help you more clearly understand what UGC means, as well as to highlight the ways you can harness it to power up your own marketing campaigns and initiatives, we thought we’d write this beginner’s guide to user-generated content.

What is User-Generated Content (UGC)?

Traditionally, user-generated content can refer to any type of content created and made publicly available by a user of a system or service, and often without an institutional or commercial market context.

In this broad sense, UGC can mean anything from a blog post or a random person’s YouTube video to an entry or contribution on Wikipedia or a comment left on a Facebook business page. Even selfies posted publicly on Instagram or Twitter count as UGC.

In a marketing sense, though, user-generated content refers to original content created and made publicly available by individuals outside your organization or brand: your customers, your fans, your online reviewers, your brand advocates, and even your online critics and detractors.

Common examples of UGC include:

  • Online reviews and ratings of your business on sites like Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor.
  • Reviews aggregated or embedded on your site via a review widget.
  • “Tips” left by Foursquare users who checked into your location.
  • Customer success stories and testimonials.
  • Video reviews of your product or service posted on YouTube.
  • Instagram photos, videos, and stories that tagged your business.

Why Should You Use UGC?

In today’s marketing landscape, user-generated content can be far more effective than traditional techniques and tactics like paid advertising, PR blitzes, and invasive sales messages and promotions.

Consumers today don’t necessarily rely on TV commercials, glossy magazine advertisements, or salespeople spiels in order to figure out which product to buy or which service to try out.

They’re more proactive and research-driven. They seek social proof. And they’re more eager than ever to validate their purchase decisions, which they do by searching for information on the Internet, on social media, and on online review sites.

According to research:

  • UGC and peer endorsements hold more sway than celebrity influencers, and are 10 times more likely to drive in-store purchases.
  • Positive UGC around your brand can also increase the value and desirability of your products by as much as 9.5 percent. To consumers, a positive recommendation or review is more important than price and brand combined, with a relative importance of 57 percent compared to 28 percent for price and 16 percent for brand. Negative UGC and consumer reviews, meanwhile, can cause as much as an 11 percent drop in the desirability of a product.
  • A specific type of UGC, online reviews, is the key in-store purchase driver for 14.5 percent of consumers, while social media — mainly, Facebook and YouTube — is the form of communication that will convince 12.3 percent to make a buying decision.

“Consumers are less engaged with advertisements and seemingly disingenuous celebrity endorsements,” said Bill Sussman, CEO of Collective Bias, an influencer marketing company. “Brand marketers will need to turn to more effective alternatives such as influencer content.”

The Power of UGC in Marketing

As the above research findings show, there is growing evidence that consumers trust UGC over branded promotional content.

What are the other benefits of user-generated content for marketers? What makes it so valuable?

UGC is more cost-effective. With UGC, you don’t really need to shoulder the cost of expensive contracts for celebrity endorsements, or commit huge spends on campaign development and production. You can simply engage with your community of fans and advocates so that they can tell your story through their own unique experiences.

UGC fosters consumer trust. It’s easy for a business to describe itself as the best at whatever it does or offers. But the voice of the customer is far more persuasive and trustworthy — especially at a time when consumers look to their peers to discover what their experiences are like.

Imagine how a short, organic exchange on Twitter can create powerful social proof and convince a potential customer to try out the poke at Zarlitos more strongly than if Zarlitos, say, ran sponsored tweets:

UGC is made for social. Platforms like Facebook, Yelp, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram, along with majority of online review sites, operate mostly or entirely on user-generated content. This makes UGC campaigns so much more shareable than campaigns run on traditional media. They’re also perfect for integrated, multi-channel initiatives, and can even be used to amplify your own branded campaigns.

UGC promotes instant outreach. Utilizing user-generated content in your campaigns can strengthen your customer relationships and connect your business to the voices that matter the most, while also helping you grow your audience. 

Looking for more examples of effective UGC campaigns? You’ll love this list that we found on HubSpot.

Modern consumers value authenticity. This is where user-generated content can help. (It’s likely anyway that people are already talking about your business every single day, in some form or another, on social media and online review sites.)

By harnessing UGC, you can expand your reach, drive engagement, and empower your customers, fans, and advocates to be the voice of your brand.

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