User-generated content: A valuable tool in your branding arsenal

June 03, 2021 · 9 min read

Are you more likely to buy a product based on an ad you saw or an image from a real-life customer?

If you said, "Of course, a real customer!" — then you're part of the 62% of consumers across the United States, Canada, France, Germany, and the UK that are more inclined to buy a product if able to see customer photos and videos.

That's the power of user-generated content (UGC).

Let's dive into what user-generated content is, why it's valuable, and how you can leverage user-generated content as part of your content marketing strategy.

What is user-generated content?

User-generated content (UGC) refers to any content (e.g., video, image, or social media post) that features your brand or products and was created by a customer or someone outside of your organization. 

Customers often see UGC on influencer or content creator accounts, especially those who provide reviews of products and brand experiences. But UGC can also come from everyday customers who love your brand or products. This content will appear under hashtags on social, in product reviews on your third-party sites, and even in comments on your own channels.

UGC can be an asset to your brand if your customers are saying favorable things about you. (Of course, if they are making a public complaint, it can have the opposite effect.)

Why is user-generated content valuable?

There are many benefits to leveraging user-generated content in your own marketing efforts. To start, it's essentially free advertising. Your customers are sharing their positive experience with your brand and/or products with their audience, getting your company in front of new people.

Not only does it help improve brand awareness, but it also offers social proof for consumers who might want to buy from you. Photos and videos from real customers impact your potential customers' purchasing decisions as a form of word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing. 

In the U.S., 82 percent of Americans seek recommendations from friends and family before making a purchase. And 70 percent of American consumers will trust a recommendation from someone they don’t even know. Happy customers saying great things about your products and showing others how and why they use these products helps show other customers why they should do the same.

UGC is also valuable to marketers because it gives them free and authentic content they can use on brand channels. Creating original content takes time and resources. When you launch a UGC campaign that leverages content created by your customers, that's less content your marketing team has to create and distribute.

How to create a user-generated content strategy

To get the most out of UGC, you'll want to create a specific user-generated content strategy that focuses on how, where, and when you'll use this type of content. 

As you're creating this strategy, keep the following in mind:

1. Choosing channels & platforms

The first thing you'll want to consider when developing a UGC strategy is which channels and platforms you’ll use to gather and share content from your loyal customers. 

Social media platforms are a great place to start because it's likely that your customers are already posting and sharing content there.

Instagram is a popular channel for both customers and brands to post UGC, especially visual UGC (e.g., images, videos, GIFs, etc.). Instagram allows consumers to mention and tag brands in their content, and, in turn, it enables brands to share that content to their Instagram Stories or in posts. 

Not to mention, hashtags are commonly used on Instagram, giving companies an effective and easy way to aggregate this type of content.

But Instagram isn't the only social network to include in your UGC strategy. You can also share user-generated content on your Facebook page, through Pinterest Pins, in Tweets, and even on LinkedIn posts. Anywhere you are communicating with potential customers is a good place to share UGC.

2. Establishing purpose & value

Whether it's to entertain, inspire, showcase a feature, highlight customer reviews, or educate customers about how to use a product, your UGC needs to serve a purpose. Consider what value your user-generated content will provide before you share it.

Aerie is a great example of a company that puts a lot of thought into the purpose of its UGC. With its focus on body positivity, Aerie often shares content from its customers as a way to celebrate diverse body types and showcase how their products fit different bodies.

3. Sharing content

There are different ways that you can share UGC on your own channels. Many brands post on their social channels (as mentioned in #1), but you can also share UGC in your email marketing, on your blog, and even in your product images. 

The key to getting more mileage from your UGC is to repurpose it. To expand on our social media example, saving your Instagram Stories that include UGC to a specific highlight is a great way to ensure that this content is available long after the story expires.

This example from Brand Kits, a customizable Canva template shop, shows the original Instagram Story saved to a highlight called "In the Wild." 

Featuring this highlight on their Instagram page allows Brand Kits to show potential users how customers are designing and customizing their templates.

4. Giving credit

Giving credit to the customer who originally shared your UGC is a very important part of sharing UGC. The purpose of this type of content is to build trust and demonstrate authenticity. If you don't credit each creator, you risk losing the trust and authenticity that may have inspired them to share your product in the first place.

When sharing UGC on social media, be sure to tag the content creator and mention them in your caption. If you're using video content, make sure that credit is clearly given somewhere in the video and the caption.

User-Generated Content Examples

There are many ways to use UGC content, especially on social media. Here are just a few effective ways that you can create a UGC campaign—along with some real-life content examples for inspiration!

Hashtag Contest or Giveaway

To run a hashtag contest or giveaway, create a unique hashtag that customers can use to share their UGC on Instagram posts and videos. Then, choose the best user-generated content to share on your own pages. Incentivize participation by offering prizes, like free products or discounts.

One example of a hashtag UGC campaign at work is Madewell’s #EverydayMadewell campaign. The clothing store’s customers share photos of them wearing Madewell products while living their lives.

This type of user-generated content allows Madewell to show the diverse styles and lifestyles of those who shop at Madewell. The hashtag currently has over 560,000 posts from real-life consumers.

Curated Content

Sharing user-generated content doesn't have to mean just sharing one image or post from a happy customer. You can also curate different pieces of UGC and compile them into a new piece of content. This allows you to bring together content from different users that all have a common thread to create something even more impactful.

Here's a great example of curated UGC video content from Pampers that was put together as part of their Love, Sleep and Play campaign:

This video compiles many different clips from videos submitted by real moms who use Pampers. This example shows how you can curate different pieces of UGC to create something new that has an equal or even greater impact on building trust with potential customers.

Ongoing Engagement

You don't have to create a specific contest or campaign to get your loyal customers to create content on a regular basis. Starbucks is a great example of a brand that encourages UGC simply by reposting this type of content on a regular basis. 

The more you engage with and share UGC, the more encouraged your audience will be to create it (and hopefully see it shared on your channels).

Starbucks often shares photos of drinks submitted by real customers. In fact, they do it so often that customers have been "trained" on what the content should look like to fit Starbucks' aesthetic. In other words, if customers want their content to show up on Starbucks' Instagram feed, they need to fit that aesthetic.

These two images are side by side on the Starbucks Instagram feed. The image on the left was submitted by the customer. While the image on the right is a professional photo by Starbucks. Notice that they have a similar aesthetic and product placement. 

By creating and maintaining this aesthetic, Starbucks ensures that every piece of UGC they share fits the brand's style while clearly showing the Starbucks logo. And they were able to encourage this type of ongoing UGC simply by engaging with and often sharing content from their customers.

Inspiring Locations

For brands with physical locations, sometimes the location alone can inspire customers to create UGC when they visit. Having interesting location features or a fun area for customers to take pictures or video is a great way to encourage people to create authentic, user-generated content.

Jo’s Coffee in Austin, TX is a great example of how a simple mural can inspire customers to snap a picture. Created by Austin musician Amy Book as a love letter to her partner, Liz Lambert, majority owner at Jo’s, the “i love you so much” mural is a popular photo spot for locals and visitors alike.

The photo spot is so sought-after that people often wait in line to take pictures there. As a result, Jo’s Coffee has an endless amount of UGC to share throughout the year to showcase their happy customers and popular coffee.

User-generated content can work for you

The examples and tips above give you a nice starting point for understanding how to make user-generated content a part of your overall digital marketing strategy. While developing your own UGC campaigns, remember that the more incentive you give customers to create their own content highlighting your products, the more likely they will be to participate.

When it comes to collecting and sharing UGC in your own digital marketing, you're going to need an easy way to organize this content so you can use it later. Air has a great tool to help collect and streamline your content storage so that you can easily find, access, and use this content later across your social media channels.

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