Ultimate Guide To User-Generated Content

Ultimate Guide To User-Generated Content

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This article has been contributed by Katherine Rundell.

If you’re thriving as a brand, you’ll have developed some kind of following. There are thousands of creative, passionate and inspirational individuals out there for whom your products or services are integral to their lives. User-generated content (UGC) takes this passion and serves it up for the world to see. After all, when people are loving your brand you should share that with the world.

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UGC should be a part of any brand’s marketing strategy. In this article we’ll explore why UGC is so valuable to brands, explore the values that should guide your UGC strategy and check out some tips, tricks and best practices. Content is out there – go get it.

Why User-Generated Content Is So Important for Your Brand

UGC can have big implications for your brand. From return on investment to greater brand awareness, here are some of the reasons why you need UGC.

It’s Authentic

In an increasingly cynical world, consumers are getting savvier about the tricks of marketing. Even the most effective ads nowadays often receive an eye-roll from consumers, especially in younger demographics. Reaching critical users through marketing is becoming harder than ever, and authenticity is becoming essential for brand growth in digital markets.

Tapping into UGC gives brands a shortcut into authenticity. Instead of receiving messaging that has been built by a marketing department, your followers get genuine content that’s about peoples’ lives and the way your brand supports their values. By sharing UGC, your brand’s credibility will grow.

Take an example: You’ve designed a glossy ad with good-looking actors laughing and loving life with your product front and centre. This demonstrates your values and yes, it can connect with customers. But if you find the real thing represented in the social feed of your followers, you’ve got a ready-made ad that your followers will instantly connect with. No glossy sheen to overcome.

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Take a look at this example from Whole Foods.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Whole Foods Market (@wholefoods)

Coupled with the hashtag #cartgoals, people are going out of their way to create good looking shopping carts that they can then share with the Whole Foods page. Whole Foods then share the images for free, and get more people interested in doing the same, all the while, Whole Foods is still making money and promoting their brand in a fun and active way.

Trust Factor

UGC also reinforces social proof – the sense that your followers get that others around them know, trust and rely on your brand in their daily lives. Consumers need social proof before they take the leap into a sale. Social platforms are already absolutely integral to building trust amongst new customers.

For example, an increasing proportion of millennials need to see a strong Instagram presence before they’ll go to a restaurant. If your new restaurant doesn’t exist on social media – posts, stories, follows, comments, likes and shares, the whole social ecosystem – it may as well not exist in real life in the minds of millennials.

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On the other hand, if your business is clearly thriving on a social platform, potential customers will see real people interacting with you and trust in your brand will be reinforced. UGC draws heavily from social interactions, so it builds this trust that’s key to growing your business.

Personally, I love this post from AllBirds.

Allbirds Instagram post for Fathers Day

It shows a dedicated father on Father’s Day and shows how their shoes are trusted by real parents to help them get through the day and be the best dad they can be. Now, any parent seeing this post obviously wants this, and can see other parents already enjoying the benefits, making them far more likely to turn into profitable customers.

Sales Impact

Ultimately, it’s all about sales. Authenticity in the marketplace, trust amongst your followers – these goals are subordinate to the higher aim of making a profit. And UGC can have a huge impact on purchasing decisions for your customers.

The journey undertaken by consumers, from learning about your brand to committing to a purchase can be a long one. UGC can act as a chaperone on that journey as potential customers can access and revisit UGC on your social platforms, learning more about your brand before they commit to buy.

On Instagram, for example, the ability to save stories as highlights allows you to build a huge archive of UGC that potential customers can explore as they get closer to your brand. Ultimately, it’s UGC that can drive the decision to purchase from you.

There are few companies that do this better than GoPro.

GoPro Instagram account

This brand is self-explanatory. The company makes fantastic cameras. Users buy the cameras and take incredible photos, which they share online. This is all the marketing GoPro needs because the results of their product really speak for themselves and get people excited about their brand.

Clearly UGC can have a huge impact for your brand. Let’s take a look at how you can leverage UGC before exploring tips and tricks to make it work for you.

Foundations to Guide Your UGC Strategy

Now you know how UGC can build authenticity, grow trust and ultimately drive purchasing decisions in your targeted demographics. Before we get into the nitty and gritty of finding and using UGC, let’s explore some of the ideas that can guide your UGC strategy.

Generate Desire

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Building desire for your product across your followers can be a great driver for sales. One of the loudest criticisms of social media these days is that it leads to dissatisfaction in peoples’ lives as they increasingly compare themselves to what’s going on around them. The window that social platforms give into the highlights of others’ lives naturally sparks desire and even a little jealousy.

UGC harnesses this function of human nature and creates a powerful marketing force for your product. For brands focused on tourism and lifestyle, for example, exposing your followers to real people living their best life through your brand can be a powerful motivator to encourage others to pursue your services.

And brands built around products can generate desire through UGC too – when users are bombarded by images of your product, let’s say a pair of jeans, looking good in the real world, who could resist wanting a pair for themselves.

Here’s a top tip: User images that show your products in the best light create an impulse in others to jump on the bandwagon. Nobody likes being left behind and UGC can suggest a growing trend that your brand is at the heart of.

Build Loyalty

Brand loyalty is a big deal today. With so many brands out there competing for similar markets, fostering loyalty amongst your followers and customers can give you a leg up on the competition.

Loyalty comes from developing relationships with your customers that last beyond a single purchase. UGC can have a powerful influence on this relationship by building a connected community of users, so loyalty can be a strong value to guide your UGC strategy.

UGC and loyalty go hand in hand. Not only does promoting UGC build your community, but your followers that are sharing your products, using your hashtags and engaging with your posts are likely to be amongst your biggest fans. Sharing their content rewards their hard work and gives them a soapbox from which to shout about your greatness. This loyalty, thus displayed, is guaranteed to rub off on your followers.

Viewing Instagram account on smartphone

Create a Content Archive

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Coming up with great content to inspire your followers is a creative challenge and it requires a lot of time and investment. The minute you start exploring UGC you begin building an archive of great content that you can share any time.

Your UGC strategy can take a long-term perspective. Whilst sometimes it may be appropriate to share your users content in real time, say after a new product launch or in the run up to a big sale, not all UGC needs to be released immediately. See yourself as an archivist, building up a bank of content from which you can draw when your content strategy requires a release.

How To Get Started with User-Generated Content

Now you know why UGC is so important and you’re aware of the principles that should guide your content strategy. You’re ready to take the next step and put this plan into action – let’s take a look at how to get started with UGC.

1. Start Your Collection

Your users are already out there talking about your product. There are user reviews, brand-centric memes and product videos – accessing these and storing them is the first step towards having a UGC archive on which you can draw when the moment is right.

Whilst your most dedicated fans are likely already creating this content of their own accord, your brand can incentivize this content creation to produce a deeper seam of user content on which to draw. Interacting with your users in the comments section of your posts and theirs can encourage them to start generating content that you can use at a later date.

2. Create a Hashtag

Hashtag symbol

Hashtags are ways for users across social platforms to tag their posts under certain topics. As a brand, guiding users to using your hashtags can create a deep well of content for you to share, that is easily searchable.

Just like the Whole Foods #cartgoals campaign, a great way to get UGC for your social media pages is to create your own hashtag and get people hyped about creating content. Let’s say you sell running shoes and you start a hashtag like #yourfirststep.

Then people can share photos of the first step they take before they go for a run. If you’re able to spread this campaign around the world, you’ll get a ton of content that’s inspiring to so many people and will make them want to get involved. Even if you’re a small business, getting your staff to take their own photos will be a great start to spreading awareness for what you’re doing.

This will get you a steady stream of content. If you want to amp it up and get a sudden influx of content, try the next step.

3. Run A Hashtag Contest

Running a contest is a great way to promote your hashtags, and it simultaneously encourages users to share content centered around your brand. It also grows your community as more users see the posts your followers share.

Here’s how to run a hashtag contest:

  • Firstly, explain that only those who follow your brand are in the running – this encourages more people to hit the follow button.
  • You’ll need a prize or reward to incentivize users to enter your contest too – it could be a discount or a giveaway. Anything to get people’s creative juices flowing!
  • Get users to share posts with your chosen hashtag – you can do this by asking for inspiring images, or creative and unexpected uses of your products, for example. You’ll see tons of content being generated in an instant.

4. Add Physical Signs

If you have a brick-and-mortar store, then placing physical signs in your store can be a great way to draw attention to your social media pages and get people thinking about taking photos. If you really want to push the boat out, why not create a space in your store specifically designed for people to take photos.

While you may not go as big as this, take a look at the pop-up experience below called the Ice Library of Wonders.  Thousands of people around the world were able to send in messages that they wanted engraved on the ice that would stand in this way until it melted. The maze spanned over 800 square meters and drew in attention from all over the world.

Ice Library of Wonders for user-generated content

Of course, this is one end of the creative scale. If you want something a little more doable, you can take time making your photo area look appealing to the people in your store, and then you’ll need to encourage them to use it. Take a look at Parlour X in Sydney.

Parlour X, Tom Ferguson

Image source: Tom Ferguson, Broadsheet

As you can see, the space here is incredibly visual and draws people in. The point is that you’re not really limited by anything, and the more creative you can be, the more UGC you’ll have to work with.

5. Monitor Your Social Media Accounts

Whilst there might be a wealth of UGC out there already, knowing where to find it can be a challenge for brands. Hashtags are one of the best ways to track down user content. Social monitoring tools, such as Followerwonk for Twitter or Unmetric which offers content ideas, can help you discover all the UGC potential that already exists.

By analyzing the activity taking place on your social media accounts, you can actively see who is interacting with your posts, who are uploading UGC, and what type of content people are interested in.

For example, if people are love your hashtag giveaway contest, but are not really responding to a hashtag where people upload content that show them using your product, then you would know to double down on your giveaway and invest more resources there. Using hard data, you’ll be able to make more executive decisions, rather than taking random shots in the dark.

Depending on your brand and the demographics you’re reaching out to, different social platforms will provide different options. Instagram and Facebook are important social channels for almost every industry, but Flickr and Pinterest also have a vast number of users and are great at encouraging them to be creative. Explore these other avenues to discover all the content that’s out there.

UGC: Best Practices

When you set out on your UGC strategy there are a few best practices to follow. Let’s take a look at how to run a faultless UGC campaign that works with your users.

Ask Permission

It’s always worth asking permission from the user themself before sharing any of their content. Sometimes people just want to stay out of the limelight. Even users who have attached your hashtag to their posts might have done so unwittingly – in the expansive digital environment hashtags often grow legs and move away from their origins.

Getting involved in public spats over ownership is never a good look for a brand. Make sure you have permission for every post. Even shooting someone a DM or leaving a comment on their post is an easy way to do this.

Credit Your Source

It’s also a good practice to credit the source of content you post. In the digital world, content creators are frequently frustrated when brands assume that just because something has been shared it’s automatically in the public domain.

Users love to get recognition for their hard work. By crediting your sources you’re showing respect for your followers that will strengthen brand loyalty and incite trust amongst your devotees.

Offer Something In Return

Rewarding your users for the content they create is an important way to give back to the community. And it is all about community – by building trust and loyalty, by interacting with your users in the public sphere, you’re creating a community feel. Offering discounts and giveaways in exchange for social content is one such reward.

But it doesn’t always have to be material. Many users create and share content because they want more exposure or are seeking likes and followers themselves. By offering your brand’s account as a potential platform, you’ll show users that by creating content centered around your brand you’ll give them a boost. It’s a perfect quid pro quo.

Signing Off

UGC is out there. If you haven’t already got a UGC strategy in place, you’re sitting on a valuable resource, so don’t let it go to waste. By leveraging UGC to build trust, authenticity and loyalty you’ll be strengthening your brand. Why should you do all the hard work? Your users are creating great content for you – all you have to do is share.


About the author: Katherine Rundell is a UGC expert and writer at Academized. She has been involved in the nonstop world of digital marketing as a content strategist for a decade and loves the thrill of the chase as new digital trends come and go.