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A Marketer’s Guide to User-Generated Content

Boost Brand Awareness with High-Quality Content

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Do you remember the time when you were still capable of buying a toilet plunger without consulting the reviews on Amazon? Well, I for sure don’t. The last time I bought one I diligently read the reviews before making a decision.

Partly because reviews are so readily available throughout the buying process. But partly also because we as humans tend to rely on reviews by other humans. And therein lies the power of user-generated content.

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What is user-generated content and what types of content are there

User-generated content, often shortened to the acronym UGC, is any content created by the users of a website or service. But the term has evolved and is now most often used in an idealised context with content that fans of a specific brand create and consciously put out there. Brands can then use content created by their fans in their marketing and advertising materials.

The first thing most of us think of when we hear UGC is creative content, like photos or videos we’ve intentionally asked people to create for our competitions or hashtag campaigns.

It’s easy to forget, however, that reviews on Amazon are also user-generated content, as are comments on e-commerce sites or Facebook pages. Technically, even just someone talking about your product in a forum or on a Slack community is UGC. So are tweets and Facebook posts. Someone posting a photo of the handbag they just bought from you on Instagram? User-generated content.

Examples of user-generated content:

  • Product review videos
  • Product unboxing videos
  • Make-up tutorial videos using specific products
  • Animated GIFs
  • Parody videos
  • Testimonials on websites
  • Reviews on e-commerce sites or the brand’s own online shop
  • Fan fiction
  • Instagram hashtag campaigns
  • Pinterest photos
  • Facebook photo and video shares
  • Twitter and other micro-blogging content
  • Photo and video contest submissions

Of course, bad reviews are user-generated content as well; though, not necessarily content the marketing department may want to use but, rather, something for customer service to take charge of.

While all types of UGC can be of use for your brand, in marketing, we often focus on intentional content that users have put a creative effort into creating.

Understanding why people create and share content

But why would customers put effort into creating content for a brand? Sometimes, they are motivated by a material incentive. Maybe there’s a cash prize or a product prize they’re keen on, maybe their content submission will enter them into a competition to win a holiday or another experience.

Unlike influencer marketing, UGC is not, per se, tied to compensation. Often, fans do it simply to get recognition from a brand they love. By sharing UGC on its social media channels, a brand can give their fans their so-called 15 minutes of fame.

According to the New York Times’ Psychology of Sharing study, one of the factors that influence whether people share content is connection — not just with your brand but with each other. When creating your campaign, consider how you can offer people the opportunity to interact through submissions, public voting, and other forms of contribution.

Two smiling young people sitting on a sofa, feet propped up on a coffee table. They’re both looking at a tablet device together.

A good example is Lay’s ongoing “Do Us a Flavor” campaign that started in 2012. Lay’s asked fans to create their own flavours for their crisps on Lay’s Facebook page and even teamed up with Facebook to change the like button into an “I’d eat that” button, giving fans a fitting way to interact with the submissions. A team of judges narrowed the submissions down to the final three, then opened the vote to the public via hashtag voting. The winner got a cash prize.

Fans had multiple points of interaction:

  • Submitting a flavour
  • Liking flavours posted on the Lay’s Facebook page
  • Promoting and signal boosting the finalists on social media
  • Voting for the winner via hashtag on social media

Engagement comes from excitement. People find different things exciting and enjoy different levels of engagement and participation. So ask your fans for participation throughout the campaign and offer different types of participation as well, be it creating content, voting on content, or simply sharing and signal boosting.

The ROI of user-generated content is consumer trust

Okay, but what is in it for brands, aside from potentially getting some content they can share and hopefully use in their marketing? After all, asking for and then sifting through UGC entries can be a lot of work. Fortunately, there is a great return on investment.

For one, user-generated content creates trust. Forget ads, forget Mad Men, forget Don Draper. The time when consumers trusted traditional ads to help them make buying decisions is a thing of the past. Consider what you do before buying something online. Exactly. You check the user reviews.

Fans provide social proof for potential customers that your brand is worthy of their time and effort. Someone might not click on a regular ad for your brand, but they are more likely to click on a post their friends have shared about your brand.

Consumers trust other consumers most

A chart illustrating the TurnTo study referenced below: 88% of U.S. consumers trust a friend’s product recommendation. 90% rate online recommendations as highly influencing for their purchasing decisions. 81% of shoppers say they would pay more for a product that has UGC than buy a similar, cheaper product without reviews.
Source: 2017 TurnTo Consumer Study

According to a 2017 survey by TurnTo, 88% of U.S. consumers trust a product recommendation that comes directly from a friend, making them the most trusted source for shopping decisions.

The same study showed that 90% of U.S. consumers also rate online recommendations from other users as highly influential for their purchasing decisions. User-generated content gives them confidence in their decision to buy something, and a majority find UGC far more interesting than content created by the brand.

That’s because user-generated content is the online equivalent of your friend Bob saying: “Have you seen my new toilet plunger? It’s really great.”

Perhaps even more strikingly, 81% of shoppers said they would rather pay more for a product that has UGC than buy a similar product which costs less but has no UGC connected to it. So the expensive toilet plunger with great reviews wins over the cheapo toilet plunger.

The younger people are, the more important these recommendations are to them. Gen Z generally doesn’t really trust advertising and marketing coming directly from brands but instead looks to influencers and reviews by peers.

Collecting user-generated content is a brand’s job

Social media and mobile devices have made the means to produce and disseminate visual and audio content virtually ubiquitous. It’s become rather easy for users to produce and share quality content.

On the other hand, collecting all that content still remains a task for brands that needs to be mastered. It’s very well possible that there’s a ton of UGC for your brand out there that you’re completely missing out on.

Collecting user-generated content intentionally

One way to make sure you get your hands on user-generated content that pertains to your brand is to regularly search social media for mentions of your brand, your hashtags, and your location. Well-promoted brand hashtags help you find, collect and reshare content shared about your brand, for example, on a social media wall.

A hashtag campaign allows you to very specifically shape what kind of content you’re looking for. The clearer you are in the guidelines and promotion for your campaign about what you want users to create, the more likely you are to receive the content you need.

Recently, tools like Reevoo, Olapic, Stackla, Mention or Livefyre have been making it easier for brands to keep an eye on brand mentions and collect both reviews and visual content created by fans.

Getting high-quality content

But not all UGC is created equal — or equally well. And the quality of content is definitely something to consider, especially when you want to repurpose UGC on your marketing channels.

But to get a higher quality of user-generated content, brands have to put effort into it. One way to do this is to be very clear in your intentions and tell users what you want them to create. Vague instructions are not going to get you what you need.

50% of users would like brands to give more guidelines for creating content, and yet only a few brands actually do this. If you are being clear about what you want from people and open about your plans to share the best UGC in your own marketing materials and channels, you’ll get better content.

When users are aware that their content might get seen by many other people, they naturally try harder to create high-quality content.

One way to get your hands on high-quality user-generated content is by reposting existing content created by your fans. This is a mutually beneficial relationship where you save money on marketing spend and the creator reaches a wider audience for their content and they receive an endorsement from their favorite brand. One easy way to do this is by downloading their Instagram videos and reposting them to your account with credit. As we’ve mentioned before, some creators charge for their content or don’t want it reposted. So it’s important that you always ask for explicit permission to repost content before doing so!

Collecting user-generated content with hashtag campaigns

A great way to communicate what you are looking for is a well-executed hashtag campaign. Take the time to meticulously plan your campaign and tailor it to your target group. Based on your brand research, pick your platform, pick the right hashtag and figure out which type of content you want to ask for.

Submissions by hashtag are low-threshold, but you still have to make it as easy as possible for people to participate. Facilitate a homogenous influx of submissions by making it very clear in your campaign what you would like people to create. Straightforward and clear content is easier to share on your own channels without distortion.

Make it as easy as possible for people to contribute content. That may be done by creating a tool for users to submit their content with a mere click or simply by making the campaign guidelines easy to find.

Offer incentives

A chart detailing the results from the TurnTo Study (discussed below) about reasons people cite for not having submitted UGC: 32% mention a lack of incentives. 28% say it is too time-consuming to create content. 26% prefer to just read/view other people’s UGC. 23% have concerns about privacy.
Source: 2017 TurnTo Consumer Study

According to the TurnTo survey mentioned earlier, 32% of consumers asked have given “no incentive to contribute” as a reason for not creating and submitting UGC, followed by 28% who said it was too time-consuming to create content.

We’ve already talked about how fans are often happy enough to submit content just because they love a brand or to see their content shared by a brand they love. So share their submissions on your own channels, show them off, make the creators feel appreciated.

But if you’re asking people to put a lot of effort into their submissions, it’s nice to offer adequate rewards. You don’t want people to take part in your campaign solely because they can win something great, but you also want to honour their submissions with a nice incentive. So consider offering some tangible rewards like product prizes, vouchers, coupons, etc.

The problem with user-generated content ownership

UGC means reach for a brand. But to monetise such earned content by reusing it and deploying it where needed, brands have to first convert it into owned content. This means making sure they have the rights to use it.

To make sure you have the law on your side, you could simply ask for the user’s permission, e.g. in a message, or for hashtag campaigns, make it part of your contest T&Cs.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, so don’t take my word for it and please check with an actual lawyer what the legal requirements in your own country are. If you’re running global campaigns, consult with international lawyers on the best way to acquire ownership of UGC.

Ways to harness user-generated content for your brand

The great part about user-generated content is that you don’t have to throw it out after the campaign is over. When done right, UGC is a gift that keeps on giving. It’s basically free content that advertises your brand and shows fan trust.

You can repurpose UGC on other channels, for example, in your everyday marketing, on social media, in catalogues, and much more. Ditching the stock images for great photos submitted by your users will make your marketing materials a lot more authentic. Stock photos aren’t tailored to your brand — but your UGC will be.

As soon as you own that sweet, beautiful UGC, it’s time to put it to good use:

  • Retweet it on Twitter
  • Feature great user contributions on your Facebook page
  • Make it part of your strategy to collect great fan content
  • Put user-generated content on your website or campaign microsite
  • Collect and display posts on a social media wall
  • Use the best photos and videos in ads online
  • Put great user-generated photos in your catalogue, your magazine, your newsletter
  • Use it in traditional media, from TV ads to billboards
  • And much more

Once you have collected high-quality content and acquired the rights to it, there’s nothing you can’t do with it. The content your loyal fans produce will let your brand shine and give other consumers the trust they need to buy from you instead of your competitors.

Put your fans’ content centre stage: Showcase user-generated content with Walls.io

A simple way to put user-generated content in the limelight is to set up a social media wall. You can add all kinds of sources, from Facebook pages and events to specific social media profiles, as well as hashtags from Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, etc.

The Walls.io settings and moderation features allow you to tweak your wall so it displays the content you really want to show off. And you can integrate your social wall on your website or Facebook profile with a simple embed code.

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