What is User Generated Content?
User-generated content is any form of content that is created by the users, customers or social network of a website or brand. In some cases, it can be based on the contributions or experiences of real customers, but ultimately any content that is contributed by a user outside the organization can be considered UGC. In a way, UGC can be considered a value exchange. It is a scenario where the brand is fostering content, events or experiences that are compelling enough to motivate users and customers to participate by providing their own input in the form of traditional text, visuals, video or even audio content.
UGC can be facilitated online and offline, but it always features the opportunity for others to submit their own ideas, thoughts, opinions or unique take on a subject. Here are a few examples:
- Reviews and testimonials
- Blog comments
- Tweets, Facebook comments or tagged posts
- Photos or personal videos
- Essays or individual stories
- Contest submissions
- Demonstration, use case or reaction videos
- Memes or photo captions or images to be meme’d or captioned
- Best or worst of lists
This could be an endless list. Generally, any type of media or content submitted by users that can be published or repurposed can qualify as UGC.
Why Does UGC Matter?
There are a variety of reasons to incorporate user-generated content into digital marketing strategies and efforts.
Trust and Rapport
One immediate positive for brands is that UGC spurs engagement and can help build rapport and trust among desired audiences. By encouraging content that centers on users, their thoughts and experiences, it adds perspective and broadens the conversation beyond products or services. Not that products or services aren’t still a part of UGC, as they often are, but they are not necessarily the focus.
This different approach can help overcome some consumers’ reluctance to embrace brands. It can also help avoid creating the sense that they are being pitched aggressively. This re-centering serves as a kind of “ego-bait” which effectively leverages our human nature to assess any value exchanges from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?”
Cost and ROI
Let’s be honest, content costs money and good content can cost even more. While the content marketing economy has grown exponentially over the last decade, the number of hours of attention that readers and users have at their disposal to consume that content has not grown at the same pace.
This means that as brands have increased their spending on content marketing efforts, the average attention spent on any given piece of content has dropped, as has engagement. We are now fully living in a content shock world. This has inevitably lowered return on spend ratios, where the ROI on content marketing is the inverse line graph of the number of content pieces pushed out there. UGC, however, more often than not, proves to be quite cost-effective, even when accounting for planning and facilitation costs. While not every content asset a site may need can be sourced from users, when there are clear opportunities to leverage UGC, brands may find more attractive ROI and margins on efforts to cultivate more UGC.
Because UGC centers on users, it is inherently more shareable. Certainly, social media users will occasionally share purely commercial or branded content. But regardless of gender, age, income, etc. social media users are much more likely to share content that is meaningful to or about them. As such, the shareability of UGC exceeds most other content types, with the exception of the rare viral hit, of course. As users share their own content, it can help expose the brand, and the UGC initiative, to wider (and newer!) audiences. Peer to peer recommendations and referrals are still among the highest converting sources of customers for all businesses. UGC enables those micro-peer moments when a new face suddenly becomes enthusiastic to participate in UGC effort, if only because of the experiences of their friends and family. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can be seen in nearly any effective UGC campaign.
The strongest brands all have brand ambassadors, but gaining them is hard. UGC creates opportunities to not only find a brand’s most passionate and creative users but also provide a stage for them to amplify their voices. Any brand that is struggling to identify brand ambassadors and influencers among their customers may only be one effective UGC campaign away from having all the insights they need to pinpoint them.
Finally, UGC initiatives can be leveraged across multiple channels and platforms, from a brand’s own website to external social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. A single hashtag or offline event can be the starting point for sourcing UGC from users across a wide range of platforms and traffic channels. An offline event can become a Facebook Live stream, while a hashtag for the event coalesces dialogue and conversation on Twitter and serves to help build an image library from Instagram.
Organic Search Visibility
Depending on the type of content, especially text-based contributions, UGC can be naturally well optimized for organic search terms, particularly in the middle to long-tail segments. Websites that directly publish UGC can often find themselves ranking for longer queries relevant to topics covered in the UGC. Those rankings can lead to recurring traffic coming from Google. While it’s harder to specifically plan for these kinds of fortuitous organic rankings, simply when UGC is an ongoing part of a website’s content marketing, something of value will typically emerge at some point.
How to Motivate
Engage Before You Need UGC
First and foremost, you have to lay the groundwork for later UGC initiatives by fostering user/customer engagement and dialogue with the brand or organization before you plan to launch a bigger UGC campaign.
UGC is like any other transaction, value is at the center of the exchange and if the user feels the value balance is lopsided, they are less inclined to participate. By having prior engagement with users, when a UGC campaign launches, many users will have already overcome any initial reluctance and skepticism toward what interacting with the brand.
Commit to engaging and conversing with your users and customers on a range of platforms before you launch a major UGC campaign. Become familiar with the natural communities, times and opportunities to regularly engage with customers online. Everything from recurring hashtags to key calendar dates to other non-branded online hangouts have the potential to foster dialogue. When the time comes to pivot to a concerted UGC initiative, you will have a more built-in audience for an initial push, and one that’s already “bought-in” to the whole value exchange between brands and users.
Tailor UGC Efforts to Platforms and Properties
One basic, but often under-appreciated, aspect of UGC is that it is platform and audience-specific – what works well on one won’t always translate on another. So, while it would behoove many organizations to open user-centered forum threads, or enable comments on their blog articles, that won’t work for all websites. Even for the same brand, what works well on the website, like inviting guest bloggers, won’t necessarily work the same on, say, Twitter.
Brands that wish to most effectively leverage UGC will need to be sensitive to the exact types of content they should expect or even want on a platform by platform basis. Twitter is excellent for crowdsourcing an ongoing and expansive dialogue all over the world. Initiate an intriguing hashtag and let the campfire talks begin. But on a per character count basis, Twitter is not the place for long-form storytelling. Anyone who’s suffered through a 1/42 Twitter “story” can tell you the same thing.
Conversely, a picture is worth a thousand words, yes, but not every brand’s products are image “pretty” and for service-oriented brands, it can be hard to capture as an image at all. As such, nothing can sink or derail even the best-intentioned UGC campaign as a misalignment between content goals and the platforms being utilized. Brands who want to truly harness multi-platform UGC will need to pay particular attention to how to best modify and alter the nature of the content, its generation and sharing on a platform by platform basis.
Be Nimble and Opportunistic With Online Trends
When brands take to heart the prior two recommendations, by laying a foundation across platforms and studying what works best on each, they can become more agile, nimble and responsive to emerging online trends.
As mentioned, FOMO can help drive expansive participation growth, which can lead to growing brand awareness, but timing matters. As trends, hashtags and online dialogues begin to reach their maximum saturation point, “trend fatigue”, a specific form of content shock, begins to set in. The differences in participation and impact from a UGC campaign launched a day before prime saturation, compared with an effort launched the day after, will be stark and apparent. The importance of timing for UGC cannot be overstated, and the organizations that are the most adept at identifying emerging opportunities and trends will attract UGC more effectively and will have advantages over those who rely more on a “wait and see” approach to their content strategies.
Use Calls to Action to Spur Engagement – Online and Offline
Usually, when marketers talk about the importance of Calls to Action (CTAs), they’re discussing conversions or micro-conversions on a website. These actions often include form fills, newsletter signups, demo downloads, etc. These are obviously important times and places to use CTAs, but in terms of the conversion funnel, they tend to be placed within the narrower mid to lower funnel range.
UGC, however, often entails leveraging existing/prior customers who have already been through the conversion funnel and have been transitioned into Buyer Cycle framework. These prior customers will often spur interest and brand awareness among completely new audiences who are at the very top of the conversion funnel.
But even though these users differ from the mid to low funnel users, the use of CTAs to spur engagement is still equally critical. It’s not enough to simply throw up a hashtag and hope it catches on. Use the very same tactics, knowledge, and psychology that usually informs your CTA placements and apply that when you are promoting UGC campaigns on various platforms.
Do use verbs to indicate what users should do and try to include a benefit/value to offer a "why". Be sensitive on a platform by platform basis when determining where the best placement of the CTA would be, it must be seen, after all.
Beyond CTAs online, when marketing efforts go offline, don’t forget to tie them back to the digital world. Brick and mortar presences should have collateral that promotes a UGC campaign. One-off live events are also excellent times to place signage containing hashtags or mentioning the best platform for users to share their experiences.
Make the UGC a Unique Value and Currency
Coming back to the idea that UGC is a value exchange. If brands want to acquire UGC that can become valuable and impactful for them, the opportunity to provide it must first be truly valuable to users. FOMO is a strong incentive, but it cannot be the only one at a brand’s disposal. When utilizing UGC, try to identify ways the brand can sweeten the deal for users and offer them something that they simply cannot get anywhere else. This could be a contest or giveaway, exclusive access for the first X number of participants, customized vanity products, or anything and everything in between.
A recent and strong example of this comes from the musical artist Taylor Swift, who launched her own social app called The Swift Life, which promises to offer fans who signup exactly these types of exclusive offers that general audiences won’t be able to access.
Measure, Analyze, Adapt
This is the part of the post where we remind you of the importance of measuring your digital efforts. Yes, we’re preaching to the choir. This is the Megalytic blog, after all. But because UGC is so unique and platform specific, measurability for such efforts can vary. There are a few UGC-specific data hacks, from using unique vanity tags and URLs to including product specific SKUs inside product imagery.
However, most of the heavy lifting in measuring UGC efforts boils down to understanding how to measure and track traffic from social channels, to begin with. For a little refresher, review this classic post on tracking social media traffic . When you’ve got the right data, at the end of a UGC campaign you can better determine what worked, what didn’t, and what variables you might want to tweak next time. Specifics like timing, placement, platform, type of initiative, presentation etc. can all factor into your overall evaluation. This, in turn, will spur more engagement and ROI for each subsequent UGC focused campaign. Finally, your ultimate metric may be how much usable, UGC was generated. In some cases the full volume and impact won’t be fully visible for weeks or months, so make sure to take another look at your data after some time has passed.
User Generated Content is a natural consequence of several interconnected shifts in the consumer and marketing world. Permission marketing, content marketing, smartphones and social media, combined with our natural desire to have a voice and play a role in our collective digital experience have led us to this point.
With the right goals, frameworks, and platforms, these forces can all be utilized to encourage users to participate in the development of a brand’s content. Under the right conditions, UGC can be an effective part of any organization’s growth. Simultaneously it can build relationships that help those who generate that content to become valuable parts of the brand’s culture and community.