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Audience Turned Author: User-Generated Content

Hanah Christiansen

August 14, 2017

Say hello to your new best friend in the digital realm of marketing: user-generated content (UGC). “What exactly is UGC,” you ask? Let me explain.

To put it simply, UGC is a social media gold mine. It’s a method of sharing your brand’s story through your customers’ eyes in a raw and compelling way. It’s the content that you ask permission of bloggers, website visitors, social media users, and fans who showcase your brand on their networks to publish their photos, videos, quotes, and other unique assets on your brand’s owned channels – with all the proper credit, of course. When applicable, UGC can change a social media manager’s strategy for the brands with which they work. Today, 81% of the U.S. population has some sort of presence in the digital sphere. This means that Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms are flooded with content that is fair game to use on behalf of your brand. Whether you use a fan’s photo that has tagged the location of your brand, tagged your social handle, or fits its way into your social strategy in a meaningful way, go for it! The social media world is your oyster.

If you work for a small brand with limited creative resources or assets on hand, you may at times have a hard time finding quality content to post. In this case, it can be beneficial to lean on your brand’s buyers and fans to supply genuine, secondhand content that they have published. This may involve a little digging, but it will appear more verifiable than brand-produced content.

Now that we have established exactly UGC is, let’s break down how to go about obtaining your audience’s assets.

  1. Find your source: Search Instagram and Facebook for your brand’s location or official hashtags. This can help narrow down those customers who have used your brand’s products or services – and have likely shared their experiences in real time.
  2. Get in touch: Once you have unearthed a gem, ask permission from a social media user via direct message or email to use their content on your page. The request can be as simple as, “We love this photo! Would you mind if we shared it on our profile to promote our brand? We will credit you as the source.”
  3. Give the proper credit: Post the photo assets with photo credit. This can be done by either tagging their handle within the photo or the caption.

UGC is powerful because it helps humanize brands, which is the optimal goal of modern-day marketing. Brands should have a unique look, feel, and voice to them. According to Reevoo, 70% of people trust images taken from “people like them” over brand created images. Why? Because they’re real. Humans relate to authentic, genuine experiences better than ideal, unattainable concepts.

Millennial and Gen Z lingerie retail brand Aerie has done a fantastic job utilizing UGC on its social media profiles. Social media users are encouraged to share photos that feature their favorite Aerie products and tag the @aerie account in hopes that their content is noticed and loved by the Aerie social media marketing team. If they’re fortunate enough to be discovered, the social media community manager will reach out to the user and ask her if she would like to be featured on the @aerie Instagram profile. As a result of a successful UGC strategy on social media, about one-third of the @aerie account’s Instagram photos are fan-produced content.

Big name brands aren’t the only ones who can successfully leverage UGC. Small, local companies can just as effectively use fans’ content to reap awesome rewards and recognition. In some cases, UGC works seamlessly into a smaller brand’s strategy because it is so cost-effective. For example, CityTins, a Wisconsin-based company that incentivizes people to dine out at locally-owned and operated restaurants, incorporates UGC into its digital marketing strategy. Managing an account like CityTins on social media can be challenging, because not only are you marketing for one company, but also for 50+ restaurants around the state of Wisconsin. Therefore, it becomes demanding to find the time, money, talent, and resources to obtain photos from a variety of restaurants in a short amount of time. This is when we look to UGC as the hero. We search Instagram high and low for photos taken by fans at the restaurants that are featured in the tins. Today, nearly 75% of the photos on the CityTins Instagram profiles are sourced from Instagram users.

UGC is an impactful, valuable tactic marketers use to create buzz around a brand AND achieve success using a cost-effective method. Here are just a few of the incredible results that UGC can generate in the social sphere:

  1. Create “hype” around your brand → UGC is an easy way to create a viral post. Once your post has been shared or liked, the reach behind that specific post goes far beyond your control. You are expanding your social reach because of the content that you are pushing out.
  2. Creating a tight-knit relationship with your consumers → UGC not only makes your grid look great and offers an inexpensive alternative to photography assets; it also builds a relationship with your consumers. Remember how I had mentioned that people love when a brand feels like a real person?
  3. Your followers will sky-rocket → UGC is, in a sense, free content and followers. When a brand reaches out to a consumer asking to use their content, the consumer is most likely extremely excited to be featured. They are going to follow your brand (if they aren’t already) and wait for their photos to be used. There is also a chance they will share their excitement with their friends.
  4. You will boost your authenticity → UGC is the most authentic form of social media content. It is the most organic and relatable content for users. When an everyday consumer has their photo featured on your page, you’re building trust with your followers. Real life experiences create an unwavering trust with both your prospects and customers.

UGC is a marketing tactic that is rapidly growing. It’s free content that instills the idea of trust and authenticity with your brand. Consumers trust real people. When your brand’s content is displayed through the eyes of a real person, they are going to relate and trust your brand more. Word from the wise: UGC is a cost-effective, powerful social media method that will help your brand succeed in the digital sphere.