If you aren’t taking advantage of user-generated content marketing to fuel your brand, you may be neglecting a huge source of marketing potential. This technique can yield surprising results with limited resource-investment, and it can be an ideal fit for companies at any stage of growth.
Your social media followers, customers, and potential customers can create compelling content on behalf of your brand — authentic, engaging material that you can utilize to build brand trust, increase revenue, and enrich engagement.
This post will bring you up to speed on what user-generated content is, how it works, why you should be creating opportunities for consumers to engage in this way, and how brands are utilizing it successfully.
What is user-generated content?
As the name implies, “user-generated content” (also called UGC) refers to content created by users of a variety of online mediums, such as social media, blogs, online review sites, and more.
Any time users create blog posts, post images, write online reviews, or create and post videos, they are contributing user-generated content that is then displayed online by third-party companies and brands.
User-generated content has been the backbone of the internet for the better part of three decades, from Geocities homepages in the late 1990s, to artistic profiles on sites like DeviantART, to online reviews on Yelp and Amazon.
How companies build their brands with user-generated content has evolved, but internet content has always leaned on user generation to various degrees. The ability of every person to add to the “larger conversation” in this way has contributed to the success of the internet.
Social networks couldn’t exist without user-generated content, but other entities put it into practice as well. For example, user-created blogs feature heavily as content for sites like Medium. Even CNN offers user-generated content on its iReport page.
Why is user-generated content effective?
User-generated content is everywhere.
As we’ve mentioned, the internet exists, at least in part, because we all have the ability to create and post online content. At face value, user-generated content doesn’t typically offer much. For example, a website can contain helpful content, but if it fails to apply beneficial SEO techniques it may not receive that many visitors, rendering that potentially valuable content somewhat worthless.
The recipe for success for brands is wielding user-generated content in intelligent, brand-building ways.
Projecting authenticity is key for brands that are trying to gain a foothold and create longevity among their customers.
According to recent research conducted by Stackla, nearly 86% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they like and support.
User-generated content can help brands project an authentic voice. In fact, consumers are more than 2.4 times more likely to view this type of content as authentic compared to that created by brands.
It’s easy for you to make this shift in branding technique.
For example, a brand-created social media campaign for a pet accessory website could center on high-production-value images of their products or employ professional photography. Yet it may prove more effective to shift this campaign to posts featuring customers’ actual pets wearing the pieces in real life.
The latter is more likely to generate a feeling of authenticity.
Success in the online space is highly correlated with brand trust.
One recent survey found that more than 80% of consumers would only buy from a brand they trust. Today’s buyers rely on user-generated online reviews and other non-brand content to determine how trustworthy a brand feels.
Drive buying decisions
The overarching goal of every long-term marketing plan is to derive more revenue from consumers.
We’ve shown you how user-generated content helps to build brands that generate money, but there are also direct correlations between user-generated content and the customer purchase journey.
Six brands using user-generated content effectively
These six national and international brands have effectively utilized user-generated content to foster loyalty, create new connections, and project their brands from new angles. Each campaign featured here was launched by brands with different end goals in mind, but each integrated user-generated content to add a touch of reality to the messaging.
Dove has invested heavily in authentic user-generated content over the past several years.
The brand’s focus on “real” beauty highlights bodies of all shapes, colors, and ages — a departure from the slick, pulled-together approach we usually see from beauty brand marketing campaigns. Dove works to build trust and authenticity by encouraging women to embrace their true selves.
One prominent example is the brand’s Real Beauty Productions platform.
Here, Dove ambassador and pioneering television producer Shonda Rhimes encourages women to create content based on their own experiences. By sharing their stories, videos, and photos, the idea is that they are inspiring a new vision of how women and girls see themselves represented in the media.
The Dove #ShowMe hashtag features real stories from Dove users.
Dove is also a social media power user.
Trepidation was the initial response when Dove’s #SparkBeautiful hashtag launched in 2015 on Twitter, but hashtags like #InMyOwnSkin and #ShowUs have since garnered attention from celebrities and major social influencers on Twitter and Instagram.
Dove seems to have discovered the sweet spot where user-generated authenticity meshes with savvy marketing.
The Dove approach to user-generated content has paid big dividends already. Dove’s global brand value has grown by nearly $2 billion USD over the past five years.
Adobe creates products that are nearly ubiquitous in the world of graphic design and photography.
Even so, many consumers would agree that the software isn’t particularly intuitive for the average person. To reach non-pro consumers, the brand has relied on user-generated content to demonstrate how regular people can, and do, apply Adobe to create fantastic projects.
Because its users generate authentic content, the brand doesn’t need to try to create content that feels authentic without feeling contrived — this is not an easy feat to pull off.
Adobe users who submit their art contribute to a platform with a huge reach. Burgeoning artists can at once retweet and repost their submissions with their own audiences and add them to their artistic portfolios.
Adobe also utilizes the #Adobe_Perspective hashtag to share features from its product line-up that are aimed at helping new users get up to speed. This encourages potential buyers to download a free trial and to post what they create after following a tutorial.
Encouragement and engagement like this helps to keep the content flowing.
Home decorating trends are a huge source of user-generated content for brands operating in the home goods and design space.
Wayfair is one of the largest ecommerce retailers, offering consumers nearly 20 million products. Due to the sheer volume of goods the company moves, the brand is often compared to Amazon, but Wayfair’s approach has been quite distinct from the world’s largest retailer.
Wayfair is a huge operation with an intimate approach to brand building.
By incorporating user-generated content directly on its website, its shopping experience has an authentic, trustworthy vibe. Looking for a new sofa? The site will show you exactly how it looks in other people’s real homes — not professionally-designed studio spaces or model homes.
Wayfair features user-generated content across its social networks, too. The #WayfairAtHome hashtag provides a space for users — a lot of them — to post and share pictures of how and where they place Wayfair products.
A lot of you have probably had the experience of arriving at a hotel or vacation rental expecting it to look like the brochure or online travel listing, only to find a very different reality.
A not-so-great one.
Loews Hotels has taken the brave step of broadcasting the lived experiences of its guests on its social media feeds. The #TravelForReal hashtag on Instagram is all about authenticity.
Loews encourages real-life travelers to share candid photos of their experiences at its properties all over the world. Would-be travelers gain true perspective about what to expect.
This level of vulnerability helps the brand build trust before guests ever step foot inside a Loews property.
It’s also a clever way to generate authentic feedback about the guest experience — information the brand can then employ to make improvements and provide solutions to guests in a public forum. And, other followers see how much the brand cares about its guests, on and offline.
When GoPro was ready to launch its HERO7 Black model, the brand took a user-generated content approach that caught on in a big way with its #MillionDollarChallenge hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.
Hero7 Black users sent in snippets from videos from all over the globe that they shot with the adventure camera and the brand stitched them together into a totally user-generated highlight reel. Users that were selected as part of the video earned a cut of $1 million, hence the #MillionDollarChallenge hashtag.
In addition to the user-generated video snippets, GoPro solicited the help of a community member who produced the video’s soundtrack.
Ultimately, the brand received more than 25,000 submissions from across the world and applied the lessons learned from the success of this campaign to its future marketing. GoPro founder and CEO Nick Woodman said that the campaign helped the brand to think differently about how they shoot and produce content and build product stories.
As a package delivery service, FedEx may not be the first brand that you think of when imagining how user-generated content could be beneficial from a marketing perspective.
Nevertheless, the brand’s creative team of marketers found the perfect way to get the public involved.
FedEx began inviting user-generated content on Instagram, a simple but effective premise. It asked followers to post photos of the weirdest, wildest, and most beautiful places in the world where they’d spotted a FedEx delivery van or plane.
FedEx in the Wild featured FedEx vans and planes on deliveries throughout the world.
FedEx’s 2020 push for more user-generated content was especially timely, given the world’s need for increased home deliveries in the COVID-19 era. Social networks provided an important and entertaining way for people to connect while still largely confined to their homes, and FedEx became one of the symbols of connection to the outside world.
FedEx started integrating user-generated content primarily to help build its Instagram following, according to a brand spokesperson who explained the brand’s new focus on its 2021 Shorty Award entry. It worked — within the first nine months of switching to a user-generated content approach, according to the spokesperson, the brand’s Instagram following had increased by more than 400%.
Start tapping user-generated content
Now that you know what user-generated content is, you can start creating opportunities for consumers to create content focused on your brand. And you can begin using user-generated content to help you achieve a wide range of marketing goals.
Among other worthy goals, user-generated content can:
Help you launch a new brand
Grow your social media following
Create brand interest among new market segments
Showcase your product or service in a new way
Foster trust and authenticity
Increase customer engagement
Garner insights into customer behaviors, expectations, and overall satisfaction
Marketing with user-generated content is fundamentally different from campaigns that primarily rely on content created by ad teams. In addition, your team will likely find it rewarding to collaborate with your customers in this way.
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