Why and How Marketing Should Use User Generated Content

Why and How Marketers Should Use User-Generated Content

By Monday June 6th, 2016

User-generated content has become so much a part of our lives that many of us now take it for granted. Those of us who are marketers should not.

User-generated content (UGC), defined broadly as media created by the users of a product or service, is everywhere.

It is the reviews that you read on Google and Amazon; the photos you scroll through on Instagram; the viewer videos you see on the news; and even the letters to the editor in your favorite periodical.

It has become so much a part of our lives in the last 10-15 years that many of us now take it for granted. Those of us who are marketers should not.

UGC is a complex phenomenon enabled by the proliferation of technology and the right mix of social dynamics. Savvy marketers unravel this complexity, and in doing so, find hugely rewarding ways to leverage UGC for their companies. Take for example Doritos’ user-created Super Bowl commercials, which have gone as far as winning the top spot on USA Today’s Ad Meter, or Tourism Australia’s “Best Jobs In The World” contest, which received over 40,000 video entries and coverage in hundreds of news articles.

In this article, I’ll discuss why UGC is so popular for consumers and brands alike, what kind of UGC marketers should encourage, how marketers can garner UGC for their brand, and a couple of ways that you can make sure your UGC campaign goes smoothly.

Why UGC Became So Popular

Among Users

If we think of user-generated content as a two-ingredient recipe needing 1) a product or service acting as a platform for the submission of content, and 2) content created by the users of the product or service, then it’s easy to see that the rise of social media and smartphones have been two of the biggest drivers of the creation of UGC.

While social media sites have become the platforms where we most often share our content, smartphones have allowed us to create that content (with cameras and keyboards) and post it to social media (with Internet connectivity) at almost any time. The result is an unprecedented ability to create and interact with content all day, every day for the over 50% of Americans who, according to the Pew Research Center, have a smartphone and use it for social networking.

We take advantage of this ability, too. Whether it’s blogging, tweeting, posting a photo, leaving a comment, or writing a review, we are constantly producing and sharing content. It’s a big part of who we are as a society. This is especially true of Millennials, 60% of whom reviewed products/services and created and uploaded content online as of 2012, according to one study by the Boston Consulting Group.

Among Businesses

The rise in UGC has represented a huge opportunity for businesses. Why? The obvious answer is that online reviews, blog posts, and shared photos and videos all hold the potential to say something positive about a brand, but the same could be said of advertising. However, UGC is unique and distinct from traditional advertising, and its benefits go beyond simple brand impressions. These are some of the other factors that make user-generated content so powerful and so popular among businesses:

The “Multiplier Effect.” Suppose your marketing team can spend its time and money on one of two options. The first is a video advertisement campaign in which your ads will be placed on YouTube videos. The second is a user-generated content campaign that offers a prize for the best video demonstrating the use of your product; the winner is determined by the number of times each video submission is viewed, among other factors.

With the video ad campaign, there is no possibility that your ads will enjoy the amplified distribution that come from consumers sharing your ads with one another. YouTube doesn’t put share buttons on video ads, and even if they did, your ad would have to be a damn good one for someone to share it. In the UGC campaign, on the other hand, your customers will want to share their video submissions with the world in order to win the contest and show off their creations. Because of this, your brand will enjoy the benefits of the “multiplier effect,” getting its name and product in front of potential customers from every contest participant’s network of family, friends, friends of friends, etc.  

This sharing speaks to another benefit of UGC: it earns customers’ trust.

Brand trust. When it comes to making purchase decisions, our society has become increasingly reliant on the opinions of our peers. In April of 2012, Nielsen found that “Ninety-two percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.” UGC- whether in the form of a Facebook photo of a friend wearing Ray-Bans, a Tweet sharing a New York Times article, or a customized video from OfficeMax’s Elf Yourself website- falls squarely in this category of earned media, making it an ubiquitous source of this more effective form of advertising.

Search engine optimization. User-generated content gets shared on social networks, gives you fresh material to put on your website, and can even get covered in the press. All of these things are good for your brand in their own right, but they also contribute to SEO. With search engines driving the majority of many sites’ traffic, this is a huge secondary benefit of UGC. All of this is not to mention that user-generated content itself can, and often does, show up in search results for brands.

What Kind of Content Should I Ask For?

If you’ve decided to create a UGC campaign but aren’t sure what kind of content to encourage from your customers, readers, or fans, think about your goals and the nature of your business.

If brand awareness is what you’re after, create a highly-shareable campaign that gets people thinking about your product or service. Lays does a great job of this with their “Do Us A Flavor” campaign, which asks people to submit their idea for the next Lays flavor and vote on the finalists. The concept of asking for flavor combinations is an especially smart one for Lays because new flavors are one of the most exciting things that the company produces, and through the competition, the company can gain information about the preferences of its customers without having to pay separately for market research.

Frito Lays UGC Contest Ad

Credit: Frito-Lay

If you want to convince customers to buy your offering, make sure that the content highlights the product’s selling points. Shared GoPro videos are an amazing source of user-generated content for GoPro because they show the high quality of the product and the exciting ways that it can be used. These are strong purchase motivators. On top of this, it makes sense that videos of action sports would be the best kind of promotional material for a target audience of action sport enthusiasts who want to make their own videos. Again, the campaign fits the nature of the business.

For examples, see this gif. And this one.

How To Garner UGC

As I alluded to before, the conditions have to be right for people to create and share content. This is especially true when they’re creating the content for a brand. By following these tips, you’ll have an easier time garnering content from your users.

Know your customers/readers/fans. What kind of content do they like to create and share in their daily lives? Where are they sharing it? Cater to their preferences and habits, and you’ll have a better chance of receiving content from them.

Grease the wheels. Make it easy for your customers. Show them the way. Do you want them to review your service? Send them an email with a link to the review platform after they purchase your product or experience your service. Do you want them to tweet a photo with your product? Give them timely reminders to do so on social networks, and include the hashtag you want them to use, when applicable.

Provide an incentive. Some products and services beg to be shared through content, like Coca-Cola’s name-printed bottles and cans. If your offering doesn’t naturally spur UGC, give people a reason to share it with an incentive. This could be a free product, a featured spot on the company website, or just the chance to have their creation shared by your company’s account on social media. Whatever the incentive, just make sure it relates to your brand.

Take advantage of social networks. User-generated content is meant to be shared, so make sure your campaign has a social element and a call to action. If your call for content includes the words “Email your submission to,” you’d better have a good reason for it.

Be creative. This is especially important for brands that aren’t “fun” or popular. If your product or service doesn’t scream UGC, consider creating an experience that does. Building materials company Saint-Gobain did a great job of this with their pop-up art exhibit, Future Sensations, which sought to embody and pay tribute to the company’s history of innovation. The exhibit was mentioned in over 3,700 Instagram hashtags when it made its first stop in Philadelphia in 2015.

Geoffkees on Instagram

Credit: @geoffkees on Instagram

UGC: know your audience, give them incentive, grease the wheels, use social networks, and be creative!

How To Make Your UGC Campaign Go Smoothly

Some marketers may be worried by the prospect of UGC, and they have a right to be; there are plenty of things that can go wrong when you ask consumers for content. However, with the right precautions, you can give your UGC campaign a much better chance for success.

To ensure that content matches what you’re looking for, create example submissions of your own and post them where they’ll be seen. For example, if you’re holding a funny video contest, produce a couple clips yourself and put them on the webpage that explains the contest rules. If you’re just trying to inspire the use of a branded hashtag, make enough examples of the hashtagged content that people will see the pattern and (hopefully) follow it.

To weed out inappropriate or unwanted material from a UGC contest, harness the power of crowdsourcing or control the experience. With crowdsourcing, you can give participants the option to “vote up” their favorite submissions and flag submissions that are inappropriate. If you’d rather control the experience, you can require content to pass an internal review process before it is released on your website or social media page. Ultimately, though, people understand that the Internet has its share of trolls, and they won’t hold it against you if some sneak into your UGC experience.

Finally, make sure you have an air-tight user agreement that explains who content belongs to and how it can be used. Sometimes, all you’ll want out of your UGC campaign is for users to post content on their social media page; other times, you’ll have bigger plans for using the content in the future. A user agreement should always be considered in the case of the latter.

Final Thoughts

Like any good marketing, UGC campaigns require a thorough understanding of your audience and comprehensive planning. You have to know what inspires your target market, what motivates them, and how they feel about your brand. Then, once you’ve come up with the perfect idea to get them involved through UGC, you have to make sure your campaign is water-tight logistically.

Unlike other forms of marketing, UGC can offer a host of secondary benefits beyond simple brand exposure. When your marketing can help you connect with and learn about your audience, what’s not to love?

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About the Author

Mike is a Marketing Strategist at Brolik, a digital marketing agency based in Philadelphia. Mike combines his data analysis expertise with big picture strategic thinking to create marketing campaigns with measurable success. He loves reading, playing pick up sports and his deskmate Betta fish, Fishmael.