In 2021, TikTok user Trinidad Sandoval made a video showing the effects of an eye cream by skincare brand Peter Thomas Roth that went viral on TikTok and Twitter. The virality of a simple video showing Trinidad’s morning routine caused the product to sell out. The retailer said, “The amount that sold within less than a week is equivalent to what would normally sell in six months sold out.” This is perhaps one of the best examples of the possibilities of user-generated content.
User-generated content (also known as UGC or consumer-generated content) is original, brand-specific content created by customers (at no cost to you) and published on social media or other channels. It comes in many forms, including images, videos, reviews, and testimonials.
When consumers post about a brand on social media, they can influence their followers’ buying decisions. 85 percent of people say UGC is more influential than content made by brands directly, according to Adweek.
The most important thing about user-generated content isn’t that it exists — people will always talk about products they like. It’s how you decide to leverage it for your brand that matters. For example, the brand mentioned earlier acknowledged the creator and sent her free products to express their gratitude for the word-of-mouth marketing.
This article will dive into the benefits of user-generated content for brands and how you can get started connecting with your audience through UGC.
The value of user-generated content
The real value of user-generated content lies in its authenticity, and the statistics agree. Two reports, in particular, highlight the importance of user-generated content for forward-thinking brands.
- The 2021 State of UGC report by Tintup found that “93% of marketers agree that consumers trust content created by customers more than content created by brands. People trust people.”
- And a report by Nosto found that “79% of people say UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions.” and “Consumers find UGC 9.8x more impactful than influencer content when making a purchasing decision.”
Both marketers and consumers agree that peer-influencers are more effective than any other marketing method. To build a trusting relationship with your audience and community of consumers, incorporate the authenticity of user-generated content into your marketing strategy.
It’s worth noting that user-generated content and sponsored posts are very different things. Sponsorships imply that there’s been a transaction and usually need to be clearly disclosed. You may have seen those Instagram posts with a hashtag stating the creator is a partner or just plain ‘Paid partnership’ at the top. Those are typically sponsored monetarily or by brands sending them products to show off on their platforms.
However, the lines between influencer-created content and paid user-generated content are blurry. The main distinguishing factors are usually audience size and where the posts are published. The wave of creators who exclusively focus on creating content for brands’ social platforms also shows the value and evolution of user-generated content.
Aptly called ‘UGC creators,’ these folks are paid to show off a brand’s products without needing the large following of an influencer. Sabra of @100daysofmarketing explains it best in the video below:
Sabra shares that creators with a small following don’t have to be limited by their platform size. They can offer product reviews, unboxing videos, and photography, among other things, directly to brands as a way to add another stream of income.
There are different ways consumers’ existing brand affinity and the content that comes from that relationship can help brands thrive. In the next section, we’ll look at how user-generated content impacts brands.
Case studies of user-generated content in action
There are many instances of user-generated content in action. For example, according to Vox, Maybelline, The Pink Stuff, and Aerie have something in common other than their status as consumer products – a product of theirs has gone viral on TikTok thanks to a user’s video. These brands have reported selling out at one point or other thanks to their virality, and this effort is replicated across multiple platforms. The following examples are great case studies of brands that benefited from user-generated content.
After skincare influencer Hyram started talking about the CeraVe brand on his platforms, the products started selling out. This was before the brand and influencer built a business relationship — the creator was only sharing his experience with the brand as a consumer. Even Google Trends corroborates his influence.
Although we can’t directly link the creator’s videos to this uptick in searches for the brand, Hyram started sharing content about his preference for CeraVe in 2020, which is the same year the searches started rising.
According to WWD, CeraVe’s earned media value is up 128 percent year over year and had over 2,300 influencers talking about CeraVe products. Marc Toulemonde, president of L’Oreal’s North America Active Cosmetics division, has even told CNN the social media influence “absolutely boosted sales.”
Another great example of the power of UGC comes from in-house at Buffer. Andy Yates, a Staff Engineer here, has worked on many software projects, but none have seen the success of his app, Alpenglow.
The app allows users to check sunrise and sunset forecasts for the perfect light quality for shooting photos, and in 2021, it went viral on TikTok – in Spain – thanks to a user’s video showing how the app works.
Andy also kindly allowed us to share some statistics about the effectiveness of the UGC through a graph that shows significant spikes around when the user first published the video in July of 2021.
The app also increased in monthly recurring revenue (MRR) around the time of the video going viral in July. The graph below shows that sometime in that month, revenue rose sharply to just over $1,200, up from $200 earlier that year.
Since then, the TikTok hashtag for Alpenglow has grown to 2.7 million views, with more people creating videos featuring the app as well.
Alpenglow was a side project for Andy, but that one user’s video helped the app grow significantly. So if your business is your main project, UGC has the potential to deliver even more value for your brand.
How to make the most of user-generated content
When thinking of how to use UGC in your marketing, it’s important to frame it as modern-day word-of-mouth marketing. People ultimately trust other people more than celebrities or brands themselves, so your content must come from real advocates.
On that note, something to remember before we dive into this section: Don’t be tempted to fake your user-generated posts or campaign. Audiences can tell if you’re being fake, which could seriously damage your brand reputation.
Here’s how to make the most of your user-generated content:
1: Actively prompt customers to share
According to Tintup, 50% of consumers wish brands would guide them in creating content. Some ways to prompt customers include:
- Starting a trend, challenge, or contest: ELF Cosmetics worked with iLLWayno to create a song called ‘Eyes. Lips. Face’ that took off on TikTok and reportedly led to over five million user-generated videos. You may not be able to create a whole new song, but adding gamification through a contest or challenge is a great way to get your audience to participate. There’s nothing quite like the spirit of competition.
- Creating a hashtag and periodically reminding customers that it exists: Urban Outfitters shares customer-generated content through their #UOCommunity hashtag, especially popular on Instagram. The brand also creates content with its users and shares it on its dedicated community blog.
- Including requests for UGC within your website or app: Pulling from our earlier example, Andy shared that there’s an active UGC component within the Alpenglow app as well. Users are given the option to submit a ‘Field Report,’ a photo and score that lets Andy know if the forecast was right or wrong.
Rather than waiting for customers to show off your products on their social platforms, tell them exactly what kind of content you’re looking for and watch their creativity flourish.
2: Reward customers for sharing
The opportunity to get featured on a brand’s social media is a great incentive in itself, but a rewards system can accelerate participation in creating UGC. Some brands don’t need to do much to get users – for example, Aritzia receives a lot of user-generated content thanks to its status as a brand for a specific archetype.
For other brands, however, more effort might be required to get a user to share them on their social media. The answer: incentives, that is, implementing a rewards system to encourage more users to share. There are many ways to reward customers, from 50 percent-off discount codes to free concert tickets. Think of sustainable tactics that will work for your audience, brand, and budget.
For example, Fenty Beauty did a giveaway for their Fenty Parfum perfume line, encouraging participants to use a TikTok sound to create a video to win the product.
3: Let all your staff in on the fun
User-generated content can go beyond showing your product or service in use or highlighting a great review. If your goal is to be more genuine to your audience, don’t shy away from having your employees participate in creating UGC. After all, no one knows the product better than the people who work directly with it every day.
Weber Shandwick found that “33% of employees will post messages, pictures, or videos about their employer without any encouragement from their company – and that number increased to 50% with direct company encouragement.”
There are different ways to have employees organically create content featuring your brand and product(s), including content about their workday or behind the scenes looks into what goes on in the product creation process.
4: Look for and implement user-generated content in more ways than just social sharing.
Instead of only retweeting or reposting customer content, take it a step further by asking for their permission to reuse and repurpose their content for your marketing efforts. Some ways to reuse UGC include:
- Ads: Use customer content to make your advertising more authentic and relatable, whether you’re creating ads for social, web, or any other format. You may not always need a picture or video – sometimes, a customer’s tweet praising your brand is enough proof.
- On your website: Take your customer photos outside social media by including them on your website in gallery format. Also, consider using customer content in product photos, as a way to show how the product looks when in use by a “real” person.
- Email campaigns: The emails you share can provide another opportunity to feature user-generated content and engage your subscribers. Kai Collective periodically sends out an email showing customers’ UGC.
User-generated content also comes in more forms than images, videos, or even tweets – product reviews and testimonials also count. Look for ways to implement these alternative formats as UGC. For example, Big Barker Dog Beds includes reviews from different platforms right on its website.
5: Implement best practices for working with UGC
While user-generated content can be valuable for your brand to engage with your audience, it can also cause you to alienate them if you don’t follow some important best practices.
- Remember to ask for permission before using your customers’ content. Even if they shared it on their platform, they might not be open to having it on yours. Before posting something from a user, reach out to them in their comments, direct messages, or by email – this is so that you can have a record of a conversation with their approval in case any issues arise in the future.
- As a follow-up to asking permission, always credit the original poster. It shows that you respect them and signals to others that they will have the same courtesy if they approve your use of their work.
- You need a proper strategy in place. It’s not enough to retweet or repost user content. If you have a wide variety, it can become overwhelming to deal with the large content volume. For more guidance, check out this article on developing a proper strategy for user-generated content.
- Think through diversity intentionally. More than sharing content from your users, you should also ensure that the content you’re reposting includes and features people from all walks of life.
Finally, user-generated content is a great form of social listening. You will not only understand how customers view and use your products, but you can also watch what the social trends among your audience are and how you can keep up with them.
Offer value to get your customers talking
The case studies that we shared are clear examples of valuable products. Those brands didn’t have to reach out to the user to get them to create content about their product – the product was so good that the user felt compelled to share it with their audience.
If you put the work in to create valuable products for your audience and market accordingly, customers will feel good about recommending your brand to other people. When you create and implement your strategy for user-generated content, remember to schedule it so you never miss an opportunity to share! So get started scheduling with Buffer today 😉.