Word-of-mouth marketing, like a recommendation from a friend, is the most influential kind of marketing. The next best thing? User-generated content.

User-generated content, or UGC, is any type of content that’s created by unpaid contributors. If the idea of UGC brings to mind lo-fi selfies, sure, it’s some of that, but there’s actually a lot more to UGC when you dig a bit deeper. Done right, UGC can yield polished photos, engaging video, compelling product reviews, and more — along with a sizable return on investment.

Just like a friend’s product recommendation is more influential than an ad, UGC is far more powerful than traditional brand marketing. In fact, user-generated content is essentially the modern-day equivalent of a product recommendation, and the numbers back it up.

Eighty-five percent of people find user-generated content to be more influential than brand content, and nearly half of the top-performing marketing leaders rely on it.

This guide will explain why user-generated content should be part of your ongoing marketing strategy and will help you leverage its power to improve customer loyalty, grow engagement, and increase sales. Badda bing badda boom. 

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Benefits of User-Generated Content

Not only is user-generated content influential, but it’s also free creative that can fuel marketing campaigns across any channel, including social, email, product pages, and more. And there are several other benefits to UGC that have a big payoff for brands.

It’s authentic.

User-generated content showcases how actual people use products in real-world settings. This creates authenticity for brands and allows them to promote products without being overly salesy.

Authenticity means a lot to consumers. Eighty-four percent of millennials say user-generated content influences their purchasing decisions. And nearly half of Gen Zers cite social media as their chief source of inspiration — even above family and friends.

Plus, people trust peer recommendations over branded advertising. In fact, 85% of consumers say they turn to visual UGC when choosing between two brands.

It establishes trust among consumers.

Seventy percent of shoppers trust other consumers’ opinions over brands’ claims, so it’s no surprise that customers place so much stock in product reviews.

Take, for example, the product page for Jack Black’s Post Shave Cooling Gel below. In addition to written reviews, the page features user-submitted lifestyle photos. Jack Black links to the users’ Instagram accounts, providing further social proof that the reviews are legitimate. Plus, the brand gives props to the creators, very likely inspiring them to share their content in the future.

Why does lifestyle content perform so well? Because it doesn’t only give consumers greater insight into how a product fits into their lives — or their spring wardrobe or vanity shelf; it also allows shoppers to read accompanying reviews. This dynamic combination drives engagement with both the brand and the product while reinforcing quality through two forms of social proof.

It increases engagement.

User-generated content is all about connecting with consumers, building community, and creating a conversation between customers and a brand. So it’s no surprise that customer-created content receives 28% higher engagement than typical brand posts.

This is evident in all types of marketing content, including digital ads. When direct-to-consumer bedding and bath brand Parachute incorporated UGC into its retargeting ads, the ads generated a 35% higher click-through rate and a 60% lower cost per click.

What’s behind this higher engagement? It comes down to the fact that people want to get in touch with their favorite brands on social media. In fact, 60% of millennials say brand loyalty influences their purchasing decisions, according to joint research by Future Workplace and Elite Daily.

Plus, the most followed brands on social media are those that share their followers’ content. And engagement breeds further engagement, which inspires the creation of more UGC.

It drives sales.

Research shows that UGC photos are more likely to convert compared with brand-created content. In fact, companies experience an average increase of 29% in web conversions when their sites feature UGC.

However, some brands have experienced much greater growth in conversions, thanks to UGC. Take apparel brand Tuckernuck, for example. When Tuckernuck implemented a gallery of user-generated content on its website, as well as displayed UGC and influencer photos on its product pages, conversions skyrocketed by 190%.

“Having social content on our PDPs really helps with conversion,” says Kayla Robinson, a Tuckernuck customer experience and marketing associate. “When a customer sees other customers and influencers wearing the product, it inspires her or him to purchase it as well.”

User-generated content can be particularly beneficial to certain industries. The table above compares the click rate of posts both with and without UGC among various industries.

It provides audience insights.

Consistently engaging with customers and analyzing the content they post about your brand allows you to better understand your audience. This enables brands to not only improve how they interact with customers but also make adjustments to products and services based on customer feedback.

How to Find and Source User-Generated Content

There’s a variety of user-generated content out there, and a variety of ways to find it. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Create a hashtag.

If you’re not already using a branded hashtag on social media, now’s the time to create one that’s unique, easy to remember, and consistent with your brand.

To source the UGC it uses on its product pages and on-site gallery, Tuckernuck uses two hashtags: #Tuckernucking and #findthefun. The brand consistently uses these across its various social outlets to encourage customers to share their content.

When coming up with a hashtag for your brand, focus on what makes your brand unique. For example, #Tuckernucking is snappy and catchy and features the brand name itself. To date, there are 14,680 instances of #Tuckernucking and 19,628 of #findthefun. #Success.

Look for content outside of hashtags and tagged Photos.

Customers are proud of their brand associations, and many already tag brands in personal posts and use brand-associated hashtags. Fortunately, this makes it easy for brands to find user-generated content to share. But there are countless other ways to find user-generated content, such as the following:

  • Search Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest, and other social platforms
  • Read product reviews
  • Look at wish lists
  • Find YouTube mentions
  • Audit event photos
  • If your brand has brick-and-mortar stores, look at tagged locations
  • Use Google Analytics

Google Analytics can be particularly useful in seeing where on-site traffic is coming from.

For example, Adventure Cats discovered its site was getting a lot of traffic from specific subreddits (we’d love to see those right “meow”). Upon closer inspection, the team learned there was an entire subreddit dedicated to Adventure Cats, which was a “pawsitive” treasure trove of shareable UGC.

Incentivize users.

The opportunity to be featured on your company’s website or social media may be incentive enough for users to create content about your brand. But a contest, free product trial, giveaway, or prize can accelerate submissions and sharing.

Check out this example from cruelty-free skincare company Versed.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

We’re hosting a GIVEAWAY and we want to see your barefaced looks using #NothingButVersed What you’ll win: A Versed headband and fully stocked skincare routine! How to enter: 1. Like this post and make sure you’re following @versed 2. Post a no-makeup selfie in-feed using your favorite Versed products 3. Tag @versed in your photo use the #NothingButVersed in the caption, and that’s it! Want a leg up? Share this post as an Instagram story to receive a bonus entry. Don’t have a Versed product to take a photo of or not into selfies? You can repost one of our photos or share an image of your favorite products using the #NothingButVersed GOOD LUCK! 📷 via: @rebeccaniccolle This giveaway will run until Sunday, March 29th. Only in-feed Instagram posts will be considered for the giveaway. Winner has to post their content between 3/22 and 3/29 by 11:59 PT. If you can’t take a photo of your own, you can repost one of our photos for consideration! U.S. residents only, this giveaway is not affiliated with Instagram.

A post shared by Versed (@versed) on

Within a week of making this post, Versed received nearly 50 in-feed submissions on Instagram.

Ask for it — And Be Clear.

Tell your audience exactly what kind of content you’re looking for. Only 16% of brands provide clear guidelines about the kind of content they want fans to create and share, but 53% of consumers want specific instructions on what to do.

Take a closer look at the post from Versed above. The instructions on how to enter the giveaway are super clear, and the value prop is front and center. Consumers appreciate clear directions as well as general guidance.

Include calls to action on site; on social; in purchase emails; and on receipts, product packaging, and in-store displays. If you’re really in need of UGC, cast a wide net. You can also use a tool like Curalate that’s created to source and sort existing user-generated content. (Here are six things to consider when choosing a UGC solution).

Where to Implement User-Generated Content

Social media is the obvious choice for sharing user-generated content. After all, it’s where people are already posting about and tagging your brand. But there are so many other ways to make use of great UGC.

Think of all the channels you already have access to, and consider sprinkling in some UGC to take your marketing to the next level and grow engagement and sales.

Ads

UGC can make your advertising more authentic and relatable, whether you’re creating ads for social, web, or any other format.

It’s simple and effective once you’ve asked for permission to use the content (more on that below).

On-Site Galleries

Featuring shoppable lifestyle imagery from customers on your website allows consumers to be inspired, make discoveries, and shop all in one place.

Curalate finds that brands incorporating these galleries see a 241% increase in time on site, a 141% conversion rate life, and a 15% average order value increase from consumers engaging with social content on-site.

When visitors engaged with UGC on Accessorize’s website, time on-site increased 150%, conversion rates increased 65%, and average order value increased 33%.

See how you can easily build customizable carousels and galleries from user-generated content.

Product Pages

Displaying UGC on a product page has been shown to improve conversions by up to 64%.

Product pages sit at the end of the customer journey because they’re meant to simply be a rundown of the product customers are already interested in purchasing. But incorporating UGC on product pages helps liven up the page and helps customers make additional discoveries.

Another reason to use UGC on product pages is to answer customer’s questions about sizing and fit. Seeing actual people wearing items can help consumers purchase the right size, reducing return rates. Incorrect fit or wrong size is the top reason customers return goods, and it’s estimated that return deliveries will cost $550 billion this year.

Jolie Home has been doing an amazing job of demonstrating to buyers exactly how customers are using their products since its launch in 2018. Each paint’s product page has reviews and images of customers crafting with the featured color, as illustrated above. Not only does this show potential buyers how the paint will look once it’s dry, it also provides great inspiration for future projects. 

The value this kind of testimony provides is immeasurable, and this detailed information is useful for consumers because 88% trust online product reviews as much as they do personal recommendations.

Email

Your brand’s email campaigns provide another opportunity to feature user-generated content and engage your subscribers.

Since bringing UGC into its emails, fashion retailer Monsoon has seen a 14% increase in click-through rate and a 3% increase in revenue from email campaigns.

Here are six ways to upgrade your emails with UGC.

User-Generated Content Best Practices

Now that you understand why user-generated content is so valuable and how to implement it, here are some best practices to follow to ensure that it’s working for both your brand and your users.

Develop a strategy.

With the variety of UGC available, and with the countless ways your brand can utilize it, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. However, developing a user-generated content strategy will help you search, curate, and publish the most effective UGC for your specific brand.

Learn more about designing, implementing, and assessing your user-generated content marketing strategy here.

Ask for permission.

Just because a customer tags your brand in a post or uses your hashtag doesn’t necessarily mean you can reuse it.

So before reposting a user’s creation, reach out to them — whether it’s through email, comment, or direct message — say something complimentary about the content, and request permission to use it.

Once you receive permission, keep a record of it. Take a screenshot of the conversation or save the email in case any issues or questions come up in the future.

Provide credit.

Always credit the original source of the content, and tag them if possible. This is respectful of the creator, and it encourages them — and other users — to continue creating content and sharing it with your brand.

Share content from a variety of users.

This should go without saying, but diversity and inclusivity are important in marketing. Not only does it help your brand reach more customers, but it also makes your brand more accessible.

Users want representation, plain and simple. To quote Ad Age: “Given the fact that social networks are accessible by people of all backgrounds, shapes, sizes and families who experience different seasons, communities and landscapes, the diverse visual content found in UGC feels more like native social media content than advertising.”

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Evaluate content.

Keep an eye on all the UGC around your brand — even the content you don’t use. UGC is like a continuous feedback loop you can use to stay on top of what people are saying about your brand.

Don’t Just Create. Curate.

Your customers are already talking about your brand on social media.

They’re posting selfies and uploading stories that feature your products. They’re comparing items and making recommendations. So take advantage of this and curate your brand’s content from the multitude of user-generated content that’s out there.

After all, this is the authentic and relatable content that your followers want. And with 75% of people making purchases because they saw a product on social media, it’s also the very kind of content that will inspire your customers to convert.