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A Marketer’s Ultimate Guide to User-Generated Content (UGC)

User-generated content has never been more abundant and thriving than today.
With social media, everyone is a publisher; everyone is a photographer; and everyone has an opinion.

Now, more and more marketers are taking advantage of this authentic customer content and adding its weight to their marketing.

We wrote this comprehensive guide to share the insights we’ve gained to give you a solid understanding of UGC marketing. From the basics to advanced tools, you’ll learn all you need to know to get confident about building your brand with UGC.

First, what is user-generated content, and why is it important in marketing?

User-generated content (or UGC for short) refers to any content (typically digital) that is created and shared by consumers or fans of a brand, about that brand. This includes anything from a casual Instagram post or Tweet, to something intentional, like a review or testimonial.

For example, let’s say you’ve just purchased a latte from your favorite coffee shop. Today they’ve done a particularly amazing job at creating that latte art swirl you love so much, and you just need to share this. So you snap up a pic and post it to Instagram.

And just like that, you’ve created a piece of user-generated content.

User-generated content is a shining beacon of light for marketers, because it falls into the category of earned media. You didn’t pay for this publicity — people have created it, however, and pushed it into the public eye because they like your brand well enough to talk about on their own time.

It’s in the name: user-generated content — content made by users. UGC is unbiased and created without an agenda. As a result, people perceive this kind of content to be more trustworthy, truthful, and authentic.

Let’s take a closer look at some common types of user-generated content:

Social media content

Social media is a goldmine of user-generated content, including:

  •  Social photos and videos. When it comes to products, seeing is believing — especially when it’s people you know and trust doing the showing. People are taking and sharing thousands of photos & videos daily onto social media, and a huge portion of those are interacting with some sort of brand, ranging from restaurants, destinations, and fashion — just to name a few. This type of organic visual UGC is taking the online world by storm.
  • Tweets or other social media messages. Pretty much any time someone posts a social message about you, whether it’s a 280-character Tweet or a personal Facebook post, that is user-generated content.


Whether your customers write reviews on a section of your website, or whether they use third-party review sites (such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, G2Crowd, Google, etc.) this kind of feedback is considered user-generated content.

Blog posts or video content

Let’s say you’re running a makeup brand. Any time a beauty blogger uses your product in a tutorial or in a review, whether it’s in a blog post or a video, that’s user-generated content.

And while you might think that UGC is most relevant to brands with shoppable products, it's incredibly valuable for destination marketers and content creators. If a travel journalist visits your destination and includes a local restaurant or tour operator in their post, that counts as user-generated content too.

What are benefits of using user-generated content in marketing?

There are so many reasons you should be using UGC in your marketing — both because it is simply more effective, and because it can help stretch your marketing budget. Here’s the lowdown

UGC acts as social proof to reinforce your brand’s message

Every destination has its own vibe and promises a certain type of vacation. How many times have you looked up a location tag for a restaurant while you’re visiting a new city, or looked at the tagged images for an Airbnb you’re considering? Those visuals help set the stage of what to expect, especially if the aesthetics of a location are important to you. 

Those signals of social proof drive heads in beds. Not only are travelers using social visuals to find vacation possibilities, but the social clout of a destination, or just how much engagement they might get as a result of traveling there, can be the driving decision maker in their travel plans.

Like with other key purchases, audiences tend to take destination messaging with a grain of salt, wary that they might be missing out. When travelers uncover user-generated content that confirms the destination message, it might just be the tipping point to hitting the book button.

UGC is more influential on purchasing decisions

Because UGC is produced by individuals who don’t have anything to gain by singing your praises, it is perceived as being more authentic and more trustworthy. In fact, it’s been found to be more than twice as likely to view user-generated content as more authentic than branded content.

UGC gives you a larger pool of visuals you can tap into to use in your marketing

In addition to commissioned and stock photography, user-generated content is a whole new source of visuals you can tap into for your marketing. The best part? There is a ton of visual UGC out there about your brand (who doesn’t love sharing their travel pics?).

The fact is that people love sharing photos and videos on social media. And now that pretty much every person online has a smartphone, snapping up a pic and uploading it to social media is as easy as pie. Consider this:

Facebook has over 1.96 billion daily active users (as of 2022)

Instagram has more than two billion monthly active users according to estimates (as of 2021)

500 million Tweets go out every single day on Twitter (as of 2022)

All that adds up to a lot of potential for user-generated content, and not to mention a huge reach. In fact, experts predict that this year, 1.5 trillion digital photos will be taken.

Tapping into this growing pool of visuals can dramatically increase the number of visuals you have available to use and get creative with. What’s more, for the most part, as long as you credit the original user, most will be happy to give you rights to their content without extra cost.

Learn more about the benefits of user-generated content in this post (packed with great stats!).

UGC can promote diversity, equity and inclusion

We’re all human and we often have implicit biases that aren’t intentional and that we’re probably unaware of. For example, consistently sharing images of travelers who are mostly of the same race, or gender or age.

With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, more DMOs have stepped up to the task of diversifying their marketing and reaching out to travelers who had long been ignored. There’s still a lot of work to do, and tools like UGC galleries can help show the diversity of your visitors and help them see themselves represented.

In other words, if someone sees someone who looks like them in your marketing, it’s easier for them to imagine themselves visiting and makes them feel more comfortable if they do. 

Visit Phoenix significantly increased their representation and share of marginalized groups across their content using CrowdRiff’s UGC galleries and feels that the destination is that much closer to living up to its fullest potential. When everyone is included, everyone is lifted up and your brand becomes stronger.

Locals also have a role to play in UGC

Locals will always be there for your DMO when international and other domestic travelers aren’t. The pandemic was proof of this in so many ways, and the destinations that brought local into their social strategy saw it pay off.  With much ongoing uncertainty around the world, focusing on local and regional travel markets is a safe bet. And remember, most trips across the board are local or regional trips within a couple hours of travelers’ homes!

Locals can share images with tips and insider info about a place or activity that travelers who have never visited just wouldn’t know. They probably know your destination better than you do and understand what makes the “perfect” photo of a place, the right angles, the best time of day to visit, etc. And these are the people who are most motivated to get involved and share photos and videos because they’re the most passionate about the place they call home.

If you haven’t started to tap into your the power of local, check out the examples below or take a look at how Kalamazoo tapped into their community to generate business.

3 Examples of User-Generated Content Marketing

So you want to reap all those benefits of UGC? Here are 3 great examples of UGC marketing campaigns:

1 | Incentivizing locals and supporting local businesses: Destination British Columbia 

Destination British Columbia wanted to jumpstart its marketing efforts in early 2021 after a lengthy pause due to COVID travel restrictions. Since international travel to and some domestic travel within Canada were still restricted, the DMO turned to the province’s residents to let them share what they love about living there.

Locals were invited to share reasons why they love British Columbia or their community by submitting a photo and a brief story to Ten winners, selected by random draw, won $500 gift cards or vouchers to spend at up to three local businesses to help support the DMO’s Stay Local, Support Local initiative. The team also shared some of the entries across its social media channels. 

It’s a great example of getting top-notch UGC while offering a nice incentive to participate, and the real winners – local businesses – are the icing on the cake.

2 | Showcasing authenticity in big ways: Connecticut Office of Tourism

Connecticut isn’t particularly well-known as a winter destination. It’s wedged between other famous destinations like New York and Vermont that offer winter activities galore, including skiing, ice fishing, and skating. But in early 2022,  the team at the Connecticut Office of Tourism was determined to change that with its first winter campaign in many years.

The splashy, $1 million #StateImInCT campaign didn't just include UGC - they made use of TV spots, billboards, and paid and earned media, but travelers’ own photos were at the heart of the campaign. Billboards across the region featured user-generated photos and captions from residents, visitors, and influencers, while UGC photos were also prominently featured across and the DMO’s social media channels.  

While many DMOs don’t have the budget for billboards, those who do or may be considering it can get inspiration from Connecticut’s out-of-home creativity and how to be authentic in front of lots of eyeballs. 


3 | Making everyone a winner: Meet Mt. Pleasant 

Who doesn’t love a photo contest?! The team at the Mt. Pleasant Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (representing a destination in central Michigan) runs several throughout the year and its 2021 #ILoveMtP Instagram contest celebrated all the fun summer activities the area offers.

This contest had the same idea as Destination British Columbia’s, but we love how the DMO gamified the contest even further. First, travelers and locals had to share their photos on Instagram using #ILoveMtP and tagging @mtpleasantcvb. Then, the DMO would post the photo to their own Instagram account, and from there all participants had to encourage their family and friends to like their photo. The photo with the most likes by the contest deadline would win $100 in local gift cards.

Sharing all contest photos makes everyone feel like a winner even if they aren’t and also incentivizes more engagement with your content from people who care about it the most!

Want to see more UGC marketing campaigns? Here are 9 more examples.

How do I generate more user-generated content on social media?

Here are some quick tips and tricks to get your customers sharing more visual UGC for your brand:

  • Encourage people to share their photos! Sometimes all it takes is a little prompting on social media, to show that you’re excited to see their captures. The easiest way to get started is to include your destination’s hashtag in your IG bio.

  • Acknowledge people who share UGC. People don’t expect brands to see their Tweets or messages. Show your audience that you do hear them and what they have to say is valuable. This can be as simple as replying to them, retweeting them.

  • Reward them for sharing photos! Prizes are a great incentive to share photos — which is why photo contests are such a great way to generate UGC. But on a smaller scale, even just giving someone a little limelight by choosing to feature their image in your marketing is sufficient. It can then spark your other followers to share more, in hopes of getting featured too.

For more detailed tips and to-dos on how to inspire more people to share visual UGC on social media, here’s a handy blog post to keep on hand:

7 Effective Ways to Get More User-Generated Content for Your Brand

How do I get rights to UGC photos and videos?

First, let’s address when you need to get rights to user-generated content.

If you want to use UGC visuals throughout your marketing just as you would an owned photo then you will need to get rights to them.

This includes:

  • Reposting a user-generated photo to your own social accounts
  • Using the photo in digital or print ads
  • Displaying the photo on your website without the original information (i.e. author name, caption, etc.) and/or a link back
  • Displaying a modified version of a photo

Basically, these are all instances where if someone were to look at the UGC photo you’re using, they wouldn’t know it was created by someone else.

While this is no substitute for professional legal advice, we wrote a helpful guide to UGC rights, that would be a good idea to read over if you want to better understand the intricacies of user-generated content rights:

User-Generated Content Rights: Top FAQs from Marketers

Most importantly, remember this: when in doubt, ask for permission! Asking for permission to use photos is also a great connection point with your travelers, so consider it a way to drum up engagement!

How does user-generated content affect website performance?

Sometimes people wonder if displaying visual UGC on their website will negatively affect website performance. Specifically, when displaying user-generated photos and videos in a gallery layout of some sort, will it drive users away?

The answer: It depends on how you’re doing it!

Instagram widgets and plugins will drive people off your site.

Here’s the thing: we know you’ve got click-worthy photos.

But whenever someone clicks on a photo in a widget or plugin, they’re redirected to Instagram. So although these social hubs look pretty, they interrupt your web visitor’s experience, and reduce the time spent on your website.

An embed from a visual marketing platform like CrowdRiff will increase time on site and reduce bounce rate.

CrowdRiff allows you to embed galleries of UGC directly onto your web page. This way, your web visitors can explore your visuals in a seamless experience.

When browsing photos in a CrowdRiff gallery, anyone can easily click into it to see the full-screen image. This also allows curious users to view the original description, comments, and hashtags without ever leaving having to leave your site.

In an A/B test of a web page where one brand displayed a UGC website gallery and one did not, the page that did have UGC won by a landslide, with a 351% increased time on site:



You can leverage visual user-generated content better with CrowdRiff

CrowdRiff’s visual marketing platform centralizes all your brand’s visual user-generated content (updating in real-time as people create more) together with your owned content.

Over 800 brands use CrowdRiff to:

  • Find the best undiscovered user-generated photos to make their websites, visitor guides and ads more visually appealing
  • Acquire rights to social media visuals and stretch their marketing budget
  • Manage all their visual assets in one searchable library

Show your audience the experiences they could be having, through the visuals that resonate the most. Get in touch to find out how CrowdRiff can help your brand rise above the noise, with user-generated content.