Person holding polaroid photo

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 starting to realize the weight all this authentic customer content carries, and the strength it adds 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.

In this guide to user-generated content:

  1. What is user-generated content?
  2. Benefits of user-generated content
  3. UGC marketing examples
  4. Tips on generating more user-generated content for your brand
  5. Getting rights to user-generated content
  6. How UGC affects website performance

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 140-character Tweet or a personal Facebook post, that is user-generated content.

Reviews

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

If for example you make lipsticks, 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, this is user-generated content.

And while you might think that blog posts and videos are more relevant for B2C companies, that’s not actually true! In the B2B world, marketers love reading and writing blog content. If your product or brand is featured as an example in round-up content, or as a key tool in a “how-to” blog 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 brand has its own story, and promises something to its target audience. However, people tend to take branded messages with a grain of salt, wary that companies want their business. When people see that other consumers are confirming your brand message through UGC, it acts as a second opinion reinforcing how your brand delivers on its promises.

For example, Buzzsumo is a marketing tool that promises to help you find the most shared content for any given topic as well as the key influencers who share it.

For someone who hasn’t used it before, you might wonder if this tool really works as well as they say. Buzzsumo, however, is one tool that gets a lot of, well, “buzz” in various marketing blogs (such as this one from Sprout Social), sourcing it as the tool for finding influencers and distributing content. This kind of third-party user-generated content is social proof that Buzzsumo is effective and worth using.

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 20% more influential than branded content alone.

user-generated content impact
From TurnTo’s Consumer Study: Hearing the Voice of the Consumer

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 (especially if you’re in the B2C world).

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:

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, 1.3 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!).

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 | User-generated content for video: Destination Canada’s Found in Canada

Last year, Destination Canada (the organization charged with promoting Canadian tourism) launched a huge video campaign to target the U.S. travel market. But instead of sending videographers to capture b-roll from all over their vast country (which happens to be the second largest country in the world by landmass!), they decided to tap into the visual content Canadians and international visitors were already sharing online.

Within 2 weeks, they’d acquired rights to over 2500 photos and videos from social media and turned them into a series of short, fun, and exciting videos. These videos went viral, reaching over 3 million views within a week.

2 | Showcasing the authentic customer experience: Columbus Museum of Art

The Columbus Museum of Art, located in Ohio, curates more than just fine art — on their digital channels, the Columbus Museum curate the best visitor photos to showcase. They encourage patrons to take photos while they’re there and use the hashtag #myCMA.

They then choose the best photos and transform them into website galleries, such as this one from their homepage:

user-generated content columbus museum homepage

And it doesn’t stop there! This museum’s Instagram feed is also bursting with vibrant UGC from their guests.

By using visual UGC like this in their marketing, they let their fans do the talking, and paint an authentic picture of what a visit to their museum looks like — through user-generated content.

3 | Combatting buyer objections: Tim Hortons #TimsDark

In 2017, Tim Hortons, a Canadian coffee chain, took another stab at a discontinued product: dark roast coffee. And to reintroduce it to their coffee-adoring customers, they decided to loop in the social chatter from their last launch (which hadn’t gone as well as planned).

What they did with that UGC was ingenious:

This is a really great example of combatting buyer objections. Instead of pretending all the negative UGC from last time didn’t exist, they chose to acknowledge it, and show that they’ve improved — and invite people to continue telling them their thoughts on social media!

By doing so, they foster an environment where they welcome UGC and show that they value it. And as a result, more people jumped into the conversation — but this time, the UGC was positive:

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.

  • 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 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.

user generated content princess cruises

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!

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. Try it yourself here:

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 250 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.

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