UGC Guide: What is User-Generated Content?

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Notifications pop out of a smartphone screen in this graphic for a blog about user-generated content.
Notifications pop out of a smartphone screen in this graphic for a blog about user-generated content.

In the current climate, customers favor authenticity and transparency and are steering away from traditional marketing messages. Enter user-generated content (UGC), the latest darling of the marketing world.

Why all the hype around UGC? It’s simple: Content created by users highlights your brand in unique ways. It appears more authentic because it’s coming from your customers, not your brand. It’s instant social proof!

To add to its appeal, a survey found that more than 80% of consumers claim that UGC influences their buying decisions more than promotional content made by brands or even search results.

Here’s what you need to know about user-generated content — including a definition — and how to apply it to your brand marketing.

Table of Contents:

UGC Meaning: What is user-generated content?

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Let’s start with the basics: UGC stands for user-generated content. Sometimes it's also called third-party content or consumer-generated content.

So what exactly is UGC? Well, it is what it sounds like: content about your brand that is created by your customers, not your company.

A more thorough user-generated content definition is: the collection of text, images, videos, customer reviews, product reviews, blog posts, social media posts, or other content created by people, not brands. See our article on User-Generated Content Examples for more context.

Sometimes, your customers will generate a piece of brand-related content just because they want to. And sometimes, you might plant the bug in their ears by asking them to share a photo or other content.

For instance, your clothing boutique shoppers might snap a photo of their new outfit and upload it to Instagram with a branded hashtag (or some other relevant hashtag). Or, one of your subscription box customers might record an unboxing video to share with their friends or upload to YouTube. Boom – that's user-generated content marketing.

Why is UGC so important? The benefits of user-generated content

Brands go crazy over UGC, and for good reason. First and foremost, it’s one of the surest signs of approval. Imagine a customer loves your product or brand so much that they took it upon themselves to create some UGC posts about it and then shared them on their social networks. That’s true love!

But aside from the warm, fuzzy feeling it gives brand experts and marketers, there are tons of benefits and opportunities that come from UGC marketing. Here's why it should be part of your content marketing strategy.

Build authenticity in your brand

It bears repeating: User-generated content appears more authentic because it comes from “real” people. Yes, you as a brand expert, marketer, or social media guru are also a real person. But you’re being paid to create brand-generated content.

Consumer content creation happens just because customers like it, even though they have nothing to really gain from it. It sends a powerful message to other users. It’s next-level word-of-mouth marketing and a testament that other people love and trust your brand.

In general, content marketers agree that quality and authenticity are hallmarks of good content marketing campaigns. Audiences are quick to point out fake reviews and UGC that appears to be staged, both of which can kill your brand's reputation. To truly reap the benefits of user-created content, it needs to come from your customers organically.

Establish brand loyalty

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Engagement is a pillar of brand loyalty. When your customers actively engage with your brand, they’re more likely to remember you when they need something you offer.

This content strategy works for just about any industry or use case, including higher educationretail and e-commerce, hospitality, and any type of social media marketing.

Creating different kinds of content is an easy and effective way to engage your customers in a fun way. They essentially become a stakeholder in your brand and can participate in its success. Not to mention, engaged customers tend to spend more with the brands they support and are 59% more likely to choose that brand vs a competitor.

And when brands share their user-generated content on their own branded channels, customers feel seen, heard, and appreciated. The corporate walls come tumbling down and brands can show they’re listening to their customers.

Earn buyer trust

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In 2015, the American Association of Advertising Agencies made an alarming discovery: 96% of consumers don’t trust ads (especially Millennials). But it’s not without reason. The world (especially the advertising world) is full of misinformation, and it’s not always easy to sniff out fake news from the real deal. As a result, more consumers are increasingly dubious about marketing claims.

UGC marketing is key to helping to earn buyer trust for the long-term. Because content comes from customers, not the brand itself, it’s automatically seen as more honest and truthful. Because let’s face it: If you have a bad experience, you’re not likely to advocate for a brand or product.

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That’s why many marketers consider user-generated content marketing to be akin to word-of-mouth. It’s like getting an honest recommendation from a family member or friend. It offers instant brand awareness. And since research shows that 90% of people are more likely to trust a recommended brand (even if that recommendation comes from an internet stranger), user-generated content campaigns have a strong chance of making the right impression.

Influence buying decisions

The benefits of UGC are strongest when they result in real buying decisions. That’s why many content marketers rely on it at the bottom stages of the sales funnel.

For starters, user content is a form of social proof that other people have bought a product or service and like it enough to share their experience with others. With e-commerce scams on the rise (e.g., fake online stores, fake products, misleading products and descriptions, etc.), potential customers are wary about who they purchase from.

People trust that UGC doesn’t use any fancy lighting or camera tricks that make a product seem like something it isn’t. They get a better idea of what a product actually looks like or how it works, which can tip the scales in your favor.

Reduce your own content marketing expenses

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One of the biggest bottom-line advantages to UGC is the cost-effectiveness — it’s pretty much free advertising!

Organic user-generated content is super cost-effective. You invest very little other than your time — time spent searching for, vetting, and publishing the content on your own channels. This is a huge benefit as the costs of content marketing continue to climb. Currently, cost-per-click ads are up 50% year-over-year and are only getting more expensive.

And even though 68% of content marketers say their budgets are increasing, their time and people resources are expected to remain fairly flat. Ultimately, this means that content creators will be expected to create more and better content and increase results without having the additional resources to do so. UGC can help to fill in these gaps without taking a huge investment of time or money.

What’s more, free or cheap user-created content is the next best thing to influencer marketing. Hiring an influencer can cost hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars, depending on their level of influence. It also takes much more involvement on your part to manage, find, vet, and collaborate with influencers.

Comparatively, the cost of asking your loyal fans to post pictures of themselves enjoying your product is minimal. There’s no need to partner with an expensive agency, since this is something so simple you can do it in-house. You might invest in a user-generated content platform or social media management service to help you manage the process, but other than that, you don’t need to invest much into your UGC strategy.

Why does user-generated content work?

Data shows that consumers find user-generated content to be nearly 10 times more impactful than influencer content. Nearly 8 in 10 shoppers say that it influences purchasing decisions, while 31% believe UGC is more memorable than traditional advertising.

But why exactly does user-generated content work so well? There’s no single right answer here, but its impact stems from how it builds deeper connections with an audience.

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Because user content is seen as more honest, authentic, and trustworthy, people start to associate those traits with your brand, too. UGC is an extension of your in-house branding efforts and should therefore support your brand’s core values and image.

Why is content moderation important for user-generated campaigns?

Your fans are creating content of their own volition, but you still have a brand to uphold and protect. That’s why not all user-generated content should automatically be considered helpful. Since people can create just about any type of content they wish (see Lil Nas X and the Nike Satan shoes, for example), there needs to be some form of moderation process to ensure the content is high-quality, on-brand, and won't damage your brand reputation.

So bottom line: Yes, user-generated content is a great way to boost brand authenticity, build deeper connections, and create customer loyalty. But these outcomes aren’t always automatic. The more you understand the mechanics and dynamics of user-created content, the better positioned you’ll be to reap the rewards.

How to get user-generated content

Now that you know the user-generated content meaning, the benefits of user-generated content, and why UGC works so well, your next objective is to put UGC to work for you. How do you get UGC content, anyway? There are two clear paths here.

1. Ask for customer content directly

The first option is to proactively reach out to your customers to see if they would create some content on your behalf. You might send an email blast asking recent shoppers to tag you in an IG post or TikTok, for example.

2. Use UGC platforms

The second option is to enlist the help of a UGC platform to find content that’s already been created by your loyal fans. Meltwater’s social media monitoring suite serves as a centralized UGC platform, helping you quickly find content and brand mentions, connect with fans, and engage your online community from a single platform. Plus, our automated alerts and reporting tools help you spot PR crises well before they escalate.

Not only do Meltwater's solutions save you time by automatically aggregating content on your behalf, they also let you instantly share content across all your channels, including web pages, social media channels, digital signage, emails, ads, and more. You can even gamify the UGC sourcing process to encourage more users to contribute their content and expand your impact. Get real-time insights from your marketing efforts and watch every UGC campaign come to life.

See how Meltwater solutions supercharge your UGC strategy – get a demo today!

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