User-Generated Content: The Ultimate Guide for Modern Marketers

May 3, 2019 Julia Manoukian

What is user-generated content?

As a marketer, you may have a heard this term a lot lately.

Here's a simple definition:

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.

User-generated content is valuable to your marketing strategy because it helps your improve your brand reach, conversions and direct bookings. It's a type of earned media. You didn’t pay for this publicity—people have created it, and pushed it into the public eye because they like your brand well enough to talk about on their own time.

UGC is unbiased and created without an agenda. As a result, people perceive this kind of content to be more trustworthy, truthful, and authentic.

Here’s everything we’ll cover in this guide: 

Table of Contents: UGC 

Types of User-Generated Content

All user-generated content falls under three categories: text, pictures or videos. User-generated content can be any of the following:

  • Social Media Content
  • Reviews & Testimonials
  • Blog Posts 
  • Video Content 
  • Q&A Forums
  • Case Studies

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

Social Media Content

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 and videos daily on social platforms, and a huge portion of those are interacting with some sort of brand, ranging from hotels, destinations, and airlines. This type of organic visual UGC is taking the online world by storm.

Any time someone posts a social message about you, whether it’s a Tweet or a personal Facebook post, that is user-generated content.

Reviews & Testimonials

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

Blog Posts

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. 

Video 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.

Knowing what type of user-generated content is right for your marketing strategy depends on your audience. Are they active on social media? Do they trust review websites? This will the type of content that’s best to use. 

For instance, it’s no secret that visuals are highly influential to potential travelers. In fact, 85 percent of consumers find visual UGC more influential than brand photos or videos. If you want to generate more brand awareness, conversions and engagement, focus on visual content. 

The Benefits of User-Generated Content 

There are many advantages to UGC:

UGC Is Social Proof for 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.

UGC Is More Influential On Purchasing Decisions vs Traditional Marketing 

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.

From TurnTo’s Consumer Study: Hearing the Voice of the Consumer

UGC Gives You A Larger Pool of Visuals 

In addition to commissioned and stock photography, user-generated content is a whole new source of visuals you can tap into for your marketing. Did you know that almost 100 million posts a day are uploaded to Instagram? Think of all the content being created you haven’t tapped into yet!

UGC Helps Stretch Your Budget

According to some estimates, a professional photography shoot can cost anywhere between $500 - $10,000. UGC gives you a cost-effective way of acquiring original and impactful photos that can supplement the owned content you already have. With user-generated visuals, there’s no more need for actors, equipment, or waiting for a day with perfect weather to get your shot. 

3 Examples of User Generated Content 

Here are 3 great examples of UGC content 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 the country, 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 too. They encourage users 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:

And it doesn’t stop there! This museum’s Instagram feed is also bursting with tons of great content shared from all their guests.

This user generated content campaign is a fantastic example of how any brand can let their fans do the talking, and paint an authentic picture of what the experience is actually like.

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 combating buyer objections. Instead of pretending all the negative feedback 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:

How to Inspire More UGC for Your Brand

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

Key Tactic #1: Encourage People to Share Their Photos

Sometimes all it takes is a little prompting on social networks, to show that you’re excited to see their creativity and enthusiasm.

Key Tactic #2: 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, or retweeting them.

Key Tactic #3: Reward 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.

Getting Rights To User-Generated Content

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. 

How UGC Affects 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.

The bottom line: Consumer generated marketing, specifically, UGC, improves user engagement, and helps drive conversions. Consider how Visit Fairfax uses UGC to improve time on 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.

Download-Guide UGC-Travel and Tourism Brands

About the author

Julia Manoukian

Julia Manoukian is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at CrowdRiff, where she is responsible for strategy, execution and SEO. Every day, she looks forward to the challenge of creating educating and engaging content for travel and tourism brands. Julia has a passion for storytelling, travelling and tech.

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