What is user generated content and can it help your business?

9 min read
Derek Miller

It might be hard to believe, but people used to have a limited amount of sources and channels from which to get their information and entertainment. They’d get their news from the daily paper, they’d get their entertainment from the radio or TV, and they’d get their local gossip at the barbershop or salon.

Back then, people relied on — and trusted — the information they received from these dedicated, but limited, resources. However, the technological barriers to creating and disseminating content that made yesteryears possible are no longer the case.

That paradigm has shifted dramatically over the last decade, and more people than ever are creating, sharing and engaging with content across the endless spectrum of mediums.

ESPN used to be the go-to source for anything sports  — however, people are now following their favorite sports personalities, athletes, and reporters directly on Twitter for real-time breaking news and insight.

selecting TikTok app on smartphone

Fans of celebrities no longer have to purchase People Magazine to see what their favorite stars are up to, they can get an incredible, raw look into the lives of celebs via Instagram.

Don’t want to pay for cable anymore? You can enjoy thousands of hours of free user-generated video content on TikTok. Looking to learn a new skill? YouTubers have you covered.

User-generated content (UGC) has become so popular that everyone from your aunt to the US President uses it to share and collect information.

User-generated content has turned the way people consume news and information on its head.

User-generated content has become even more important in the wake of COVD-19 as people migrated virtually to prevent the spread of the virus. In fact, phone screen time jumped 33 percent from an average of 3 hours a day in 2019 to 4 hours daily in 2020. UGC is not just a way for people to create and consume content, it’s a way for people to feel connected —  now more than ever.

So, if you’re a business looking for a scalable and exciting way to grow your brand, you may want to consider user-generated content. Before you do, here’s a few things to know about UGC.

What is user-generated content?

User-generated content is an ambiguous term. The simplest definition is content created and shared by an individual — independent of any brand.

Think about the time you or someone you know took a picture of their meal and posted it to Instagram. Whether it was shared because it was good or shared because it was it was bad isn’t important. The concept of user-generated content is merely the act of creating and sharing the information with others.

From a business perspective, content creators can be consumers, internal employees, contractors, vendors or anyone familiar with the brand.

The content format and medium can be equally flexible. Users can create and share videos, reviews, images, social media posts, articles, or any other form of content — and they can distribute the content on hundreds of platforms.

To better understand user-generated content, simply look at Facebook. The entire platform is designed to leverage user-generated content. Once you create an account, you follow other users to see their posts, you create your own content and push it out to your followers, and everyone that’s connected can share, like or comment on each other’s content. It’s user-generated content overload — and it’s one of the most powerful brands in the world.

Related: Web content development — What to include on your website’s 5 core pages

Why is user-generated content important?

Simply put, user-generated content is trusted more than branded content. As a brand, it’s extremely difficult for customers to trust what you say — no matter how objective the message or engaging the approach.

In fact, when users post about your brand on social media they get 28 percent more engagement than your typical company post. Not only are they getting more engagement, but 54 percent of potential customers use social media to help shape their purchasing decision. Another study by Tint found that 93 percent of marketers agree that consumers trust customer content more than content created by the brand.

Bottom line: The end consumer finds user-generated content more valuable than brand-delivered content.

The reason is not too complex — we’re conditioned to expect ulterior motives from brand messaging, but we let down our barriers for people with whom we have a rapport.

Related: 6 ways to connect with your eCommerce customers and humanize your brand

How can user-generated content help your business?

What Is User Generated Content Mobile

Because user-generated content is such a powerful way to engage consumers, it’s important for businesses to harness it. Knowing how to leverage user-generated content strategically to hit business objectives is challenging and will depend on a lot of variables — such as whether you operate an eCommerce store or brick-and-mortar business, whether you sell a product or service, and the size of your marketing budget, among others.

Generally speaking, here are three ways for businesses to integrate user-generated content into their marketing plan.

1. Incentivize customers to leave reviews

Reviews are arguably the most important form of user-generated content. In fact, 95 percent of customers read reviews before making a purchase, and five or more reviews can increase conversions by 270 percent. Regardless of your industry, business model or offering, reviews will help — or hurt — your business.

Customers use online reviews to set expectations.

If a potential customer sees hundreds of five-star reviews with great feedback and photos, they are more likely to choose you over one of your competitors. However, if you’re not pushing satisfied customers to leave reviews, you could end up with mostly negative feedback online or worse — no reviews at all.

Would you trust a business in 2021 that had no online footprint via reviews? How would you perceive that company when compared next to a business with several glowing reviews? My guess is that your trust level for the company with positive reviews would be much higher than the one with none.

Incentivize your customers to leave reviews — especially if you know they had a great experience. These reviews, along with photos or videos, will help your business tap into the value of user-generated content and shape your future customers’ expectations positively.

Related: How to get more Google customer reviews

As a side note, your employees can also leave reviews about your business on sites like Glassdoor. This user-generated content provides context to the work-life at your business and its management — which can be useful when recruiting quality employees or developing strategic business partnerships.

2. Drive brand recognition with influencers

Influencer marketing has become a buzzword in recent years thanks to the rise of social media personalities on sites like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and more.

Everyone from Nike to your local coffee shop have got into the influencer marketing game. The idea behind influencer marketing is simply to leverage another person’s reach and audience to promote and grow your brand.

It’s the evolution of the brand sponsorship — instead of paying Michael Jordan $1 million to eat a Big Mac for a Super Bowl ad, you’re paying an Instagram celeb $10,000 to do it for their 1 million followers. Influencer marketing gives businesses a new vehicle to reach a targeted and engaged audience.

Influencer marketing is a unique form of user-generated content because it typically involves some collaboration between the brand and the user creating or delivering the content.

This arms-length relationship does affect the content’s authenticity — but if executed properly, influencer-generated content can provide brands with incredible returns.

Businesses can leverage influencers to create and promote content through several formats. The easiest way to partner with influencers is through a monetized relationship. This partnership involves your brand paying an influencer to create a piece of content that highlights your product or service.

Related: How can you plan a successful influencer campaign?

Another relationship can involve a quid pro quo. This partnership might involve your company sending an influencer a free sample of your product that they use / demonstrate on their social channels. One example is partnering with an influencer who features your product in an “unboxing” video.

3. Empower your brand’s biggest fans

fans at a concert

One of the underlying values of user-generated content that is often overlooked is the impact it has on developing your brand’s tribe. Consumers have an innate desire to be loyal to brands that meet or exceed their expectations. In fact, 93 percent of customers are likely to shop with you again if they received excellent customer service.

Brands can harness this loyalty and empower their satisfied customers to become brand advocates. Provide your customers with the tools and resources they need to speak on behalf of your company.

For instance, Google My Business has a Q&A feature that allows current and potential customers to ask and answer questions directly within your company listing. This feature was not designed for you to answer these questions, it’s created so that your customers can answer these questions.

Amazon recently added a similar function to their listings where interested consumers can ask questions like “Does this shirt shrink when washed?” or “Will this product break easily?” and past customers can answer.

The goal behind these Q&A features is to get reliable, unbiased answers from customers — not the business. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t monitor the questions and reach out to your “regulars” or customers you trust to answer.

There are many ways to get your happy customers to share their experiences. Get creative with your loyal customers and incentivize them to become brand advocates.

Related: Turning happy customers into customer advocates

Getting started with user-generated content

There are several opportunities for businesses large and small to benefit from user-generated content. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to get started — and you probably already have users creating content about your brand.

As you set out to harness user-generated content, remember that it starts first with delivering the value that you promise to your end users.

You can always use strategies to promote more favorable user-generated content, but if you are consistently exceeding your customers’ expectations, the user-generated content will happen naturally.