Brent Barnhart
August 4, 2018

What Is User Generated Content And How Can Brands Use It?

What is user generated content? Find out how to put your fans to work creating amazing content for your Facebook page, Instagram account and more. We explain how to use user generated content campaigns to create buzz around your brand, repurposing fan created content for your own pleasure.

Let’s be honest: marketers are plagued with more acronyms and buzz-terms than they can handle.
But right now there’s one phrase that’s truly living up to the hype when it comes to social media.
Representing a simple way to engage followers and build up your brand’s reputation, user generated content has become a cornerstone of social itself.  
Rather than constantly scramble for new post and pictures, user generated campaigns allow your social fans to do the legwork for you when it comes to content creation.
And if you’re hungry for social proof and a more rabid base of followers, you should consider running a UGC campaign sooner rather than later.
In this guide, we’re going to break down how to use user generated content within your marketing campaigns in plain English.

What is User Generated Content, Anyway?

Although user generated content might sound like a lofty term, the concept itself is pretty simple.
Heck, you’ve probably created some yourself or have had followers do the same on behalf of your brand.
So, what’s a basic user generated content definition we can work with?
UGC represents organic content created on behalf of fans, followers or customers to promote your brand. Examples of user generated content include customer photos, shout-outs on social media, testimonials and other unpaid promos.
In other words, we’re talking about promotional content for your brand that you don’t create yourself.
UGC takes many shapes and forms. Perhaps the most notable example of UGC right now comes in the form of regrams, in which brands on Instagram promote their products or services through customer photos.
In fact, giants such as Airbnb rely on a social presence that’s almost entirely user generated content.
Not all user generated content is explicitly promotional, though. Testimonials and reviews like the ones you see on Yelp are also considered fair game for UGC campaigns. Positive comments and glowing reviews can serve as powerful marketing firepower in the right hands.
Even something as simple as a snapshot of your product or storefront can serve as a sort of promo. Consider how pieces of content such as the photos that pop up on a business’ Google Maps listing are comprised of UGC.

Which Networks Are Prime for User Generated Content Marketing?

Without a doubt, Instagram is the big kahuna right now when it comes to user generated content.
Brands on Instagram are scrambling to engage with followers for the sake of standing out from the crowd. Couple that with the popularity of social media competitions and giveaways and it’s no secret why so many brands are hungry for customer tags.
Beyond hashtags, brands with brick and mortar locations can show off their satisfied customers and the fact that they’re the spot to be.
In short, the prevalence of hashtags and geotagging makes UGC on Instagram so easy for people to create without a second thought.

Side Note: UGC is About More Than Just Instagram!

But as a quick side note, bear in mind that not all user generated content happens on Instagram.
Not by a long shot.
For example, the vast majority of consumers read ratings and reviews before engaging with any brand online. That’s why testimonials represent some of the most important UGC a brand could possibly ask for, especially if they’re facing stiff competition.
The beauty behind user generated content is authenticity. For the most part, people aren’t going to sign your business’ praises unless they really mean it, right?
And so for brands, the task is to take these positive moments with their fans and squeeze the most they possibly can out of them.

How Brands Can Show Off Their UGC

As noted, UGC can come from just about anywhere.
Tags in your social feeds. Blog comments. Review sites. The list goes on and on.
And while there are plenty of places to curate UGC, there are likewise plenty of ways to show it off. Below are some user generated content examples that highlight just how far you can stretch your social proof with a bit of creativity.
For starters, there’s the good ol’ fashioned regram like this one from Black Milk Clothing. Promoting their hashtag (#blackmilkclothing to followers), the brand has a steady stream of potential regrams they can shout-out.
Black Milk takes their user generated campaigns a step further by featuring their customers within their email marketing campaigns as well. Double-dipping your UGC makes sense given that your followers are often your best billboards.
Another strategy for promoting user generated content beyond social is via a gallery or lookbook. For example, check out this on-site Instagram feed from Incy which populates photos from social media via their hashtag (#weheartincy).
And you could likewise promote these same principles to text-based UGC such as reviews and testimonials. If someone says something nice about your brand, why not plaster it on-site?

Side Note: The Legalese of UGC

Bear in mind that there are some legal considerations for leveraging user generated content as part of your marketing campaigns.
For example, a comment or DM acknowledging a regram is both a common courtesy and best practice of promoting UGC on Instagram. Such an acknowledgement only takes a few seconds and is a great way to shout-out your followers in the first place.
However, consider that brands are legally required to get explicit permission for promos if you plan to use UGC in an advertisement off of Instagram (think: email campaigns, ads on-site).
Based on DRM (Digital Rights Management) laws, brands are expected to seek content rather than assume someone’s cool with their post being shared around.
The takeaway? When in doubt, it’s best to ask for permission. Doing so doesn’t take much time, anyway.
Again, your fans and followers are fantastic billboards but only if you’re using UGC by the book.

Why Bother With UGC Campaigns, Though?

User generated content campaigns are a totally different beast versus content you create yourself.
This begs the question: why bother?
The data doesn’t lie in terms of how well UGC performs for social marketers. In a day and age where people are sick of traditional ads, customer-centric campaigns and content are killing it right now. The millennial crowd in particular trusts this type of content above old-school marketing messages, consuming and sharing UGC at an insane rate.
Encouraging UGC through hashtags likewise represents a low-hanging way to encourage interactions on your social content without lifting a finger.
Also, consider how user generated content serves as social proof. If people are organically willing to hype up your brand or product, you’re obviously doing something right. Think of it as a sort of halo effect.
 And if nothing else, UGC removes the constant pressure of having to produce something new yourself. When you always have fan-based content to choose from, there’s always a fresh post in your back pocket.

Quick Tips for Running a User Generated Content Campaign

Despite all the fine details, setting up a user generated content campaign doesn’t have to be rocket science. Through hashtags and social comments, encouraging UGC has never been easier.
You need to establish your goals before you get started, though. For example, a user generated content campaign could be centred around any of the following:
  • Gathering positive customer stories and testimonials
  • Collecting images of your product or brand “in the wild”
  • Getting your brand in front of influencers and target audience
  • Showing off your brand’s local presence and fan following
  • Promoting a social contest or giveaway
All of these are totally fair game depending on your brand’s mission.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to encourage UGC is by having a branded hashtag on deck for followers to tag you with.  
Don’t be shy about asking for shout-outs, by the way. You can promote your hashtag statically in your bio…
...Or ask people to tag you directly from time-to-time.
Another brilliant way to encourage creative UGC is through contests and giveaways. Creating a sense of competition is a great way to spice up your social feed.
For example, Redbubble’s #createsomegood UGC campaign is a shining social media competition example which asks followers to come up with some socially conscious creation in exchange for a cash prize and opportunity to be featured in their feed.
And finally, consider that you don’t need to do anything groundbreaking to integrate UGC into your social feed. Throwing in the occasional regram is an easy way to both say thanks to your followers and avoid the trap of having your feed feel too promotional.
With that, we wrap up our crash course into UGC!

Are You All-In on User Generated Content?

As followers and consumers alike crave authenticity from brands,  user generated content marketing is here to stay.
Combined with your existing content strategy, try brainstorming ways you can encourage UGC either through hashtags or the simple act of asking for a shout-out  for your fans. Once you get the train going, you can encourage customer centric content time and time again that your followers will fall in love with.

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