UGC Marketing: An Ultimate Guide to Leverage User-Generated Content

David Morneau

By David Morneau
12 min READ | Nov 6 2021

UGC Marketing: An Ultimate Guide to Leverage User-Generated Content

If you look back at the history of advertising, you’ll see many theories come and go. Concepts that were once essential or widespread practices are now obsolete.

One thing hasn’t changed for decades, though:

You have to put your customer first.

That statement holds true both when designing a product or service and when you’re marketing it. Remember that communicating what you’ve done is equally important as doing it.

So here’s a statistic that can influence the way you communicate with your audience:

90 percent of consumers trust UGC over traditional advertising when it comes to their purchase decisions. You’ve come to the right place.

We’ll discuss the intricacies of user-generated content marketing and how to use it to your advantage.

What Is UGC?

User-generated content is pretty self-explanatory and confusing at the same time. Of course, the term refers to content that users generate about brands – anyone can figure that.

  • But who are these users?
  • And what content do they generate?
  • How do they do that?
  • And how can you use the content to your advantage?

Let’s explain.

Firstly, these users should be your actual customers, and they should give genuine feedback about your brand. The content they generate should, therefore, be anything but fake.

Of course, that’s just the premise.

Your target should be content that’s clear, informative, funny, but also insightful and inspiring. You can include here photos, videos, social media posts, and customer reviews.

Once this content gets to the original users’ audience, they’ll see your brand in a new light.

Here’s how that happens:

People have hierarchies of products in their heads – what is their go-to for showering, traveling, dining out, etc.

Traditionally, brands had to work very hard to change this hierarchy. Marketers wrote entire books on strategies like challenging the winner vs. challenging the brand above you. Brands invested lots of time and resources to figure out this hierarchy in their customers’ minds and then figure out ways to advance.

But user-generated content is like a magic wand that makes hierarchies vanish.

And it’s only natural: of course, you’d trust someone you know, someone who thinks like you over a clever slogan. And of course, any potential customer out there knows deep down that brands’ communication is driven by the goal to sell more products.

When people feel the tiniest whiff of lack of authenticity, they’ll back away from your products.

At this point, you can stop and protest if you feel you have a genuine connection to your audience. But here’s another interesting stat:

While 92% of marketers believe they’re making authentic content, only 51 percent of consumers say they feel this authenticity.

So, let’s see how you can build this trustful, authentic connection with your audience to become number one in their mental hierarchy of brands.

Yeah, it doesn’t sound difficult at all.

4 Ways to Leverage User-Generated Content in Marketing

The UGC examples below start from people’s need for authenticity from brands. Your customers need a personalized experience and objective facts to base their buying decisions on.

And that’s precisely what you’re going to do:

#1 Power Your Content Calendar

Bluehouse Salmon – one of the inBeat’s clients – is the best example of powering your content calendar with UGC. If you look at their Instagram page, you’ll see that they use UGC to create almost all their social media content calendar.

Here’s why that works:

  • Your inspiration, although probably teeming with ideas, is limited.
  • Your marketing team can only find so many angles to promote your brand.
  • You see your products and your company through your very personal and highly tented lens.

Conversely, your loyal customers will find new ways of deconstructing and representing your brand.

These posts under the #bluehousesalmon hashtag show incredible recipes that you can use with salmon. There are almost 700 distinct ideas of meals using one essential ingredient: organic salmon.

So basically, loyal customers can work their magic and fill your content calendar with unique, inspiring, and authentic posts.

#2 Share User-Generated Content on Social Media Channels

There are two main ways in which you can leverage user-generated content on social media:

  1. You can create brand desire

One of the most significant problems for brands is attracting an audience of non-customers that aren’t by nature interested in their products. So when you build a user persona based on your brand’s values and personality, you notice that the pool of potential customers is pretty limited.

But here’s the thing:

User-generated content will widen that pool of customers quickly, taking your brand to new markets you didn’t envision at first.

Let’s take it this way: when your friends are going to the same sushi bar all the time, you’re going to go to that sushi bar too. And even more weirdly, you’re going to start loving sushi.

You can create brand desire on social media with UGC by using:

  • Repetition
  • Eliciting envy
  • Using FOMO
  • Creating a feeling of belonging to a specific group

So even if other people create that UGC, you have to organize it and repost it on your social media accounts.

Phone Loops is an excellent example in this case. Even if the product is pretty basic – just loops you attach to your phone so that you won’t drop it – the massive content around it has lifted its symbolic status.

So Phone Loops has moved up from a practical accessory that makes taking selfies safer.

Now, this simple cord represents beauty, style, fashion, but also traveling and adventure.

2. You can build brand loyalty.

Fitnessblender is an excellent example of building brand loyalty. They started as a small team of two – husband and wife – posting free fitness videos. Their unique selling proposition was to cut through BS fads like fast diets, exhausting challenges, or 5-minute miraculous workouts.

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Thousands love their down-to-earth, work-smarter-not-harder approach.

People who were let down by aggressive approaches and false promises found a safe space in Fitnessblender.

This platform continues to evolve thanks to their community:

  • People get complete information and fitness education along with personalized workouts
  • They achieve goals they couldn’t reach before
  • They understand more about fitness
  • They share this transformative experience with their loved ones
  • They encourage each other in the Fitnessblender community

So, in the span of a few years, Fitnessblender has grown to offer paid subscriptions. They also hired specialists with culturally and professionally diverse backgrounds that appeal to more communities.

Pro tip: They call their audience “Fitnessblender Family,” which shows you the importance of naming when building a brand community. The idea of a family is compelling because you identify with the family members and subconsciously exclude those outside of the family. The way your inclusion combines with outsiders’ exclusion creates a special status as a group member.

#3 Understand the why of user-generated content (UGC) in e-commerce email marketing

Few companies use UGC in email marketing, although stats show that this strategy increases the click-through rate by 43%. Also, your conversion rates can double or even triple.

Here’s how to do that:

  • Ask for customer reviews in your emails. Underline how important their opinion is for other people, but also don’t forget to thank them for being part of your tribe.
  • Ask for customer photos. You can use incentives, such as making those photos part of a collage or automatically enrolling people in contests.

Kickstarter’s campaign is an excellent example here because they’ve used this UGC request in their email marketing campaign instead of just posting it on their website.

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And of course, don’t forget to add that content in your other emails. E-mail marketing becomes more potent if you feature actual recommendations from your customers.

Here’s an example from Dollar Shave Club:

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#4 User-Generated Content (UGC) in E-commerce

The users generating the content we keep talking about are probably massive fans and loyal customers. They’ve tried your products and know all their intricacies, plus they can come up with unique ways of using those things.

That’s how you can use UGC in e-commerce:

  1. Take advantage of their unique visions and encourage posts that highlight different uses.

Let’s say that you’re selling scarves that are both durable and stylish. So, you can encourage loyal customers to send you photos that emphasize these qualities.

For instance:

  • Parents can show how they improvised a sling from one of your scarves to carry their 5-year-old who hurt their foot on a hike
  • A young student's bag broke because she was carrying heavy books around campus. She fixed it using your scarf without ruining her overall look.

2. Use people’s unique outlook and suggestions in your communication.

User-generated content is technically content generated by users. However, you can include pieces of their content in your messages or even construct those messages starting from their suggestions.

For example:

You’re a driving instructor and own a YouTube channel. You post regular videos about driving techniques, special maneuvers, and tips.

Theoretically, user-generated content would be people sharing your videos, posting pics at your school, or filming themselves while following your indications.

However, you can also:

  • Film a few driving sessions with your students and discuss their problems.
  • Make sure all your materials address a question you got from viewers or a common problem. Suggestively name your video and give a shout-out to the person/ people who gave you the idea. For example: “Driving with Michaela. Why can't I keep the car straight?” or “Driving with Alex. Why do narrow streets scare you?”

Basically, these suggestions are hybrid UGC but still a powerful form of communication.

How Can I Get UGC Content

Now that you know how to use UGC content, it’s essential to know how to get it:

  1. Reviews

95% of people buy products based on reviews, and if a product has at least five reviews, people are 270% more likely to buy it.

Stats like the ones above show you that honest and competent reviews are the key to any purchase.

So, incentivize your customers to give you as many reviews as possible. Then, organize and publish the most relevant comments.

For example, you can include their reviews:

  • On your website
  • Make separate social media posts thanking the original commenters
  • In your email marketing
  • At the beginning of your YouTube videos
  • On Instagram with a specific hashtag
  • On flyers, banners, and other print media
  • On Digital Out Of Home Billboards

How do you get people to post these reviews?

Consider incentives like:

  • Coupons
  • Reward points
  • Gift cards
  • Contests

Remember to use incentive keywords and CTAs in your review requests. Also, if you get negative reviews, be polite and lighthearted.

Pro tip: You can even include negative reviews in your UGC strategy if you have a higher risk appetite. For example, you can point out that many people have highlighted a specific problem and how you plan on fixing it. That approach generates more buzz, but it can also increase awareness of your downsides. So, make sure you fix that “bug” quickly after first mentioning it.

2. Hashtag Contests

Branded hashtags elicit consumer engagement as they get hyped up about posting things about your brand. After all, the race to win a particular prize is always exciting.

For example, you can spur people on posting videos and photos with your products using a specific hashtag.

The more people use this hashtag, the trendier it becomes.

And, as you know, repetition and building a community lead to more conversions.

Here’s what you want to remember if you’re going to build brand awareness and increase your sales:

  • The hashtags have to be memorable
  • The hashtags have to be easy to read and write
  • The hashtags have to position your brand uniquely compared to your competition clearly

Of course, the larger the prize, the more posts you’re going to get. For example, fashion designer Marc Jobs ran a massive hiring campaign on Twitter and Instagram, asking people to post photos of them under the hashtag #CastMeMarc.

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People felt the excitement, and so the campaign saw about 15,000 posts within a day.

3. Gamification

Gamification means asking people to complete some tasks so they can receive a particular reward. As a result, you’re turning user-generated content into a game that has:

  • Levels
  • Scores – and obviously, high scores or the highest score
  • Badges
  • Points
  • Leaderboards
  • Achievements
  • Tasks
  • VIP clubs for winners

As people compete for more prizes, their brains release dopamine – the reward hormone. That’s how you create easy customer engagement.

Besides, this technique can become a building block of your long-term relationship with your customers. That means they’ll be more likely to think of your brand when they make their purchasing decisions.

Is User-Generated Content Free?

Yes, user-generated content is technically free because other people create that content for you and by their own accord.

If you’d pay for UGC, you’d probably have to use scripts or pre-planned photo shoots. And that’s not UGC anymore. That’s influencer marketing.

Here’s the thing:

UGC isn’t 100% free because you still have to use some resources to include UGC in your marketing efforts.

For example, you have to pay someone to:

Pick the best keywords/ CTAs/ incentives

  • Write emails asking for people’s reviews
  • Crop and edit videos/ photos to include them in your marketing materials
  • Build games with rewards
  • And so forth

Consequently, strategizing and managing user-generated content is what will end up costing you.

But how do you do that?

How do You Manage User-Generated Content

Managing user-generated content starts from respecting some best practices, such as:

  • Always ask customers for permission to use their testimonials, photos, or other content
  • Give credit to the person who originally created the content by tagging them and thanking them. It’s important to recognize other people’s work.
  • Offer something valuable in return, such as a prize, discount, or exclusive access to your products.
  • Be specific about the content you need. Don’t be afraid of sharing particular guidelines based on a strategy to reach certain goals.

Also, remember to:

  • Find all mentions of your brand on social media, even if you’re not explicitly tagged. That’s how you can find excellent posts that you can repurpose.
  • Try to learn something from every piece of UGC. Even if you don’t repost something, try to find its core unique insight or perspective. Every feedback is a lesson. For example:

- Fans can teach you new uses for your product.

   - Their photos can be completely opposite to what you’ve   envisioned, proving your assumptions about your brand   are different from their perspectives.

 - Your audience’s language can teach you something about  their values.

  • Make UGC shoppable. Enable two-step check-out because you want them to act on them quickly once people have made those purchasing decisions. So, make sure that the check-out process runs smoothly.

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