Customer reviews and testimonials. Posts, images, and videos featuring your brand, spontaneously shared on social media. Influencer marketing. What do they have in common? They’re all examples of user-generated content (UGC), or branded, organic content created by your customers, partners, and fans.
User-generated content is a powerful tool for winning over potential customers. After all, consumers trust the recommendations, opinions, and perspectives of their peers far more than they trust any message that comes directly from your brand.
According to a TurnTo Networks survey, 90% of consumers reported that user-generated content impacted their decision to purchase a product or service, and a staggering 97% of 18-29-year-olds said that UGC had an ‘extreme influence.’ They also mentioned that this was more than any other form of advertising.
So, why not repurpose UGC, and incorporate these messages into your own content, on your own website, blog, and/or social media accounts?
Like other marketers, we’re always on the lookout for tips for gathering and promoting user-generated content. We were also curious about UGC best practices. So, we asked marketers to share their insights about UGC in our latest roundup survey.
We asked 8 short-form questions and one long-form question, and 50 marketers shared their insights! We’ll share their UGC tips and tricks later in the article, but first, let’s investigate the data we gathered from our short-form questions.
Over 90% of marketers use UGC as a marketing strategy
When we asked marketers whether they currently utilize user-generated content, 92% said yes. So, most marketers believe in the power of customers’ perspectives!
We then asked marketers about the types of user-generated content they currently use (or would use). Most are turning to a variety. Over 80% of marketers said that they use more than one type of UGC, while 62% use at least 3 types.
Most marketers (64%) are also using UGC on more than one of their marketing channels. Blog articles and social media are the most popular places for marketers to utilize UGC, tying at 62%. Website pages follow closely in second, at 56%. Word-of-mouth marketing came in third, at 32%.
Looking specifically at website pages, we asked marketers whether they feature UGC on their product or services pages. The majority (68%) said that they did. So, consider featuring user-generated images of people using specific products on the corresponding products’ pages, or displaying top reviews (or a built-in review feature) for a product or service.
Acquiring UGC: Email works best
According to our marketers, email, Instagram, and Facebook are the most effective channels for acquiring UGC. Email ranked most effective at 34%. This makes sense, because email is often used for direct requests for UGC, notably for reviews after a customer has purchased a product or service.
Instagram and Facebook rounded out the top three, coming in at 22% and 18%, respectively. But with these channels, it’s usually more about discovering UGC (like high-quality branded images) than directly requesting it first.
So, your personal best channel for acquiring UGC will depend on how you’d like to find it, as well as the content type you’re seeking. Directly request, or discover first? It’s your call.
Types of UGC: Reviews are popular and provide a great ROI
When we asked marketers about the types of UGC they use, a whopping 94% said that they use (or would use) customer reviews and recommendations, making reviews the most-used UGC type by far! (Imagery came in second at 62%, and videos round out the top three at 50%. Photo and video contests tied with influencer marketing for fourth place, at 42% each.)
And when it comes to generating ROI, customer reviews and recommendations win out again. Nearly half of the marketers we surveyed (48%) told us that reviews and recommendations generate the most ROI for their brand, handily beating out all other types.
It makes sense that so many brands rely on reviews because, although all UGC is powerful, reviews are especially so. This is because people trust personal experience more than other sources of information. Before they make a purchase, many potential customers seek out the authentic opinions of people who have already used a product or service, because they trust the experience of their friends, peers, and other real individuals like them. Positive reviews boost the reputation of your business, so they’re the perfect content for your brand to share on your own website, blog, and social media.
(Interestingly, imagery came in second for both frequency of use and ROI generated. Imagery works so well because it shows authentic uses of a product in real life, and draws the eye in. In essence, it’s a visual review!)
Nearly 50% of marketers use UGC as a way to build trust
When we asked marketers, “What is your UGC goal while promoting on your most effective channel?” 48% said they set the goal of building trust in their brand. As mentioned above, people trust personal experiences and perspectives of their peers far more than traditional ads, which makes UGC (especially reviews and opinions) very effective for building trust.
UGC, Permission, and Credit
When it comes to repurposing UGC, it’s important to give credit where credit is due. But is repurposing UGC okay as long as you give credit, or must you also ask permission? 74% of marketers believe that they must seek permission from users first, before reposting with credit.
(Meanwhile, 14% believe that there is no need to ask permission, as long as a user is credited; interestingly, 12% said no, it is not alright to use someone’s content after gaining permission and giving credit.)
Asking permission before resharing users’ branded content is the best choice, because it lets them give consent before you use their work for promotional purposes. Most will be glad to let you share, but asking first lets you avoid sticky situations (and helps you build up more trust).
One tip for getting UGC: marketers share advice
When we asked marketers what one tip they wish they would have known beforehand about getting user-generated content, our marketers came through with answers ranging from establishing solid motivations for customers to share content, to setting up plans and guidelines, to asking directly. Let’s dive into their valuable advice.
Be aware of the “why:” building trust
Before starting to utilize user-generated content, it’s vital to be aware of the key benefits of UGC, including generating social proof (essentially, building up the number of people who share and trust your brand). Maciej Duszynski of ResumeLab says, “Understanding the deeper need for why UGC is so important would be my number one tip. The main reason you have UGC is to build social proof. Brand awareness is one thing, but to be an authoritative site where people come for career advice is our number one goal.”
Maksym Podsolonko from Eazyplan shares, “A key element of successful user-generated content is building customer trust. Identify what might be interesting and exciting for your existing and potential target groups. This can be achieved through the shift from traditional advertising to effective interactions between customers. Use unique and creative approaches based on the specifics of your business and industry. Encourage your customers to communicate with each other to spread information about your business – for example, create blogs, and use text and video reviews on social media. Think about incorporating contests with prizes, create hashtag campaigns, and let your customers take part in various activities on social media. This will help to encourage customer feedback and strengthen brand awareness among the existing clients and the leads.”
Pick the right platform
Nooria Khan from SIA Enterprises recommends that you “Choose your platform wisely.” Says Khan, “Simple blog comments and testimonials can turn the odds in your favor. Therefore, one should choose their platform wisely for showcasing user-generated content. You have to have a deep understanding of which type of content works best on each social media platform.” For example, says Khan, “ Buffer suggests videos and curated content for Facebook; High-res photos, quotes, and content for Stories on Instagram, and blog posts for Twitter.”
Anand Iyer recommends, “Choose a platform where you have a strong online presence! I tried to create a membership portal on my website to accept user-generated content and tried to promote it using Google Ads. This required me to first drive traffic to the website, convince people on why they need to submit UGC, and then do the hard work of promoting it. If you can identify a social platform such as Facebook, Linkedin or Pinterest, it makes your life easier since social platforms have a lot of audience.”
An example of a “content challenge” that drives UGC for GoPro on Instagram (where GoPro already has a strong presence), provided by Iyer.
Be sure to set clear standards for user-generated content, especially if you’re working directly with influencers. Patrick Brightman of 3E Public Relations advises, “Clearly define the expectations and deliverables at the onset. It sets expectations for both sides and results in the final content being something that conveys a clear message that benefits both parties and engages the target audience most effectively. If you leave something to interpretation, it will invariably lead to a final product that disappoints and does not produce the necessary results.”
Shayne Sherman of TechLoris recommends, “Remember quality over quantity,” regardless of which UGC methods you use. Continues Sherman, “It’s tempting to just let everything through in order to build up a content base, especially when first starting out. But that is also the time when people are first forming their opinions about your site. Take the time, at least in the beginning, to review the content before it gets published to ensure it meets your standards.”
Colton De Vos of Resolute Technology Solutions recommends, “Essential things to look at when publishing guest posts on a website are the quality of the backlink each author provides and the writing style of an author’s previous work. Having user-generated blog posts can be valuable, as your business gets viewpoints and content in areas you may not have subject matter experts in. However, if it takes longer to edit, or the links you include damage your site’s reputation, than it is likely not worth the time.
De Vos also recommends, “If you accept user-generated content, I’d advise having a very clear guidelines page you can refer users to, with clear examples of the type of work your business accepts. It will save you time and help filter out the right type of users to submit content to your organization.”
Have a solid plan in place
According to Michael Anderson of GeoJango Maps, quality UGC will come flowing in fairly easily, as long as you have a plan for encouraging it. Says Anderson, “It’s easier to acquire user-generated content than one might think. In most cases, a customer will be happy to leave a review if they’re happy with their product. You just need to have a system in place so that you can ask them for feedback. Further, your audience will be more than happy to engage with your brand if you can host a giveaway for one of your products. People will be excited to fill out a survey, tag a friend, or upload a photo if they think that they might win something for free.”
Consider project management software to help you execute your plan, says Leo Friedman of iPromo: “Create a process, document it, and integrate a project management tool – this will help manage the user-generated campaign and keep all parties involved on the same page. User-generated content campaigns require a fair amount of communication between the business and the content creator. Integrating a project management tool will assist in keeping track of all relationships and timelines, providing a birds-eye view of all running campaigns.”
Ask for it!
According to Lynne Pratt of Virtual Solutions, “It never hurts to ask! So many people miss out on the opportunity to gain UGC because it doesn’t occur to them to ask – it could be for feedback or a review, images and videos to share, or even blog content.
But when you take the time to ask, either individually or putting out a message on your social pages for people to share their content with you, then quite often (especially if you’ve worked to gain an engaged and active audience) you’ll get a good response.”
Similarly, Liz Hughes of Blue Bamboo shares, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get. 9/10 people will happily provide reviews once you give them a friendly prompt. They are even more likely to provide a review if you give them a few ideas about what they could say.”
Likewise, Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles recommends, “Don’t be afraid to ask! If you have built up a true brand following, there will be members of your audience who are itching to be involved in providing content. Whether it will be testimonials or creative graphics, planning the type of UGC you need and deciding where you will use it is key to getting started. Then simply explain to your audience what you are looking for and what’s in it for them, and away you go!”
“Some audiences don’t need an incentive,” continues Dodds. “They are simply fans and want to pitch in. Others will need a competition to help open the floodgates. But whichever type of audience you have, the key is to ask them and explain what you’re looking for. Then let your audience get to work!”
Give them a reason to share
Make sure your audience is motivated to generate content you can share, by using incentives and experiences. Alex Membrillo of Cardinal SEO Company advises, “The trick for developing a successful user-generated content campaign is to give your audience a reason to share. It can be anything from simply giving them an experience, such as with Coca Cola’s #ShareaCoke campaign, or having a charitable tie-in like Disney’s #ShareYourEars campaign. For smaller brands, giveaways and contests can be a great way to gain user-generated content. For example, if you have an event, look for options like a selfie contest that includes a prize. Other great types of user-generated content are testimonials, video posts, and blogs.”
An example of a UGC-driving contest for PrimeUpATL, a campaign to convince Amazon to build its headquarters in Atlanta, provided by Membrilllo. A chance at having one’s slogan on a billboard, and a $100 Amazon card, provide community members plenty of incentive to contribute.
Emily Coates of G2 recommends, “Understand that you need to incentivize the user on their end. User-generated content saves you time because someone else is doing the work. You need to make the interaction worth their while and show the value. Whether that’s higher brand awareness through social media sharing, backlink creation through guest-posts, or other incentives, it has to be worth the user’s time.”
Says Carly Michaels of Situation, “When possible, we will communicate an incentive to encourage UGC submissions from our audiences. Whether it’s as simple as reposting on the brand’s social channels or offering products/tickets, having a clear incentive from the start has consistently generated higher participation and better results for our campaigns across a variety of industries.”
Gamification is another effective way to incentivize UGC creation. Samantha Edwardes of &co. pr says, “Gamify! Adding an element of competition acts as an incentive to the audience. Rather than just asking your audience to post images of them with your product, phrase it in a way that makes the idea of sharing their content a ‘win.’ For example, ‘Tag us in your images for a shot at being shared!’ This is a more engaging call-to-action that your audience is more likely to respond to.”
Watch brand Daniel Wellington focuses its Instagram feed on sharing creative UGC. Much of it comes from influencers, but the brand also features exceptional content from the wider community with the brand hashtag #danielwellington as part of its #DWpickoftheday series.
Kayla Kelly of Paypro also recommends tapping into competition: “People love to compete! Create a contest to encourage people to upload pictures or videos of them using your product and a specific hashtag. You will get tons of submissions and great ROI for the prize you choose. This is great for B2B and SaaS since other businesses will get to see how others are using your product. It’s a win-win!”
But giving a reason to share is not always about extrinsic rewards; it’s about making authentic connections and working for the greater good. Illia Termeno of Extrabrains recommends, “A great way to get user-generated content is to run a campaign that focuses on social awareness. For example, your brand may support a social movement or a charitable cause that aligns with your brand values. In this way, you will have an authentic connection with your audience. You will show your fans that you don’t exist just to offer a product or service and to make sales, but because you have a greater vision to serve the needs of many people. By sharing the same social goals with your audience, you will be able to establish an emotional connection with them. If your customers feel the same way about your goals, they will promote your brand.”
Follow up: be persistent!
If you’re directly asking for UGC from individuals, such as influencers, don’t just ask once and stop there. Instead, follow up. Djordje Milicevic of StableWP says, “When trying to acquire UGC via outreach, be sure to follow up. It’s incredible how many people forget to reply either because they’re busy, they’re not sure what to say, or they need more time. So, send a follow-up, check if they received and understood what you want, and ask if they’d like to reply now or if they have any questions. Following up on UGC outreach has often led us to success, in many cases, we got a 60% lift in positive replies.”
Likewise, Elijah Masek-Kelly of PowerfulOutreach shares, “It’s one thing to get interest from participants in creating user-generated content, but it’s an entirely different thing to get people to follow through. Make sure that you have a solid tracking and follow-up procedure in place, otherwise things might slip through the cracks!”
Involve, don’t push
Says Carlee Linden of Best Company, “Forcing content (even if it’s great content) onto consumers doesn’t work. Instead of talking to your audience, allow them to be part of the conversation. Stop using pushy sales pitches to try and garner more attention. Rather, involve your customers and foster engagement.”
Embrace the diversity of UGC: be transparent
John Thomas Lang of G2 suggests, “Embrace the diversity of user-generated content. Showing a wide array of opinions (good, bad and hilarious) builds your brand’s authenticity. Don’t be afraid of a bad review. Embrace it, and show your audience how you plan to address that pain point. Stacking the deck in your favor leads to mistrust, so build your brand authenticity with honesty and transparency at the forefront.”
Create a sense of urgency for a sharing boom
Eric Jayden Anderson of El Mejor Trato shares, “I wish we would have been told not to stretch out our user-generated content campaigns. It’s better to pick a specific day for the campaign and prepare for that day. By doing this, you can get a lot of submissions in just 24 hours, and your business can profit from an explosion of brand awareness.”
If you use influencers, give them time
Working with influencers? Don’t rush them: let them get familiar with your service or product so they can create solid UGC. Patrick Dhital of Honey Skin shares, “One thing I wish I could have known beforehand is to give influencers more time with your service or product before marketing it. This way, influencers can really experience the value you are providing, and tend to really get personal with their marketing. Following this strategy, more often than not, ends up topping your ROI.”
Number of users’ followers doesn’t matter
Bigger isn’t always better: Rochelle Burnside of Best Company shares, “You don’t always have to use the content of someone with a large following. Featuring UGC will be enough to get other followers talking, sharing, and connecting you with users that have higher follower bases. UGC isn’t just to get social shares from the user you feature; it’s to get others thinking about how they could create content your business would want to highlight. With consistency and a bit of luck, eventually, micro-influencers will see that you accept UGC and submit their own content. For example, my company’s social media features positive reviews highlights. We don’t tag a user; we tag a company. The hope is that the company sees their positive review and wants to share it on their own account, generating more social buzz.”
An example of how Best Company promotes a review and tags the mentioned brand, provided by Burnside.
Craft roundups – like the one you’re reading now!
Says Tom Wills of Slickplan, “We wish that we had discovered roundups earlier. We have used Expert Roundups as a way of generating content from users. We create questions based on digital marketing and similar topics, and email prominent people in the industry. It will involve 10-20 comments, which are then used in a blog post. All contributors are made aware of when it is live, and they will usually promote and re-share on social networks – which are usually quite substantial. The end result is a lot of views on our blog and big awareness for our brand.”
You can tell we love roundups here at Referral Rock, since we used this method to generate UGC for this article!
Be prepared to put in work
A successful process for getting and implementing UGC won’t be built overnight. Jordan Hollander of Hotel Tech Report shares, “I wish I knew how much work would go into curating the content. Before trade shows, we ask partners about their new feature and product launches, and then do a recap including all of them. These recaps get shared by most of the mentioned companies, which helps them (and us) get awareness from each other’s audiences. This adds value for everyone. We all get lots of visibility, but I wish I had known early on how much it would take to get that UGC into a format that would be engaging for the audience and really catch fire.”
Renezen Benedicto of INC Media advises, “It’s a long game. Successful UGC requires building relationships and bringing value to followers so that they can bring value to you. It doesn’t happen overnight — and if it does, those end up being short-lived. So invest the time and resources to connect with your audience, so that you’ll have user-generated content that you’ll want to share!”
Jack Paxton from Top Growth Marketing agrees that curating the right user-generated content can be difficult, but maintains that choosing the right way to encourage UGC will make the process far easier. “Generating UGC is harder than most brands think,” says Paxton. “Getting the right images and video can be tough. Even though it’s user-generated, it still needs to be of high enough quality. You wouldn’t believe some of the submissions we get.
A key part of a successful UGC strategy is how you generate UGC. We use giveaways and contests, as it’s easy to ask for permission in the T&C’s. We also add requests in post-purchase email drips and ad campaigns. The most successful UGC is when a user creates some content, uploads it to Instagram or Facebook, then tags your brand. Not only do you get the content but you also get the earned impressions. Win-win!”
Reap the benefits of relationship-building
Remember that UGC isn’t just about tapping into the trusted content of customers; if you run a B2B, it also helps you build key connections with fellow marketers. Levi Olmstead of G2 shares, “The content itself is just one part of the benefits of UGC. Creating a lasting relationship with other marketers through UGC leads to so much more, from being used as a source in their new content, reaching their audience, social engagement, webinars, etc.” And don’t think B2Cs miss out on the action. If you’re a B2C, user-generated content helps you build similar relationships with customers, by showing that you value their opinions and perspectives.
Don’t just rely on your own voice – if your brand only uses its own messaging, you won’t be heard. Instead, utilize user-generated content, or content generated by customers, partners, and fans, in your own marketing efforts. It offers authentic, powerful peer voices that consumers trust.
Follow these tips for successfully gathering and promoting UGC, based on the tips our marketers shared:
- Understand why you’re turning to UGC (namely, to generate greater trust in your brand.)
- Establish expectations, and have a solid plan in place.
- How will you encourage UGC? What are your quality standards that must be met before you share a piece of content? What UGC will you share on what channels?
- Embrace the diversity of UGC, and be transparent.
- If you get a bad review, address it with honesty and work to make the customer’s experience better. This shows authenticity.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for reviews and other UGC!
- And if you’ve asked directly and haven’t received a response, be sure to follow up.
- Consider using roundups of expert opinions, particularly if you’re B2B.
- Be prepared to put in the work – but keep in mind, the work is worth it!