User-generated content is becoming the next big thing. With a smartphone in nearly every pocket, customer postings are more frequent and photographs more impressive. These online opinions and lively images provide social proof that someone thought enough about your brand to say something. Nowadays user-generated content is garnering more attention than ever as companies find unique ways to amplify customers’ voices.
So what exactly is user-generated content (UGC)? It’s content created and posted by a brand’s followers or consumers. It may include reviews, photos, blurbs, videos, or anything that consumers publish online. The opportunities for UGC have grown right along with the popularity of social media platforms. In fact, UGC is as old as online reviews and the social networks themselves.
To consumers, UGC feels genuine and authentic. And for companies? Nothing beats free advertising.
Social Media Is the Message
Meta has 2.8 billion users spread across its main businesses. If you don’t think you’re one of them, remember that Facebook’s parent company, Meta, also owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. Combined, these have 1.84 billion visitors every day.
In 2016, Instagram users were uploading 95 million photos daily. The last published number for Facebook was 350 million per day in 2013. It’s not exactly clear how much either number has increased, since the company isn’t talking, but one thing is certain: the number of images and videos uploaded daily is growing. When customers share great comments about and photos of your products, services, or place of business, that’s good news for your brand.
What Are Consumers Doing on Social Media?
Internet users spend a reported 145 minutes per day on social media. But what are they doing? According to the Digital Report 2021 by the We Are Social agency in collaboration with Hootsuite, many of them are reading the news, watching funny videos, touching base with family and friends, and filling time. The Consumer Technology Association says that UGC accounts for 39% of weekly media hours consumed by Americans. People over age 55 spend just 22%, but that number more than doubles for teens (ages 13 to 17). But that’s not all.
Nearly 28% are researching products to buy. Plus, over 23% are sharing their opinions. Granted, some of this opinion-sharing isn’t relevant to businesses — but much of it is. Plenty of consumers post reviews of products and services. And with the aforementioned 28% of the social network researching products to buy, there’s certainly an audience for what customer reviewers have to say.
Consumers Seek Authentic Connection
Word of mouth beats slick Fifth Avenue ads every time. Consumers are craving authenticity. They would rather buy on the recommendation of a friend, or someone who seems familiar and credible. When it comes to pulling out the wallet, 92% of people trust a family member or friend over any other type of advertising.
In fact, according to Nielsen, the credibility factor of traditional ads on television, magazines, and newspapers is continuing to decline. Less than 50% of consumers find these ads believable. However, the number of people who trust online customer reviews, already at a robust 70%, is increasing. Although you can’t beat the reach of television advertising, consumers love to hear about the experiences of other people.
Types of User-Generated Content
There are several types of UGC that can be part of your social media strategy.
In addition to posts, organic social media includes content like images, videos, memes, and anything users decide to share with one another that promotes your brand. Social media engages at scale and connects with customers while at the same time building your brand’s personality.
As social beings, we are intensely interested in knowing what others have to say. Finding online reviews and recommendations is often easier than checking with a friend. Reviews can appear on a brand’s own site as well as a number of third-party review sites, such as Trustpilot, Facebook, Google, Yelp, and more. There is value in the negative reviews, as well, offering brands an opportunity to improve, innovate, and engage with customers.
Customers post videos featuring a brand’s products or services on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, among others. There are 2.3 billion monthly active visitors on YouTube and 1 billion on Instagram. Videos that contain your brand name or hashtag provide intensely engaging free marketing. Your company can ask for permission to repost the video — giving credit, of course, to the original creator.
There are thousands of fashion and technology blogs. But that’s not all. Every product and service from bacon to building materials has scores of blogs dedicated to the topic. Bloggers love to use products in tutorials and instructional videos that garner attention and earn them a devoted following.
Cappuccino-flavored chips anyone? Company’s like PepsiCo have generated plenty of buzz and, for example, boosted the sales of Lay’s declining flagship brand using hashtag campaigns. One such campaign, #DoUsAFlavor, got audiences to vote on their favorite potato chip. Hashtag campaigns extend a brand’s reach and encourage customers to tell the world about their experiences while highlighting the brand.
These are the main five, but certainly not the only ways that UGC is used. It can also be generated from polls and interactive events like webinars and seminars. You’re limited only by your imagination and the information that customers freely share. For example, Amazon created “Amazon’s Most Wished For” by curating a master list from its user’s individual wish lists.
The Benefits of UGC
There are many reasons to use UGC. When you look to the community of supporters, here are some of the benefits that will accrue:
- Building brand recognition across a broad audience
- Encouraging customers to engage on an emotional level
- Gaining free word of mouth and glowing testimonials
- Creating authenticity for your brand and telling the brand story through credible voices
- Showcasing products and services in a way that pulls consumers into the experience
- Building a library of content that is likely to be shared
- Leveraging your marketing budget more effectively
- Gathering feedback for future improvements and innovations
The statistics demonstrate why UGC is so important for today’s most popular brands and is an essential component of these companies’ social marketing efforts. User-generated content will be even more important in the coming years to reach next-generation shoppers, who are more skeptical than ever. The more authentic content your customers generate, the stronger your brand becomes. When customers are willing to promote your products and services, that’s a vote of confidence that others trust.