User Generated Content
XX min read

The Complete Guide to User-Generated Content (UGC) Marketing

Published on
June 4, 2022
User Generated Content is a valuable tactic that smart businesses use to win. Learn more about how UGC marketing works, and how to use it to your advantage.

The best modern marketers know that success isn’t achieved by shouting your brand’s story from the rooftops. It’s reached through conversation, and that means building a brand that is approachable and rewards participation. That’s easier said than done however, especially for marketers steeped in the old ways of solving every problem with paid media. But those that can harness the power of user-generated content (UGC) marketing stand to benefit immensely. This guide has everything you need to get started.

What is UGC Marketing?

User-generated content (UGC) marketing is the practice of leveraging content generated by a brand’s customer community to achieve its marketing objectives. This is in contrast to traditional marketing, which relies on in-house media and advertisements carefully crafted to showcase a product’s unique selling points primarily through paid media. While these efforts still have their place in any comprehensive strategy, relying on them exclusively ignores a powerful opportunity.

UGC marketing lets marketers turn authentic content from current customers into a compelling part of their brand presence by creating a positive feedback loop: Potential customers see real people like themselves using your product, are driven to convert, and then share their own experiences with their following. Organic communities take shape and your brand grows in ways you might not have even expected.

It’s a powerful market dynamic that is increasingly becoming one of the primary ways consumers make purchases. Learning how to harness it is a worthwhile investment for any marketing professional.

What Does UGC Mean?

UGC stands for user-generated content and refers to any marketing materials created by individuals, not just the brands behind the products. An example would be when an Instagram user loves their comfy new slippers, so they post a picture of them and tag the brand so their followers can check out the slippers as well. That’s UGC, and so is just about anything else the average user shares online: videos, memes, pictures, gifs, blog posts, reviews, and so on.

UGC will come straight to you in some cases, such as through collaboration with social media influencers or through reviews left on eCommerce sites. Otherwise, you’ll need to seek it out yourself. Finding and sharing the best UGC to tell your brand’s story is the crux of social content marketing. That can be harder than it sounds, especially as many potential UGC venues such as Instagram Stories are designed to be temporary, with posts disappearing in the space of a day.

The Archive App is an effective way for vendors on Shopify to permanently store and sort UGC in the form of Instagram content. Doing it all manually might be feasible, but it requires substantial effort and time — including weekend hours. Get started with a free plan today and reclaim your marketing team’s time.

How Does UGC Help in Marketing?

What makes UGC marketing campaigns worth the trouble? They’re an effective, modern alternative to traditional methods of advertising, especially given the challenges brands now face in reaching desired audiences via ads. Consider the following facts:

Those numbers may be specific to Millennials, but a Salesforce survey found only 42% of Gen Z-ers trust companies as compared to 50% of Millennials. In short, there’s no reason to expect that the trend of shrinking regard for brand authenticity will change any time soon.

With trust in traditional ads being so low, an effective marketing campaign must meet consumers where they’re comfortable: talking with one another about products and services that worked well for them. An effective UGC strategy should work to elevate those voices.

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Why Is User-Generated Content Important In Marketing?

UGC can help drive engagement and boost conversion rates across every stage of the buyer’s journey. Here are seven of the most important ways UGC can augment digital marketing.

It Grows Brand-Loyal Communities

Elevating UGC to be part of your official branding doesn’t just make an impression on potential customers. When given proper attribution, which we’ll touch on again later, the users who made the highlighted content feel a stronger connection to the brand. Other people who see the UGC will be able to easily find the original source and ask questions about their experience to help inform their own decision, or just chat about related topics. These highlighted creators become nodes in a growing network of people who are interested in talking about your brand. In other words, a community.

It Instantly Boosts Authenticity

According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers trust peer recommendations above all forms of advertising. Humans are social creatures, and we value what our peers think. Modern life has conditioned us to have a sixth sense for authenticity when we’re searching for recommendations on how to spend our money, to separate the sales pitches from the voices who simply feel compelled to share their experiences. A digital marketing strategy showcasing those authentic voices is already starting from a powerful place.

It Serves as a Trust Signal

Consumers look for trust signals to feel more secure making a purchase from a company they’ve never done business with before. A Trustpilot survey showed the three most effective trust signals for making customers more likely to purchase were positive star ratings displayed along with reviews, positive star ratings by themselves, and positive customer testimonials. Trust signals are also used by search engines such as Google in determining how prominently to feature a page in the search results for any given term.

It Drives Purchasing Decisions and Conversions

UGC fits into every part of the buyer’s journey:

  • At the awareness stage, sharing customer testimonials will make other potential customers realize what they’re missing out on.
  • At the consideration stage, UGC trust signals will make your business stand out to both people and search engines.
  • At the decision stage, users will have an easier time finding positive impressions of your product from peers thanks to your marketing groundwork. These built-in trust signals help close the loop and encourage the purchase.

We’ve written even more about how UGC can be a massive help for boosting purchasing decisions.

It’s Easy to Adapt for Nearly Any Purpose

UGC takes many forms, and comes from many voices. There isn’t one right way to fit it in for any business, and we mean that as a positive. You could redo your product pages to feature UGC as the primary visuals rather than staged shots. You could pull a snippet from a glowing testimonial and convert its video into a gif for your next newsletter. You could share memes from your community members just because they’re funny. UGC can be effective no matter what marketing strategy you’re using.

It Complements Social Commerce

Social commerce allows people to buy products straight from platforms like Instagram. It’s an ideal sales avenue for reducing friction; instead of following a link from a post or plugging your brand name into a search engine, users can make a purchase the moment you grab their attention. Over 80% of Instagram users say it helps them discover, research, and decide whether or not to buy new products and services, according to a Facebook study. These users are already looking to buy, and featuring UGC helps them feel more comfortable about the decision.

It’s More Valuable Than Influencer Marketing

Nearly half of Generation Z has made a purchase decision based on a recommendation from a social influencer, according to a study from Kantar. However, as promotional posts from influencers become a more common part of social media, they risk fading into the same kind of traditional advertising white noise that consumers have learned to ignore. Additionally, lifting up content from regular people who use your product is free, whereas the average payment to a high-profile influencer can range from $1,000 to $20,000 per sponsored post.

Types of User-Generated Content

types of user-generated content

The boundless creativity and passion of the internet is impossible to fully explain. But we can at least start to categorize types of UGC content based on their medium and potential applications.

  • Images: Images of your product being used by real people can be one of the most powerful ways to sell it. On top of sharing images from community members on your own social channels, consider using those images in other parts of your brand presence. Splash them on your homepage so the first thing visitors see is your product in new and enticing contexts, then prominently feature product shots from real owners in the store pages themselves. This can also be a great way to show additional angles and applications of your product that might not translate in a staged photo shoot.
  • Videos: Videos can be used in much the same way as images wherever they’re supported, but they’re also a great source of another internet favorite: gifs. Converting part of a user video to a gif lets you drill down straight to the juiciest part and makes it even more shareable, which is a boon for capturing attention in fractions of a second. Full-length videos can be edited into mixtape-style compilations, celebrating multiple community members at once as you show off a particular side of your brand.
  • Product reviews: Twenty years ago, the only product reviews that would be seen en masse ran in newspapers, magazines, and other dedicated media outlets. Now it’s trivial for everyday consumers to share their thoughts on the products they use; some brands even incentivize users to share their reviews with contests or loyalty programs. The breadth of customer reviews online means you can focus on specific aspects of your product to highlight from multiple sources. This can create a much more compelling argument than just showcasing one reviewer’s take.
  • Social media content (e.g., a Tweet about your brand): Spend enough time on a particular social media platform and you’ll get to know the kinds of content its users tend to enjoy: the feel-good stories of Facebook, the music and style of TikTok, the irreverent humor of Twitter, and so on. This is helpful for two reasons: one, you know what kind of content your brand should be sharing on those platforms. Two, you know what kind of comments from your Facebook page would blow up if you just screenshotted your Twitter feed. The cream of the crop can even find glory on your homepage.
  • Testimonials: Why is your testimonials page limited to direct feedback from customers? The conversations happening across social media platforms like Instagram are a perfect place to find people talking about your product. The positive impressions can be proudly displayed complete with the user’s profile pic and handle right alongside official store reviews. Though you likely won’t want to promote them, less glowing write-ups can be just as valuable. Mixed impressions provide the kind of constructive feedback that would otherwise require pricey product research or focus groups.
  • Blog posts: Another potential gold mine for finding and presenting the customer experience is blog posts. Passionate community members often present their thoughts and feelings in extensive blogs. With proper attribution, blogs can yield great quotes for a testimonials page, or material to share in newsletters.  Sponsored blog posts can also be part of an effective digital marketing strategy, though care must be taken to not push too far from the regular tone of the blog, or else it will come across as inauthentic — which doesn’t do your brand any good.
  • Live streams: More platforms than ever are offering users the opportunity to live stream themselves to friends, followers, and the internet at large. Brands can co-host live streams from prominent members of the community to help extend their reach, though given the unpredictable nature of live content, this should only be done with trusted partners. Once the stream is done, an archived broadcast is a great source of candid video clips. These finished streams may yield great moments to spin out into their own video clips or gifs, or to render into quote form for testimonials.
  • YouTube content: Much like archived live streams, YouTube videos are an ideal source of UGC across video, audio, and textual mediums. YouTube video embeds are also supported far and wide across the internet, which makes them a natural pick for embedding directly in product pages. Aside from showing off more sides of an authentic customer experience in video form, you can pull out great quotes or clip key moments down into gif form. Especially passionate fan bases may even produce videos that show new ways to get the most out of your products, which is the perfect subject matter to showcase.

The right UGC platform will help you leverage the content that makes the most sense for your business. For instance, the Archive app helps Shopify merchants find, save, and highlight the best posts from the Instagram community related to their brand, with more supported social platforms soon to come.

Pro Tip: With the right tools in place to help you find, manage, and display UGC, you'll find it the most cost-effective, scalable way to create visually engaging, personalized content experiences that consumers desire.

User-Generated Content Marketing Tips

Making UGC part of your brand requires new processes, distinct from traditional marketing. But it doesn’t have to be a difficult transition. Here are some useful tips as you develop your UGC marketing strategies.

Ask for Permission First

Just because someone posts something in a publicly visible space such as Facebook or Instagram doesn’t mean they want it featured as part of your brand. The only way to be sure is to ask permission first. Asking is as easy as responding to the content or sending a direct message. Most people will be happy to see their posts getting your brand’s official stamp of approval, and they’ll be pleased to oblige. If they don’t agree, then you’ve already saved yourself the trouble of dealing with potential complaints later on.

Give Credit to the Original Creator

The other half of seeking proper permission is including proper attribution. Whatever UGC you use as part of branded campaigns should always credit the original creator. Failure to do so could change what was supposed to be an exciting moment for a fan into one of frustration and anger. Without attribution, it looks like you’re taking the credit for the work of loyal fans.

Lay Out Your UGC Strategy

The types of UGC campaigns you run should always feed back into your overall business goals. Are you looking for images, posts, and videos that will bring more attention to your brand? Are you looking for UGC that will drive more conversions? What kind of tone do you want associated with your brand? Use the answers to these questions to build out a broader strategy for what UGC you want to find and feature, then start setting measurable goals based on that strategy. You probably won’t land on the perfect approach immediately, but this way you’ll be able to keep refining it.

Share the Kinds of Content You Want

Don’t silently hope that your fans will start to share posts about your products. Reach out on your official channels to tell community members what kinds of photos, videos, and testimonials you’d love to see. Be clear about whether you’re looking for potential partners for creating branded content or if you just want to see what the general public has in store.

Utilize User-Generated Content Tools

Finding and storing user-generated content that you may want to feature can be a time-consuming and laborious process. You can free up that time and attention by integrating user-generated content tools or platforms into your workflow. For example, Archive App ensures Shopify store owners never miss a relevant piece of UGC by automatically collecting and collating Instagram content that meets campaign parameters. With the posts instantly at your disposal, you can focus on featuring the ones that tell the perfect part of your brand story.

Leverage Your User-Generated Content with Archive Today!

ugc marketing

The benefits of integrating user-generated content into your digital marketing strategy are clear. Using UGC that shows the positive effects your product has had on real customers will make your brand feel more authentic, build a more engaged community, and convert potential customers. Now how do you take that first step into building a UGC strategy into your brand? Well, we have more good news. You don’t have to do any of it alone.

Archive App was founded by people who saw the value of UGC for brands. You can find even more helpful info about how to integrate UGC into your brand’s marketing strategy on the Archive blog, and you can see reviews from users and try it out for free on the Shopify app store.

Ready to start making UGC work for you? Get started with a free Archive App plan today!

UGC Marketing FAQs

What is a UGC platform?

A UGC platform is software that helps brands track and curate user-generated content across online media. Using parameters supplied by the brand, such as desired hashtags and key phrases, a UGC platform automatically searches through publicly posted content and gathers matching materials in one place. Some UGC platforms, such as Archive App, can even permanently store content that would otherwise disappear after a set period of time, like Instagram Stories.

How can UGC help marketers?

UGC can be a massive boon for marketers who want to stand out from traditional advertisements. Consumers trust peer recommendations more than any form of ad, and using UGC lets you put that authenticity to work for your brand. UGC is more cost-effective than paid influencer marketing since many users just want to share their views for their own sake, and it builds community by bringing loyal customers together.

How can I ask customers for UGC?

Before you ask customers for UGC, you should have a clear idea of what types of content you’re looking for. Do you want testimonials, beauty shots of your product, real-world action shots, video reviews, or something else altogether? Offering some loose guidelines can help spark inspiration and fuel creativity. Once you know what kind of UGC you’re looking for, you can share your request on social channels via pinned posts, or put a quick outline straight into your profile text. You can also use mailing lists or materials included with your product itself to put out the call, including specific hashtags and accounts to mention.

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