If you could execute an entire marketing campaign with clear-cut goals by barely lifting a finger, would you? Of course, you would — but how is that even possible? While any campaign is going to require a strong strategy, goal, and sense of KPIs, the heavy lifting of actually connecting with customers doesn’t have to require much effort at all. That’s where user-generated content (UGC) comes in.
Simply put, UGC is content that is created by your customers and published on your brand’s social channels. For instance, if you work with an influencer who creates a review of your content, that would be considered UGC. In fact, almost all influencer marketing is a form of UGC.
“User-generated content works because it exposes your audience to your product without necessarily feeling like they’re being marketed to,” says Christy Pyrz, Chief Marketing Officer of Paradigm Peptides. “When done well, it can feel more like a friend recommending a product than a brand trying to convince you to give them a chance. It’s hard to lose with that approach.”
If your company hasn’t made its way into the world of UGC, the time is now. UGC can help minimize your marketing expenditures while connecting more deeply with your audience — who wouldn’t want that? This guide will help you get started and reap the benefits of UGC as soon as possible.
Understand Your Audience
Every marketing professional knows that no campaign can be successful without first taking time to understand your target audience and what you need to achieve in order to reach them. This remains true in the case of UGC, even if your target audience is technically the creator as well.
“An audience may look drastically different from one post to another,” says Gina Iovenitti, Growth Operations at Carda Health. “That’s why it’s important to designate a target audience for each piece of UGC created. This is the first step toward building a relationship.”
Once you know who your UGC post is talking to, you can develop a plan and end goal.
What is your goal for each piece of UGC? Remember that your goals may change from one type of content to another. Ultimately, your end goal is probably to make a sale or initiate some type of conversion, but what else do you want to accomplish beyond that? Do you want to make your audience laugh? Get inspired? Take some specific type of action? Do you want to start a trend and encourage them to create their own type of content?
“UGC is a special tool because it gives customers an opportunity to create a sense of community around a certain brand or product,” says Alex Song, VP of Finance at Ramp, a company revolutionizing the way businesses can use a corporate card. “It brings a sense of connection as compared to other marketing strategies that tend to feel much more transactional.”
It can be helpful to visualize yourself being the consumer, rather than the marketer. As the person watching the content, what would appeal to you and inspire you to act or follow the brand?
If you’re new to the UGC game, you might find it helpful to do some research on brands that have already put it into practice. Scope out their comment section, too — how are people reacting to this content? What’s standing out to them most?
“UGC is nothing new — even though influencer marketing is a relatively recent strategy, UGC has technically been around even longer than social media itself,” says Brianna Bitton, Co-Founder of O Positiv. “Brands will benefit from taking time to research examples of UGC that resonate and asking themselves what stands out and what creates energy in viewers.”
Don’t limit yourself to looking at brands in your own field — branch out and see what other companies are doing as well.
Identify the “Users”
Now, for the fun part: select the person or people who are going to be the face of your UGC campaign. Remember that influencers aren’t your only option — you can also opt for an employee or an actual customer. It all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and what each person is going to bring to the table.
“People are more selective than ever about the brands they align themselves with,” says Sasha Ramani, Associate Director of Corporate Strategy at MPower, a company providing information on getting a student loan without a cosigner. “That’s why companies need to think very carefully about who is doing their messaging for them. Most people perceive UGC as much more authentic than a traditional marketing campaign, but that doesn’t mean a brand shouldn’t put just as much thought into it.”
It’s important to select people who are not only aligned with your brand’s values but have the personality, presence, and style you need to appeal to your target audience.
Identify a Product
If you haven’t already, you should narrow down your offerings and select one or two that you’d like to feature in your UGC campaign. For instance, if your brand sells wellness powders, find a creator who is known for making fun recipes or drinks and ask them to make a “day in the life” TikTok or Instagram Reel incorporating an energizing blend into their morning smoothie, a vitamin-packed blend into a yummy baked recipe, and a soothing blend into their nighttime tea.
“Choosing a product that can be incorporated as naturally as possible is the key,” says Ryan Rottman, Co-Founder and CEO of OSDB. “If it feels at all forced, people are going to click away. Even though it may feel counterintuitive, you may find it more effective to make your product a part of a larger story rather than the entire story.”
Chances are, the person or people you’re hiring to be in the video are already very creative — open yourself up to receive their ideas as well.
Tell a Story
People resonate with stories far more than they resonate with having products pushed on them. Making your campaign feel like they’re hearing a story or a video chat with a friend is your best bet for engaging your audience in a fun, authentic, and effective way.
“Word-of-mouth will most likely always be the most powerful way to convince someone to try something,” says Asker A Ahmed, Director of iProcess Global Research. “But nowadays, it’s not enough to rely on that. UGC is the second best option in this case because it feels like those little moments when someone sees a friend using a product that intrigues them, and the friend tells them where they got it. It’s really that simple — people just want to feel connected.”
Weaving your product into a larger story that lies outside of a traditional ad campaign is an excellent way to achieve this. If it works the first time, you can even turn it into a series of videos.
Once you’ve experimented with UGC a bit and created a few effective campaigns, challenge yourself to think outside the box. A lot of brands are doing the same things and partnering with the same types of people — what would happen if you partnered with someone totally unique or put a completely different spin on your product?
“Juxtapositions and other eye-catching ideas will not only grab the attention of your desired audience, but they’ll also make you stand out and potentially even start a new trend,” says Brian Lee, Co-Founder and CEO of Arena Club. “Go against the grain and challenge peoples’ preconceived notions of what your brand is and who uses it.”
Think of a bulky bodybuilder using a soft, stereotypically feminine face cream, for example.
UGC allows you to initiate interactions with your audience that might not otherwise occur. When your audience is scrolling through their feed and sees someone who looks like their friend recommending your product (rather than an obvious advertisement), they’re more likely to engage with that content in the same way they’d engage with a friend. That means asking more genuine questions, tagging other people, sharing new ideas, or even finding a community.
“At face value, engagement is all about data,” says Max Ade, CEO of Pickleheads. “But at the end of the day, good marketing isn’t about all of that. It’s about genuine connection and customer sentiment. If people feel good about your content, of course, they’re more likely to engage, and of course that looks good for your metrics — but more importantly, it shows that you’ve connected with these individuals as humans, not just as numbers.”
The Bottom Line When It Comes to Great UGC
Marketing is kind of like working out — experiencing it can feel a lot better when you don’t even realize you’re doing it. User-generated content is a prime example of the power of human connection. “It gives your company an opportunity to potentially save money while still reaping the benefits of more consumer trust, sentiment, and loyalty,” says Andrew Chen, Chief Product Officer of Videeo.”It also allows you to tell a new kind of story — one that concludes with your audience feeling connected to you by way of someone who feels more like an old friend or role model.”