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What is UGC? Why is it important? And how can you use it in your marketing?

Defining “User-generated Content”

So, let’s start with the big question: “what is UGC?”

User-generated content – “UGC” for short, or sometimes “customer-generated content” – is original content that has been created and shared to an online platform (e.g. a social media network) by users, rather than by a brand.

It could be a selfie, a review, an unboxing, or a response to a CTA issued by your brand (#BodenByMe, for example) – user-generated content is authentically produced content made by a user or customer of your brand, without solicitation (i.e. not a prearranged piece of influencer content).

Why UGC?

Never has it been more difficult to capture and nurture a shopper’s attention online.

Sure, we’re all spending more time online … but that’s as true for businesses investing in their digital marketing strategy (i.e. your competitors) as it is for consumers.

Competition for online share of wallet means a rising cost per acquisition, and a rising cost per acquisition means more and more demands made of marketing teams. A brand has to stand out, offer an experience compelling enough to hold that attention, and needs content that can inspire a user in every channel, no matter what stage of the buyer journey they’re at.

(And yep – brands need that content, like, yesterday.)

If this is sounding familiar to you, then fear not. That most trustworthy of TLAs can help.

Marketer. It is time, finally, to ask not what you can do for social media, but what social media can do for you. For too long now you have spent countless hours wondering what the world wants you to push in its direction, leaving precious little time to think about how you can pull that content back into your marketing. It’s here that the true power of UGC resides.

Search for a query like “UGC benefits” and you’ll find a whole load of articles built around one key stat: 92% of consumers trust user-generated content more than any other form of traditional advertising (Nielsen). In a room of ten people presented with a choice between brand-created marketing collateral and customer-generated content, that’s nine of them immediately gravitating toward the UGC, and one person giving the UGC a ponderous side-eye.

As you now know, User-generated Content is media – images, video, GIFs, etc. – that is created and published by users, and ordinarily shared across social media sites and forums. It is distinct from Influencer “ad” content in that the brand has not directly paid the user for their creation, and distinct from “owned” content in that it is content that is “earned” by the brand.

We say “ordinarily shared across social media” because while a majority of UGC is shared publicly before a brand sees it, in some instances users can send content to a brand directly. This is particularly useful for brands who either don’t have a huge social media footprint or brands who sell to audiences that either aren’t on social media or prefer to share directly rather than publically.

The benefits of UGC

The benefits of User-generated Content run the gamut of marketing metrics:

  • Increase the efficacy and performance of paid social ads
  • Increase the reach and engagement of organic social media posts
  • Establish trust at the point of sale, and watch the volume of conversions blossom
  • Boost SEO with fresh, timely content that deepens your keyword profile and sends all-important signals to search engines
  • Keep users engaged by serving them useful content, all while reducing the chances they’ll need to leave your site for some 3rd party validation ahead of making their purchase decisions
  • Improve email click-through rate by dynamically matching user intent with engaging UGC – bringing them back to where they left off, but from a whole new perspective

And alongside the hard, dashboard-able metrics there are plenty of additional perks that, while less easily tracked through standard metrics, make a huge difference for a digital marketing team:

  • Tap into a pipeline of content for your brand, while reducing the resource (time, and budget) used up in creating content.
  • Reflect the culture and diversity of your audience: source content that’s relevant to your country and audience without having to send a photographer on a logistically challenging world tour (you’ll be reducing the carbon footprint of your content marketing too of course).
  • Activate your community, and watch it grow: it’s a phenomenon we see at work all the time, UGC begets more UGC. Simply put, when your community sees you elevating and celebrating the creations of their cohort, they’re more likely to want to join in. UGC is as close to a marketing perpetual motion machine as you’re ever likely to encounter.

UGC: Real-World Examples 

Boden

Boden uses UGC to help inspire and engage customers visiting their website and to build an online community around their “Boden by me” campaign. Adding this User-generated Content across the website journey (over 60,000 pages on their website, in fact) supports customers along the decision journey by showing what Boden clothing looks like on real people.

“We’re seeing customers engaging with it, they’re spending time looking at it, and we’ve done lots of user testing and they say they want to see more of it, so we’ve designed our product page to bring up our User-generated Content because purely from a commercial view it makes sense.” Kristie Saunders, Senior Digital Content & SEO Manager at Boden

94%

Users fully engaged StoryStream module

60%

Increase in Average Order Value when user clicks on a StoryStream experience

5:1

ROI achieved through the platform

Sweaty Betty 

For Sweaty Betty, building a two-way conversation with customers is vital. Celebrating customers’ content and bringing them into the brand experience drives a stronger, more lasting connection, while shoppable content ensures that UGC also translates into sales.

“Our customers want to see and know how our products will look and fit them. We want our customers to have the best possible shopping experience on our site, which is why we’re finding ways to surface more diverse and representative imagery.” (Helen Martin, Digital Product Manager at Sweaty Betty)

25%

Adding UGC to product pages has increased conversions by up to 25%

18%

Increase in Average Order Value

Damart 

Alongside UGC sourced from social media platforms, Damart makes use of “direct upload” functionality to invite users to submit content directly to them via their website. With over 60% of the UGC that goes on to be displayed across their web pages sourced directly, it’s safe to say that “asking the question” is a great way to engage your users.

All that lovely UGC is helping Damart make some great progress in their eCommerce strategy too:

118%

Uplift in Session Duration

2.3%

Increase in average order value

Damart Gallery
The #DressedInDamart Gallery, powered by StoryStream

Why Now?

“Ultimately, the goal of UGC marketing, like all advertising, is for a brand to be part of culture rather than sit as a spectator.” Catherine Perloff, AdWeek (2022). 

The rising cost of customer acquisition across all digital channels isn’t something marketers can necessarily control – but it is giving marketers plenty of reason to consider what of the things they can control stand to be better optimised.

“Content” is a word we hear so often that it often loses any real meaning (certainly, if ever you’ve been on the receiving end of the suggestion that your brand “just needs better digital content” you’ll know that ideas for what that content should actually look like are rarely forthcoming).

The argument for “UGC now” is a simple one: real people trust real content. 92% of consumers trust UGC more than any other form of marketing (Nielsen); and they vote with their wallets, too. UGC is a fantastic way to educate, engage, and inspire users – and scaled across each of your marketing channels, a true metric supercharger.

Want more inspiration? Download our comprehensive guide on creating a UGC strategy for your brand – packed with practical tips, real-world examples, and customer case studies.