User-generated content (UGC) is a proven tactic for marketers looking to foster authenticity, build stronger relationships, and impact business objectives throughout the buyer journey. UGC marketing can be hugely influential with audiences. In fact, 87% of consumers said that real-life customer reviews/ratings have a greater impact on purchasing decisions.
UGC is simple to incorporate into your marketing mix on a one-off basis, but there’s a transformative impact UGC can have on your brand if you develop a UGC program that enables your authentic community to shine and, in turn, generate more content for your brand to leverage.
A powerful UGC program centers around the user (your audience). After all, UGC is all about up-leveling your brand’s engaged audience. To accomplish that at scale, we’ve broken down the critical UGC best practices—from discovery to measurement— so your brand can grow with UGC in a way that builds on itself to generate content, improves audience engagement, and increases sales.
How to discover UGC
Social media has become tightly connected with UGC in recent years. With engaged audiences readily tagging brands, social listening is the key to discovering the content your audience is already posting. This involves monitoring social channels for mentions of your brand and keywords related to your industry.
This can be time-consuming to do manually, but UGC tools help marketers find the most relevant content quickly. Emplifi uses AI-powered visual search to uncover high-quality assets for your team, and you can approve or deny surfaced content and organize UGC easily by tagging assets.
But what if your audience isn’t actively posting? Or the content they’re posting doesn’t align with your brand?
Soliciting new UGC is like beginning a conversation with your audience at scale. A social media contest or other prompt campaign is one of the most effective best practices for starting that exchange. You can create branded hashtags, incentivize content submissions with discounts, or even just host a contest for the sake of being featured by your brand. Audiences that opt in to contests and other prompts are already engaged with your brand and are a great place to start when building a new UGC program.
One of our favorite examples of this came from Kimpton Hotels, who wanted to give their guests a fun reason to create and share unique content that related to the hotel, so they launched their “Room 301” campaign at the Everly Hotel in Los Angeles. They encouraged visitors to the room to connect with themselves and others; guests left messages for other visitors, took pictures and videos, wrote on a confessions board, and – perhaps most importantly – posted everything to social media with the hashtag #thehumanproject. The next year, they rolled the campaign out to 20 more hotels, with fantastic results. And that’s not the only social event they’ve had success with.
There are many other ways to kick off UGC programs, such as leveraging influencers and ambassadors to model the types of content you’d like your audience to generate. But keeping your initial UGC program as close to your community through contests can help begin the program with authenticity at its core.
Trupanion is a pet insurance company that has really embraced using the “influencers and ambassadors” approach to UGC success, leveraging these voices to spark conversations and grow their brand’s social media presence. They worked with members who were already engaging organically with their brand on social, and they built influencer image galleries to highlight their pets, helping to prompt the sharing of more than 2,000 pieces of content since launch.
Best practices around permissions for UGC
Digital rights management (DRM) protects digital content such as videos, photos, and writing from being used by others without the creator’s permission. Content published on social media is covered under DRM, so even though it’s shared publicly (and may tag your brand), it doesn’t mean it’s automatically okay for anyone to use it. Using UGC without explicit permission can open your company up to expensive and stressful legal issues. To be safe, no matter what a platform's terms and conditions indicate about its users' content, always get permission.
Fortunately, when asked, 85% of content creators are thrilled to have brands use their digital media, especially if you credit them. Permission is key to building trusted relationships with your audience. The most basic way to approach this is to simply leave a comment on the post of the content you want to use, and ask the owner if your brand can use it.
That’s a great way to get started with user-generated content; however, this quickly becomes overwhelming once your UGC strategy is in full swing. Monitoring multiple social channels to find content is time-consuming in itself, and then you have to keep track of who you’ve contacted for permission and the status of their reply.
Emplifi provides a hassle-free way to manage your UGC permissions at scale. With a single click, you can ask customers for permission to use their content. Tech-enabled permissioning keeps brands safe from legal troubles by ensuring you obtain proper sign-off before using the content.
Leveraging UGC across the buyer journey
It’s easy to leverage user-generated content on all your marketing channels because every platform needs content. Whether it’s on in-store displays, product pages, or abandoned cart emails, there’s a place for UGC at all customer touchpoints.
Great UGC can help your brand rely less on discounts and promo codes to generate conversions. Why? Because UGC adds value to the buying journey by reflecting shoppers’ desired lifestyles. This content resonates deeply with viewers and can influence purchase decisions as much as discount offers. UGC in email also lowers content costs because there’s nothing for your team to create — it's plug-and-play.
There are countless ways to generate engagement on social media to collect more UGC and drive more conversions. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Use Polls and Question stickers on Instagram Stories to ask users about their favorite products.
Start conversations about your brand in the comments to create opportunities for great customer quotes.
Create contests that encourage your audience to submit product-focused photos and videos in exchange for a chance to win prizes.
Start a brand hashtag and campaign-specific hashtags to make it easy for customers to get involved.
Take advantage of live streams to connect with customers and encourage UGC sharing.
When you post UGC on social media, make sure to credit the creator. Customers love seeing their content featured by brands, and crediting is a way to highlight those customers even more. Attribution also makes it clear that your brand isn’t claiming the content is original, which helps avoid DRM issues.
Ecommerce and website
Social shopping is a core tactic for bringing authenticity into the buyer journey. With UGC, social shopping can connect your social audience to your eCommerce audience while supplying content to both channels. Engage visitors with curated UGC on your homepage, as well as on product pages. With the right UGC tools, you can automatically tag your product catalog to approved UGC, meaning you’ll be able to make any UGC shoppable across your product pages.
Fundamentally, shoppers like to see images of people just like them using products rather than overly polished models. Inspire customers naturally through inspiration and seasonal galleries that provide personalized content for your audience.
UGC can even transform former “dead ends” on your site, as 404 pages are another great opportunity to leverage UGC. These pages are typically drab and barely garner a glance from shoppers before they bounce. You can keep customers on your site and encourage purchases by featuring user-generated photos or quotes that spotlight your brand or specific products.
On the flip side, your website is also an essential tool when it comes to collecting UGC. Many customers have great photos and videos featuring merchandise, but they aren’t active on social media so they never post the content.
In-store and in-person
Live displays are the perfect opportunity to feature regional UGC to engage in-person shoppers. Region-specific content provides an added boost of social proof — not only are there happy customers out there using your products, but there are also happy customers right here where the shopper lives.
Within your brick-and-mortar store, encourage real-time content submissions from the community and employees. You can do this with signage throughout the store directing people to your brand’s social channels to upload or with a QR code that leads to a direct uploader on your website. You can also get employees to tell customers at checkout that your brand loves to feature shoppers using a branded hashtag or include this information on a printed insert that goes in the shopper’s bag.
It’s easy to overlook your in-store opportunities for UGC and engagement, but in-store UGC also opens up opportunities for employee-generated content – an often underutilized source of community content.
Measuring UGC across the buyer journey
UGC can be measured through the lens of the different stages of the buyer journey it influences. This makes it challenging to derive one single metric of success for your UGC program. Oftentimes, UGC metrics depend both on your role and the broader organization’s goals. These UGC benchmark reports by industry outline the types of metrics you should plan to measure and the results you can expect to see.
Here are some of the common metrics that are used to measure UGC success, broken down by stage in the buyer journey.
Discovery and awareness
Impressions and Engagement: While UGC isn’t solely a social tactic, measuring the high-level engagement generated by UGC (especially compared to branded content) can help predict success across other channels. Chances are if people are engaging with the content on your Instagram account, they’re likely to engage with it on your eCommerce site as well. You can also measure UGC engagement on your site with Emplifi, leading your customers further down the funnel into your core buying channels.
Consideration and purchase
Average Order Value (AOV): UGC has the power to show online shoppers real customer proof for products they’re interested in. Through that inspiration, shoppers will often “shop the look” inspired through your community’s UGC — leading to higher cart values.
Conversion Lift with UGC: Naturally, UGC can also drive more conversions at a higher value. It’s good to test UGC against other types of content to see which has a higher impact on conversion rates across channels.
Content Submitted: Generating a high quantity of content can be a core indicator of customer engagement and ultimately brand loyalty. Looking at how much content is being submitted by customers and approved by your brand can help connect top-of-the-funnel metrics through to post-purchase as it continues to boost re-engagement.
Repeat Visit Rate: Give your audience a reason to keep returning to your site with fresh UGC. Repeat visit rate is a good metric to track because it can indicate how likely customers are to come back to re-engage with the newest UGC on your site.
Use these best practices for a successful UGC program
As you build out your UGC strategy, keep these best practices in mind:
Always ask for permission. This protects your company from potential lawsuits over improper digital rights management. Getting approval also creates an opportunity for one-on-one customer interactions, which establishes stronger community relationships and brand loyalty.
Create opportunities for bidirectional engagement. Anytime you share UGC, encourage your audience to submit content. For example, if you send out an email with UGC, include a note asking the viewer to submit their own content. A simple line like, “Want to be featured in our next email? Click here!” is all you need to generate interest.
Leverage UGC across all channels. You can feature UGC on every marketing channel your company utilizes, from social media to abandoned-cart emails, and even in-store displays. Take advantage of every opportunity to include influential UGC.
Measure results and listen to your audience. Leveraging tools to scale your UGC program can also help with measuring the success of your UGC program.
Use a tool like Emplifi to scale your UGC program. A solid UGC strategy is robust and incorporates social listening, permission management, content curation, and publishing. To ensure success, invest in a UGC tool to help your marketing team manage the many facets of this profitable strategy.
Building a UGC program that scales in 2023 begins with translating your customers’ voices into valuable content that generates even more passionate fans of your brand. Remember, your happy customers may just be your most prolific marketers — give them a chance to shine across the buyer journey in 2023!