Image: Damien Mahoney, Nosto

Damien Mahoney is the Chief Strategy Officer at Nosto, a role he took on in April 2023 following the acquisition of visual user-generated content (UGC) platform Stackla, where he was founder and CEO.

“I still continue to focus on the success of this part of Nosto,” he explains, “assisting the team in any way I can, but usually [with] sales, customer liaison, prospecting, thought leadership and product.

“Additionally, I take on special projects as required that may consist of aligning the team on specific goals or targets or external activities such as M&A.” Mahoney describes his role as an “interesting and varied” one, and is ebullient about the potential and evolution of UGC across sectors.

Econsultancy spoke to him to get his take on the major benefits of UGC in marketing, the trends he has observed, and his personal picks for some of the most impactful UGC-driven campaigns.

Econsultancy: What are the benefits of incorporating user-generated content into marketing in 2023? How are marketers keeping it fresh?

Damien Mahoney: The benefits are huge and growing. User-generated content (UGC) and especially visual UGC – the images and videos that customers share online about their purchases and customer experiences – has never been more relevant. People are sharing more visual content about products and experiences on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook etc. And brands can benefit from integrating it into their marketing – their websites, their own social channels and their paid campaigns.

It’s also a constantly updated resource of good quality imagery that can help brands keep their marketing visuals fresh. And it comes at a fraction of the cost of professional photography which is key right now with budgets becoming tighter.

To take things to the next level, we’re seeing shoppable UGC used more widely. So, when people click on products shown in a user-generated image or video, they go directly to the product detail page or to the store checkout. By fast-tracking the discovery journey, this can drive more conversions.

We’re seeing shoppable UGC used more widely … By fast-tracking the discovery journey, this can drive more conversions.

Another development is brands taking active control of their UGC by nurturing creator communities made up of their biggest fans. They set creative briefs asking for content ideas to support specific product launches and campaigns. Creators are rewarded with exclusive merchandise, discounts and online recognition to help them feel valued and more connected to the brand.

It’s a clever way of crowdsourcing fresh ideas and visual themes that might not occur to brands themselves.

E: What trends or innovations do you predict for your industry in the next 12 months?

DM: One important trend is that we’ll see more UGC in search results. Google’s Perspectives filter, which began rolling out in June, aims to point searchers to content from ‘real people’ when it deems it helpful to their queries.

You can click on the Perspectives tab in the search results to see, in Google’s words, relevant “long- and short-form videos, images, and written posts that people have shared on discussion boards, Q&A sites, and social media platforms”.

This is Google recognising how big a role user-generated content plays in people’s discovery experiences. In fact, in our own poll of 2,000 online shoppers, 51% said they’re likely to engage with relevant UGC – including images, reviews and comments from other customers – if it’s shown alongside product listings [while] 54% said they’re likely to make purchases after consuming this kind of content in searches.

I also expect more brands to turn to visual UGC as a natural way of supporting diversity in their marketing in terms of race, gender, age, size and physical ability. After all, UGC comes from an organic sample of people, as opposed to relying on handpicked models.

Another trend is using UGC for building the employer brand – by encouraging employees and customers to share authentic images and videos of what it’s like working for a company. Employers can feed this visual UGC into recruitment channels such as careers website pages and employer Instagram and Facebook accounts to engage prospective staff. This is yet another way that companies can benefit from UGC.

E: Can you give me some examples of your favourite UGC campaigns and explain why they succeeded?

DM: The Apple #ShotOniPhone campaign – which celebrates images and videos captured by iphone users – remains one of the most enduring UGC campaigns. Its pervasive reach across many different mediums and channels and its enthusiastic adoption by iPhone users globally, combined with its ability to fully embrace and capture the true essence of the product and brand is a marketing nirvana.

The Apple #ShotOniPhone campaign – which celebrates images and videos captured by iphone users – remains one of the most enduring UGC campaigns.

And one of our in-house favourites is Visit Scotland. They employ UGC to great effect, slashing the cost of content production by collecting amazing images and videos captured by avid travellers, from some of the most remote and far-flung parts of the country.

Sending professional photographers to perform the same job would be a logistical nightmare, highly dangerous and cost-prohibitive. Further, VisitScotland’s amazing Instagram Travel Agency activation in London a few years back proved to be a massive success resulting in some amazing engagement levels across multiple channels. UGC was the centrepiece of this highly innovative experiential campaign.

E: Which sectors can benefit from UGC and why?

DM: UGC can play a role in pretty much every sector, but we find it’s most effective in the B2C space. Any brand that has an engaged audience and a product range that lends itself to high-impact visuals can gain a ton of benefit from UGC.

In fashion ecommerce, showcasing more post-purchase photos and videos from customers can even help reduce product returns. Because it helps shoppers get a sense of how clothes look on ‘real’ people, not just models.

In travel, visual marketing is key and visual UGC plays an important role. More than half of consumers reveal they’ve made travel bookings purely based on social media images others have shared. And travel brands are weaving customer imagery throughout the customer in everything from digital and social ads, to email newsletters and offline advertising.

Dive deeper into content marketing strategy and effectiveness with our Content Marketing Best Practice Guide.