User generated content (UGC) isn’t a new concept, yet marketers around the world are only just starting to realize its potential in creating online buzz and engaging customers.

Predominantly spread through social media, UGC is any type of content created and shared by a brand’s audience. Whether through videos, tweets, Instagram stories or blogs – UGC spotlights a brand, product or service on a user’s own channel, rather than the company’s social presence. 

Unlike authentic influencers, creators of UGC aren’t contracted. They’re closer to fans of the brand than partners. By purposefully drawing on an individual’s use of social media, companies can help boost their online presence and provide them with a third party endorsement that’s easy to replicate. It creates a virtuous relationship between consumer and brand.

Mixing in UGC increases brand engagement

Whilst most brands are still creating their own campaign content, using UGC and social media can spread brand messaging in a fun and engaging way.

According to a study by ComScore, brand engagement rises by 28% when consumers are exposed to a mixture of professional marketing content and UGC. The organizations that make the biggest gains in this space will be the ones that cleverly and authentically combine the two.

Traditional advertising and earned media can’t be overlooked. That said, trends such as increasing use of ad blockers and the fake-news phenomenon becoming more prominent are having an impact on the effectiveness of these methods.

In a previous blog post, I drew on an example of how influencers pointed out increased self-confidence as a benefit of using Philips Sonicare toothbrushes, something that never could’ve been authentically achieved using traditional owned media. Incorporating personal stories into Facebook ads boosted the average time spent looking at a post from 4 seconds to around a minute.

Consumers themselves are highly effective at unlocking precious insights and touting product features, without the bias of vested interests, which ultimately helps with wider marketing efforts. Removing the constraints of traditional advertising methods also has a dramatic impact on engagement levels.

The classic Starbucks example

Consider, for example, a simple but effective campaign which ran back in 2014, where Starbucks invited customers to decorate their cups and submit their designs to Twitter under the tag #WhiteCupContest. Garnering over 4,000 responses in just a few weeks, this was an excellent example of how you don’t need a large budget to generate a lot of social media content in a short space of time.

When you realize that 68% of social media users between the ages of 18 and 24 take into account information shared on social media when they make a purchasing decision, it is easy to see why UGC has become so appealing.

This means doing away with outdated misconceptions of passive consumers led by TV commercials and billboards. Instead, they are active participants in relationships and dialogs with brands, influencing others in the process.

86% of millennials have said that user-generated content (UGC) is a good indicator of the quality of a brand. The important next step for any business is to show that their core values align with those of their audience and build lasting relationships through mutual confidence.

Brands of all sizes can follow the examples from these larger campaigns, having customers involved in the brand’s online activity while showing customers that their thoughts and opinions matter.

As consumers become less reliant on traditional media methods like advertising, UGC will become more prevalent in ensuring brands engage with their customers while using their social networks to promote the brand in a positive way.

With the volume of marketing and internally-driven corporate chatter ever rising, looking outside-in to user generated content can be the differentiator in making you the brand that consumers like and trust.