User-Generated Content: Harnessing the Power of Authenticity and Social Proof

by Cameron Kirkpatrick



Picture this: your customers will do the work of selling your products for you by singing your brand’s praises, sharing tales of their experience engaging with your products, and wearing your logo as a badge of honor in content they capture on their own devices. No big budget. No storyboarding. No post-production chaos. And your brand reaps all the rewards: a surge in engagement, a surge in brand loyalty – a surge in your power!

It’s possible. And it’s already happening across every social media platform imaginable. User-Generated Content (UGC) is a term that resonates with the all-things-digital nature of modern existence and an opportunity for brands that’s packed with potential. In fact, over 60% of consumers1 claim that simply being invited to a brand’s customer advocacy community where they’d have the opportunity to develop user generated content would increase their loyalty and motivate them to buy more of the brand’s products. UGC refers to any form of content, such as text, images, videos, reviews, or discussions, that is created by individuals who are not necessarily professional creators or producers. This down-and-dirty style of content creation and dissemination helps consumers see themselves in the world of your brand in a way that a meticulously selected actor or model in an ad never could—but where did this content innovation come from?

How UGC Came to Be

In a time before influencers existed (this was circa flip phones and the series finale of Friends, if memory serves), it was up to brands and brands alone to produce something that captured the attention of audiences online, and they did so with high-gloss, production-heavy content that only a hefty marketing budget could create. Today, brands can hold onto that budget for other endeavors while still amassing content that drives conversions—all thanks to user generated content creators. Roughly 47% of marketers2 think their teams take too long to create content (no surprise there—it took AI forever to write this blog post). Tapping into the power of user generated content can result in a veritable treasure trove of marketing materials birthed not from the ivory towers where your creative team toils away, but from the minds of the digital masses (and trust us, these individual creators are better, faster, and more dialed-in on how to get it done than you are). And given that 96% of consumers3 today say they don’t trust ads and respond more favorably to authentic content, UGC might usher in a financial windfall for your brand.

The concept of UGC has gained significant prominence with the rise of social media, enabling individuals to easily create and share content like never before. The best examples of user generated content include user reviews on e-commerce websites, posts on social media platforms like Facebook, X (or whatever we’re supposed to call it now), and Instagram, videos on YouTube, blog posts—you name it. In fact, while the product review section of your digital marketplace may seem like a complaint box to you, 60% of customers4 say they rely on the comments and posted photos of other customers to motivate their decision to buy the same way a Gen Z’er doing a TikTok dance with your product does (as long as their moves are good).

Types of UGC

From the mundane to the sublime, from the written word to the visual spectacle, let’s delve into the full breadth of the subject and discuss multiple examples of user generated content.

Textual Manifestations:

  • Reviews and Testimonials: Praise and critique from the mouths of the people themselves, offering insights into the real-world impact of products and services. 

Visual Chronicles:

  • Images and Photos: Brand-centric moments frozen in time, shared to convey emotions, experiences, or creative expressions. Take, for example, Apple’s iconic “Shot On iPhone” campaign5 which garnered ninety-five percent positive feedback on social media. Did Apple take those photos? No, they did not. Yet, they still stand to reap the benefits.

Moving Enchantments:

  • Videos and Vlogs: Dynamic narratives brought to life through motion, where individuals share their stories, tutorials, opinions, or entertain with visual delights. UGC videos on TikTok are currently scoring 22% higher6 than brand-owned content.
  • Live Streams: Real-time interactions that bridge the gap between creators and their audience, blurring the lines between virtual and real.

Interactive Participation:

  • Challenges and Contests: Provocations that entice users to participate, whether in showcasing skills, sharing experiences, or generating content. A long running successful challenge that helped Stabucks subvert (at least a little bit of) the ire around the “war on christmas” narrative related to their seasonal cups was their simple and fun #RedCupChallenge7 where they invited their adoring customer base to submit photos of their holiday cups for the chance at some free goodies.

Podcasts and Audio Creations:

  • Podcast Episodes: Audio narratives, interviews, discussions, or storytelling that find their way into the ears and minds of listeners.
  • Music and Sound Creations: Auditory expressions ranging from original compositions to remixes and soundscapes.

How to Win With UGC
The benefits of user generated content are almost limitless when you consider how much of your audience is influenced by content marketing on social media. Want to know all the dark secrets of harnessing user generated content to ascend the summit of brand domination? Don’t just DM the next person who comments on one of your posts; there’s an art to developing and distributing this content successfully. To win with UGC, brands need to:

  • Engage, Don’t Exploit: Engage with your disciples on a genuine level. The ripple effect of this element of UGC is strong, as 64% of consumers8 are more inclined to share content about your brand if they see you sharing content from customers. Build a symbiotic relationship where they feel valued, and in return, they shall amplify your message willingly and fervently.  
  • Create Shareable Experiences: Design experiences that beg to be shared. Coca-Cola’s “Share A Coke” campaign is a perfect example of this strategy in play. They created personalized bottles that users wanted to find and share, and it increased Facebook traffic 9X9
  • Incentivize and Reward: Lure them in with irresistible rewards – be it exclusive access, discounts, or the intoxicating allure of recognition. Make them feel like conquering heroes, each user generated content submission a badge of honor in their quest to serve your cause. Your audience is hungry for it; 73% of consumers10 wish brands would run more contests, so, give them something to fight for.
  • Leverage the Power of Stories: Stories, the age-old enchantments that ensnare minds and hearts. Encourage users to share their personal stories of triumph, challenge, or transformation related to your brand. Craft a mosaic of tales that paints a vivid portrait of your brand’s impact. In a delightfully inception-like play, GoPro uses UGC videos to share stories… of people making UGC videos… using a GoPro11. Get creative, your strategy might be staring you right in the face.
  • Embrace Multiple Platforms: User generated content is a versatile tool – wield it across various platforms and channels. While some marketers see fifty percent more engagement with their UGC-centric campaigns on social media, others are adding it to their email campaigns and scoring seventy-three percent higher clickthrough rates12. From social media giants to niche communities, spread your influence far and wide, for each domain offers a unique canvas for your disciples to leave their indelible mark.

Why Content Moderation is Key in UGC 

You can’t just open the floodgates for all the creators of the world to start posting whatever they want to about your brand or products. Content moderation plays a significant role in defining the value of user generated content because content that veers away from the core objective of your brand or product isn’t helpful at all—in fact, it can be damaging. Effective content moderation ensures that the content posted by users aligns with both the brand’s identity and the guidelines of the platform the content is shared on. This enhances the overall user experience and increases the value of the user generated content by providing users with arresting, trustworthy, and engaging content. 

The benefits of user generated content are too numerous to count. Before you know it, you’ll witness how your customers can become your colleagues, spinning out piece after piece and telling the story of your brand in a way that even your best copywriter couldn’t. A whopping 61% of marketers13 have their sights set on increasing the amount of UGC they leverage in their strategies in the years to come. UGC is a conduit of power, a force that can elevate your brand to unprecedented heights. As you tread this path of content innovation, let user-generated content become the anthem of your triumphant ascent.