Whether it’s through micro influencers, customer advocates or celebrity endorsers, user-generated content (also known as UGC) is the bread and butter of marketing on social media.
And it shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s an effective form of engagement because it’s a two-way street—brands get connected with fans organically showing off their product or service and those fans in return get noticed, featured, even potentially grow their own following. Especially in light of the pandemic, UGC has redefined how brands and consumers engage on social.
This is why we’re here. We want to help you turn your customers into advocates through user-generated content. But before we jump into our step-by-step guide, let’s establish what UGC is, plus the do’s and don’ts of sharing it.
What is user-generated content?
User-generated content refers to unpaid or unsponsored social content that people across every network share when they’re using or raving about a product or service. When your friend posts a Tweet about a fantastic experience they had with a hotel they stayed at, that’s UGC. When your favorite brand reposts Instagram Stories from customers at an event they hosted, that’s UGC. When someone shares a video on TikTok about finding the best lipstick they’ve ever used, that’s UGC.
How brands leverage that plethora of user-generated treasure is what gives the medium it’s power. Despite being organic, the reach of sharing and re-sharing UGC can go quite far for brands and consumers.
UGC isn’t always content that explicitly includes your product. It can also highlight lifestyles or values that overlap with your brand ethos and audience. Skateboard shoe and apparel retailer Vans often reposts videos of BMX riders, skaters, artists—anyone repping their Vans “Off the Wall” brand aesthetic.
What not to do with user-generated content
Err on the side of caution and don’t use UGC without asking. Too often, brands take images shared online without giving proper credit or establishing an agreement with the creator.
Instead, make it a habit to reach out, ask permission and receive users’ consent before sharing their content. Whether it’s a casual snapshot or a perfectly curated piece of work, it’s not fair to the people behind the content to use it in any context when you don’t have permission. After all, building that trust is how you encourage the type of two-way relationship that benefits both brand and consumer.
We love a #milkmakeup full face! GLOW 🤩 courtesy of @asenx (she/her) 💕shop 🛒 @sephora
This of course doesn’t mean you’ll pay for UGC. However, there may be occasions where a creator rightfully requests payment for a piece of art or content you share. When in doubt, consult your legal team before formalizing any agreements. And if you’re unable to compensate users, remove their content if you’ve already published it, and instead collaborate with users who are interested in sharing their content with you sans formal payment.
Now let’s dive into our five steps toward getting the most out of a user-generated content strategy.
Step 1: Choose social networks most impactful to your campaign
It’s important to know not only where your audience lives on social, but where potential advocates have the most influence. Instagram is naturally great for sharing visuals, but first ask yourself (i.e., reference the data) if that’s the network where your target audience lives.
Consider your audience and goals when choosing a social network. Our 2021 Sprout Social Index™, Edition XVII: Accelerate, found that 86% of consumers are likely to choose a brand over a competitor if they follow them on social. Thoughtfully selecting a network and crafting a social environment to not only deliver content, but to meaningfully engage with your customers there, helps you stand out from the competition and nurture long-term relationships.
Marketers should not only be looking at where they currently have a social presence, but where their consumers want them to engage more. For instance, when asked which platforms they use most, a majority of consumers point to Facebook, YouTube and Instagram as their top three social networks in ranking order. Facebook also happens to be where a majority of consumers (78%) say they follow brands.
What works on each network?
Like determining which network is best to meet your audience, you also need to identify what types of UGC perform best on each network and how to present them based on each app’s culture.
Facebook: This is a great space for sharing full video content and stories about your brand. Use Facebook to post the kind of authentic, compelling content likely to boost engagement (and possibly go viral). Facebook’s algorithm is tough for organic reach, but don’t rule out posting user-generated content on ads.
Twitter: Despite the smaller character count, you’re not as limited on Twitter as you may think. Twitter is a great platform for image-sharing. Much like on Instagram, it works to let the visuals do the talking. If you host events, consider using this space to create a live Twitter feed for real-time coverage and easily capture UGC to retweet. Using Twitter this way is a great opportunity to capitalize on hashtags.
Is this picture high quality? No.
Are @drinkspindrift flavors high quality? Yes.
Might be the best drink ever made. pic.twitter.com/5cjg4XnP3O
— Ryan King (@_myfriendryan) May 26, 2021
Instagram: As the mecca of visual-sharing, Instagram is the go-to for UGC. It’s critical to know how to regram, leverage Instagram Explore and discover content through hashtags. Seeing products in action makes Instagram the spot for brands to get creative and connect with those who support your business. Reposting Story mentions (maybe even making a Highlight for them) is a great low-lift way to show off your customer UGC. The user may even repost the repost, leading more of her following to your page.
TikTok: This app is swiftly becoming synonymous with viral content. There’s no shortage of UGC on TikTok, and it’s not hard to discover. TikTok’s culture is all about authentic, scrappy videos, rather than refined reviews or stories. Engage with a customer in the comments of their video, ask permission to share and credit properly on your own page.
LinkedIn: This is the world’s largest social network for professionals, so any UGC you share here has to be vetted and relevant to your brand’s goals. This isn’t the spot to repost just any user’s content. Instead, use LinkedIn to promote above and beyond employee-generated content that aligns with your brand in a professional sense.
Step 2: Set specific user-generated content goals
Like any other aspect of your content strategy, your UGC plan needs specific goals and guidelines to be successful. Sure, UGC tends to be casual and off-the-cuff. But brands can capitalize on it to make up a more significant chunk of their overall business strategy.
Beauty brand Aura relied heavily on its employee advocacy program as part of its initial launch. Vera Koch, Aura VP of Global Marketing said, “User-generated content helps us to be relatable as a brand…it is helpful for people to see that a real person in a real bathroom can utilize this product.”
Encouraging user-generated content helps to fill the content calendar when you’re a younger brand.
GoPro action cameras, for example, recognized quickly that its own take on UGC would rarely show the product because its users are out doing what they’re meant to do with the product: capture astounding images and video.
— GoPro (@GoPro) June 22, 2021
This led the brand to develop clear goals and incentive programs to keep that content firehose on.
- Higher brand engagement: Everyone wants more likes, but setting engagement as a goal is a smart target for UGC campaigns. Influencers tend to spark conversation with their content. Seeing more comments, likes and mentions toward your channels shows signs of success. But you need the right social media analytics tools to benchmark your efforts.
- Increased conversion rates: The intersection of UGC and social commerce is powerful. If you’re in even a slightly competitive industry, people flock to social for their research. In fact, 53% of consumers like or follow brands on social to learn about new products and services. Make it your priority to increase conversions with reviews, unboxing showcases and social takeovers for your campaign.
- Building brand trust: According to the State of UGC 2021 Report, 93% of markers agree that consumers trust content created by customers more than content created by brands. People trust people. Whether you’ve had some bad press or you’re starting fresh, building credibility is a great goal. So how do you measure it? UGC establishes credibility with consumers, so try to track keywords or phrases you know are associated with your brand. Then measure to see if people are giving more positive feedback on social or even reviews sites.
- Educating more users: Start by tracking common questions and concerns about your business on social media. By listening to conversations, you can measure whether the same questions are being asked before and after your UGC campaign. Influencers do a great job of cutting through and providing a clear answer.
- Save time on content creation: If your team is in need of more social content, UGC can help save a lot of time. By aggregating hashtags, comments and photos, you save time in the creation process.
Step 3: Tell your audience what content you want
Half of consumers (50%) wish that brands would tell them what type of content to create and share.
If you’re not flat out telling your audience to participate with user-generated content, how else will they know?
Whether you’re asking for images or customers’ thoughts, your advocates need proper guidance. Be transparent with brand rules and regulations toward UGC.
There are countless ways to encourage UGC—campaign hashtags, social media contests. With a single hashtag, you can build focused interest and guide your audience to create content inspired by your campaign.
Yeti used its #BuiltforTheWild to collect and share people’s nature-loving moments.
— YETI (@YETICoolers) January 12, 2020
Nike’s latest #PlayNew hashtag on TikTok has accrued over 80 million views and thousands of videos from users sharing personal stories of trying new things. While the campaign is led by influencers that are Nike Partners, the hashtag is open to anyone to use. Micro Influencers see the content and know the drill, following suit in their own creative ways,
Do check your hashtags and guidelines to leave little room for error or audience confusion. Otherwise, you’re giving online trolls a chance to dilute your message. Be smart and make your brand persona and mission clear. Don’t be afraid to specify what types of content align best with your brand to start building a library of valuable UGC.
Once you have the content you’re looking for from your audience, try using Sprout’s own Instagram Repost features. Here, you easily share your favorite user-generated content on Instagram with a few taps.
It’s simple to copy the link of the post, open your Sprout app, schedule or post immediately and share.
Step 4: Collaborate and focus on community
One of the best things about user-generated content is the way it sparks engagement and fortifies community.
For consumers, receiving a mention or repost from a brand can be just the right surprise and delight moment. One report cites 51% of consumers as more likely to engage with and/or purchase from a brand if it shared their social posts in its marketing.
And those shares not only build a bridge between brand and customer, but they also expose your audience to new people and content, creating the potential for viral posts.
As a community manager, you have to create a persona for your brand, as well as connect customers and advocates. UGC is the glue, bringing new people together through conversation and building bridges from those interactions to the brand. Ultimately, it builds credibility. And if done correctly, you’ll drive users down the marketing funnel.
Don’t underestimate how important followers are to your social strategy and treat them well. Answer questions, give recognition, be there during product launches and show your human side. Your audience understands that there’s someone sitting behind the screen, so give your brand a personality. Instead of treating social media engagement like a chore, treat it like an opportunity.
Step 5: Analyze and measure your user-generated content efforts
To bring it all home, if you want your UGC strategy to work, you have to measure. No matter what your goals, benchmarking is a must.
According to the Sprout Social Index™, Edition XVII: Accelerate, 90% of marketers agree data from social enables them to stay ahead of their competitors, yet only 55% say they’re using social data to understand their target audience. This finding emphasizes the crucial role good reporting plays in a UGC strategy.
With Sprout Social, you have social analytics tools to track your overall engagement with UGC. Whether you’re posting to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram, you have access to detailed audience reports that reveal which content is driving the most engagement and growth on your profiles.
Additionally, our social listening tools let you leverage your social data to understand the content and conversations happening around your brand. Whether it’s contextual analysis of keywords, hashtags or customer experiences, these powerful social tools let you measure your efforts and uncover new opportunities to source and share user-generated content.
Don’t miss a great opportunity to engage with your audience because you missed someone using your brand in a hashtag. UGC can be tricky, but if you follow the steps above, you can use it strategically.
Above all, use this opportunity as a chance to interact more with your audience and build a stronger community among your followers. Looking for more insight into creating a best in class social content strategy? Download the 2021 Content Benchmarks Report today.
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