Getting the crowd involved: user generated content

Getting the crowd involved: user-generated content

You’ve likely heard the adage, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity“ tossed around in one Hollywood film or another. And as marketers, we know why this phrase is best kept on the big screen.

Bad press is, in fact, very much a thing. Negative reviews and customer horror stories can tank a brand’s online reputation and create an uphill battle for your marketing team. That doesn`t mean, however, we don’t like to get some eyes on our offering for free.

When customers shine a positive light on your business’ product or service, the results can be incredible – particularly in today’s market where people are more skeptical of traditional advertising than ever before. The vast majority (88 per cent) of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

It’s called user generated content (UGC) and it’s creating new amplification opportunities for businesses using content marketing. Unlike organisation-driven campaigns, UGC is created by your fans, costing you nothing at all. Here’s why this is one trend worth paying attention to.

What is user generated content, anyway?

Ever had a barista misspell your name so badly you thought they must be having a laugh? Well, last year, Brandwatch looked into the possibility that they were.

The cup conspiracy theory rests on this: with every “OMG, seriously #starbucks?!” post on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, the coffee chain is getting heaps of visibility. So much, in fact, that baristas might blunder names intentionally for free advertising.

When you consider that Starbucks got 2,814 mentions about misspelling in 2017, the theory becomes very compelling. Plus, it’s the right kind of mention – posts are humorous, they reference the brand directly and images are often included.

starbucks capture

Of course, there’s the possibility Starbucks baristas can’t spell or simply enjoy watching customers get all riled up. But if the cup conspiracy is true, Starbucks has brilliantly utilised UGC.

UGC is any content created and published by unpaid contributors. It’s when users promote your brand and they do it simply because they want to. UGC takes many forms.

UGC can be encouraged by your business or it can be entirely customer-driven. If you believe Starbucks baristas are, in fact, coached to be terrible spellers, this could be an example of business-motivated UGC.

Another example would be encouraging users to include a certain hashtag in their posts, like Coca Cola did with their ultra-successful ‘Share a Coke campaign’.

Share a Coke with Lacey! ❤️😍

A post shared by American Cocker Spaniels (@coupleofcockers_) on

Other UGC just happens – without motivation by your organisation. Examples could include:

  • Social media posts,
  • Online reviews,
  • Blog posts,
  • Videos,
  • Testimonials,
  • Tutorials.

And this list just scratches the surface. Anytime a user takes to the web to promote your brand, that’s UGC. This could be as simple as tweeting about their meal in your restaurant to writing a how-to article referencing your product or service.

The benefits of UGC

As you can probably piece together by now, UGC is nothing new. What is recent, however, is our interest in it. With the rise in social media and web-based connectivity, marketers are beginning to understand the power of their audience and the value of social proof.

Just a few years ago, it was difficult for marketers to track mentions and get an overview of online buzz around their brand. This is no longer the case. Thanks to several useful tools, content marketers can make sure they always catch valuable UGC.

Some of our favourite tools for tracking chatter include:

All of these can give you a concise report of what’s being said about your brand online, including when, where and by whom.

But why should you bother? Sure, it’s good to know what your audience thinks, but is it really that much of a marketing edge?

In short, yes. If you know how to leverage it properly, UGC can help boost your brand in a number of key ways. Let’s look at a few major benefits:

Increase content creation, not spend

One of the most obvious perks of UGC is that it can up your brand’s arsenal of quality content at absolute zero cost.

Once you find relevant UGC, share it with your audience in order to:

  • Build brand awareness,
  • Improve your social media presence,
  • Generate leads,
  • Nurture leads,
  • Establish your brand as an industry leader.

Doing this effectively lies in being able to spot strong UGC and identify where it fits into your content marketing strategy.

Gain audience insights

UGC can also be used to gain an understanding of what your audience finds useful and engaging – essential information when crafting a data-driven content marketing strategy.

Conduct an audit of UGC around your brand and use it to discern what’s resounding with your audience and what isn’t. Reviews, for example, can help you learn what people are complaining about versus what they like. Analysing UGC is an effective way to cut through the noise and uncover your brand’s online reputation.

Boost engagement and social reach

UGC is almost always found on social media, making it a great way to improve your presence on various platforms. Responding is critical, however, to get the most traction on a post. If you ignore a piece of UGC, it will do little for your brand – so take the time to write back, share the post on your own accounts or find another way to use the content.

UGC can help increase social traffic, leading to:

  • More followers,
  • Greater brand awareness,
  • Increased engagement,
  • More web traffic.

To encourage media-based UGC, create a photo contest on Instagram, create a Facebook challenge for your followers or simply ask your audience a question.

Sharpen your brand voice

Content marketing is all about telling your brand story and sharing a message your audience likes. UGC can help you identify those messages.

People create content because something resonated with them and chances are it will resonate with others as well. Compelling UGC can be used to personalise your marketing initiatives. In general, people relate to people – not brands. UGC, therefore, is an excellent tool for humanising your business.

A testimonial written by a customer, for example, will be far more engaging than an article written by your marketing team.

Build trust and offer social proof

Finally, UGC offers social proof your brand delivers what it says it does – even more so than influencer campaigns. Because UGC is just that – generated by real people – it can’t be fudged or fabricated by marketing teams.

To generate UGC around social proof, make it easier for customers to weigh in. American coffee retailer Coffee for Less recognised the importance of social feedback, which is why they put new features on their site allowing visitors to rate products, write reviews and ask other customers questions. The results were impressive, with Coffee for Less seeing their search engine traffic increase by 10 per cent and their conversions skyrocket by 125 per cent.

How to weave UGC into your content marketing plan

Ready to tap into UGC? Before you get started, make sure you understand the basics of interacting with your users. There are clear dos and don’ts when it comes to reaching out and using UGC in your own marketing efforts.


Ask first

Before borrowing a user’s content, reach out and ask them if it’s okay. Otherwise, you could be perceived as stealing and piggybacking off their efforts.

Think about your goals

Before promoting a piece of UGC, consider how you want your audience to engage. What does success look like? Not all UGC is winning content, and this is an essential step in determining if the piece fits within your strategy.

Be relatable

Keep in mind that UGC is meant to be novel, fun and entertaining. Therefore, steer clear of content that’s formal or rigid. This typically performs poorly on social media and will do very little for your brand.

Screen the user

The right UGC can identify brand influencers and help you reach new audiences. The wrong UGC can do the opposite. When you promote a user, you’re choosing to associate your brand with that person so be sure to screen their profiles first and ensure they’re someone you’d openly do business with.


Spam your followers with UGC

Fit UGC into your routine posting schedule. Spamming will only lead to unfollows and poor engagement.

Post if the message isn’t clear

If the link to your brand is tenuous, don’t use the content. Your business should be the main focus, not an afterthought.

Forget to add your input

Simply resharing UGC isn’t enough. Be sure to put in your opinion as well. This can be as simple as a caption saying, ‘Check out this great piece by our fan’ and naming the user responsible.

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