User-generated content (UGC) involves various text information and materials that users share on digital platforms or social media services – voluntarily, for different purposes and without compensation. These include opinions, thoughts, comments, reviews, relations, pictures, movies, etc. In today’s era of digitalisation, UGC has become a widespread practice and an excellent example of integrating technology into daily routines, changing how people interact, acquire knowledge, and express themselves while disrupting the media landscape and transforming firms’ advertising strategy approaches.
User-generated content represents a contemporary iteration of traditional word-of-mouth communication, where real people initiate discussions, share information, provide suggestions and express opinions about their experiences or interests. The difference is that UGC is always placed in a virtual space and is easily accessible to a broader audience, breaking down barriers such as geography, time, and position while connecting people from diverse backgrounds and locations. What else is important is that user-generated content is a growing trend as more and more people embark on this journey to become content creators and contribute to the vast digital landscape, impacting a larger scale, often beyond their social network.
Giving a clearer picture and emphasising the immense scale of online content generation, here are example statistics provided by Statista: “A lot of things happen in an internet minute, for instance, 1 700 000 pieces of content are shared on Facebook, 347 200 Twits are published on X, and 66 000 photos are uploaded on Instagram”.
Answering the question of why user-generated content is essential, there are key benefits that differ depending on who is involved in the initiative:
- USERS: UGC allows users to participate in co-creating the digital content ecosystem, making them feel meaningful and turning them into valued influencers and loyal advocates with a strong sense of belonging to the community.
- DIGITAL PLATFORMS: This, in turn, contributes to the dynamic development of online spaces, amplifying other visitors’ engagement and bolstering popularity.
- COMPANIES/BRANDS: Furthermore, user-generated content presents a vast opportunity for businesses, as a substantial volume of published materials entails brand-related information, often perceived as more authentic and trustworthy than companies’ marketing content.
Where does UGC content come from?
There are two key sources of user-generated content, such as users themselves and brand advocates, which serve as the foundation of the whole initiative. However, as UGC is becoming a growing trend, new players appear. This expansion is driven by the rise of new digital opportunities, increasing internet and mobile access, a cultural shift towards more online engagement and content creation, and taking marketing strategies to new heights.
All in all, user-generated content has evolved significantly, originating from a variety of creators, with each one contributing a unique dimension:
Loyal Users: They are frequent visitors who share their experiences, opinions and thoughts about various topics, problems, products, services, brands and many more. Their role is pivotal for UGC, making this group the most valuable source – trusted, unbiased and credible.
Brand Influencers: These encompass companies’ advocates who actively engage in the platforms’ lives and produce brand-promoting content that imitates UGC’s natural, user-contributed quality. They typically share carefully selected and well-prepared content that endorses firms and their offerings in a subtle and authentic way, enhancing brand awareness and driving sales in many cases.
Employees: They represent another productive source of user-generated content, actively sharing information and materials supporting their employers. These may be praising their organisations, highlighting important events, informing the audience about their experiences, successes, etc. Employees’ online participation with UGC can be critical for many businesses, showcasing their culture, values, advantages, and achievements while promoting positive brand awareness among potential job candidates and clients.
Field Enthusiasts: User-generated content increasingly comes from various enthusiasts passionate about specific, important, or well-known subjects, further enriching the UGC landscape. They usually have deep knowledge and expertise in the selected fields, acting as valuable advisors and inspirators for other users seeking relevant information.
UGC Creators: It is a relatively new group of content contributors who prepare sponsored materials that closely resemble UGC, exceptionally receiving compensation for their work. Their contractors are usually companies which understand the importance of such an appearance in the virtual realm, next to more traditional marketing or ad activities.
What are types of user-generated content?
User-generated content spans various formats, such as text, image, video, podcast, interactive multimedia, and more, while evolving with new platforms and creative possibilities. It is more authentic, influential and trustworthy than editorial and marketing materials.
This history and concept of UGC can be traced back to the early days of the internet, mainly with the emergence of Web 2.0 technology, which allowed for the rise of various digital channels such as forums, blogs, and, ultimately, social media platforms. With greater interactivity, content creation, and publishing options, it initiated a significant trend where users could freely share content independently. It initially consisted of simple text, such as short opinions, and evolved into more sophisticated forms as we know it today.
Among the most common and popular UGC types, there are:
This includes primarily relying on text content to generate reviews, comments, and forum posts to share opinions, thoughts, and experiences.
Forums, blogs, social media, digital platforms, and communities, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Tripadvisor.
This can encompass user-taken pictures, any other images used to illustrate ideas, or individually prepared creations published or shared.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.
This involves producing and sharing videos covering a range of topics, from vlogs and tutorials to product reviews.
Social media, vlogs, and video platforms such as Instagram or TikTok.
Audio and Podcasts
This category comprises audio-based content, including podcasts, music tracks, voice recordings, and sound clips.
Dedicated platforms like Apple or Google Podcasts, as well as hosting and sharing podcasts on services like Spotify.
This category relates to user-generated music content, which includes original tracks, remixes, and music compositions.
Various platforms and websites like YouTube or SoundCloud.
What can user-generated content be in particular? Numerous examples range from straightforward and concise messages to intricate multimedia productions. Below are a few examples that help illustrate the diversity and potential of user-generated content:
- A hotel review encompassing opinions on accommodation, food, cleanliness, amenities, services, and more, often enhanced with images taken by travellers during their stay.
- Comments left below the article published on social media channels, provide information on new cosmetic products recently introduced.
- Recommendations were added to the product descriptions placed on the white goods manufacturer’s website.
- Reviews and ratings of a new fintech mobile app generated on the app store.
- A series of images featuring joyful young individuals sporting a brand’s new line of shoes while enjoying various activities shared on a visual-focused social media platform.
- A podcast providing a comprehensive guide on effectively managing stress and living a better life, published within a sharing platform and recommended on social media.
- Fan art created by video game fans, funnily interpreting the game scenes, shared on the gaming forums and social media.
How can brands make the most of user-generated content?
User-generated content is increasingly appreciated by modern companies that recognise its marketing power and the value of authentic UGC in building trust and promoting their products or services. For that reason, it is often included in marketing or content management strategies, focused on attracting digital platform users’ attention and engagement while positively shaping brand awareness and commitment.
This trend is demonstrated in various statistics, for instance, those provided by Grand View Research, stating that “The worldwide market for user-generated content platforms reached a value of USD 4.4 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29.4% from 2023 to 2030”.
The prognosis presents a significant opportunity for organisations prioritising online presence. More USG content can be anticipated, leading to heightened interest, increased followers, more clicks, and greater familiarity, making businesses anticipate expanding their brand’s reach, accumulating more user data and references, and growing sales.
Among the reasons why businesses increasingly focus on UGC results are:
- User-generated content helps reach a broader audience and is often more persuasive than traditional marketing messages.
- Furthermore, UGC can be a valuable data source for marketers and CX experts seeking additional ways to gain more insights into customer preferences, opinions, and behaviours. With such knowledge, companies can better understand their customers and adjust product development, marketing strategies and experiences accordingly.
- While showcasing users’ real experiences with a brand, such messages positively impact purchasing decisions and sales growth.
Here are a few examples showcasing the impact and effectiveness of UGC:
Customers find UGC 9.8 times more influential than influencer content for making purchase decisions. (Source: Stackla)
People are 2.4 times more likely to perceive user-generated content as authentic than brand-produced content. (Source: Stackla)
Nearly 80% of consumers check product ratings and reviews before buying.
How can a company encourage users to create UGC?
While most of the UGC materials are generated independently, in some cases, companies can actively influence their online expansion, encouraging users to share their experiences, leave reviews, submit pictures, or participate in other ways that involve creating content related to the company’s offerings, events, products, services, contests, challenges, promotions, and brand-related campaigns.
This can be done through various strategies, and it should be executed with sensitivity to user preferences to prevent being intrusive or forceful, for instance:
- Preparing catchy and visually attractive content that tackles important and up-to-date topics, is relevant for the audience and provides values, which enhances the share or recommend it.
- Organising contests or promoting challenges that attract attention and excite people to participate online.
- Encouraging users to share their stories, images or movies reflecting their experiences with a brand while offering some additional values.
- Asking questions, sharing surveys, and actively seeking user feedback to understand better their needs and preferences allowing for adjustments and improvements in your approach.
- Promoting unique hashtags related to given campaigns, specific for products or brands.
- Being active there, where customers spend time online. Engaging in conversations, sharing insights and suggesting support.
Doritos Use case
To maintain a strong connection with its audience, Doritos – an American brand of flavoured tortilla chips produced by Frito-Lay, introduced the Doritos Legion of Creators. On this online platform, users can create branded images and videos shared on Doritos’ social media profiles. To sustain user engagement, Doritos regularly hosts public challenges, encouraging creators to create videos with the chance to be featured in its Instagram Stories.
Source: The Bazaar Voice
User-generated content: potential risks for brands and how to mitigate them
User-generated content is valuable for businesses but also presents content management and moderation challenges. Careful handling is essential to avoid potential legal and reputational risks, primarily when negative information arises, and digital platforms and communities must ensure a secure environment, particularly in digital spaces with a high volume of user-generated content.
Content moderation services oversee digital platforms like social media and online communities, ensuring that user-generated content complies with platform rules, guidelines, legal compliance, and regulations. This includes identifying and addressing issues like cybercrime, harassment, abusive behaviour, aggression, stalking, offensive speech or online cheating. These encompass screening and monitoring user-generated content, analysing it for compliance, and removing irrelevant material. Various methods, including manual and automated techniques such as pre-moderation, post-moderation, hybrid moderation or distributed and community-based moderation, can be employed, allowing for greater efficiency and user-driven enforcement.
On the flip side, there is another risk to consider: negative reviews, critical opinions, or offensive comments that can directly affect brands, products, or services. Effectively handling such situations is vital for safeguarding reputation and preventing trust decrease and customer attrition. In these cases, companies should respond professionally and empathetically, aiming to resolve the issue, provide support, or offer problem-solving solutions.
*Source: Statista report, Media usage in an internet minute as of April 2022.