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User-Generated Content: Why You Need It—and How to Get It

What do YouTube, Wikipedia, Instagram, and Quora have in common? They all depend on user-generated content to exist.

“User-generated content, or UGC, is any contribution to a site or campaign that an individual outside the company has created.” – Jeff Bullas

For businesses, user-generated content could be anything from a website video testimonial to a customer’s photo on Facebook.

Most people associate UGC with social media. But there’s more to the story.

Why User-Generated Content Matters

Ask any social marketing expert why user-generated content is a big deal for businesses. Without fail, the word authenticity is mentioned.

Truth is, most consumers are bored by heavy-handed sales pitches and glossy product photos. Overall, they care less about production values and more about credible content.

Surprised? Think about your own consumer behavior for a minute.

How often do you read Amazon reviews before purchasing a product? Or talk about a service provider on Facebook?

Facebook product review example

If you’ve done either of these things, you’ve engaged with (or created) user-generated content.

UGC Is Everywhere

The genesis of user-generated content goes back to the dawn of the Internet and the decentralization of traditional media.

Remember when blogs—the ultimate UGC—first started popping up back in the day? Then, MySpace became a thing. And as more people purchased cell phones, anyone could share a newsworthy photo.

Soon, user-generated news articles were the norm and traditional news outlets had to adapt. Along with everyone else.

Now, user-generated content is so pervasive, it’s hard to imagine an online experience without it.

User-generated content, consumer influencers, Crowdtap infographic 2015

Image source: Crowdtap

Business as Usual?

Why do consumers love businesses that share user-generated content? Again, it’s about ‘authenticity.’ We tend to trust businesses that celebrate customer input.

“61 percent of people would be more likely to engage with an advertisement if it contained user-generated content.” – Reevoo

Content strategists at Curata list additional benefits of user-generated content:

  • Cost effective timesaver – UGC can boost your marketing effectiveness when your budget is tight and staff members are busy.
  • Greater social reach – The more user-generated content you post, the better your social following and reach will be.
  • Boosted brand awareness – As your UGC brings in more likes and shares, your brand message will spread.
  • Effective SEO – Every time you create a new user-generated campaign or get new reviews, your SEO ranking climbs.
  • Audience feedback – As you pay attention to the most-shared UGC, you can make changes and drive more conversions.
  • Unique viewpoints – Customers’ UGC provides different points of view, which helps your followers stay engaged.
  • Personalized campaigns – Effective UGC campaigns will show you the way to targeting smaller segments of your audience.
  • Improved customer relationships – This may well be the most important benefit that keeps customers with you for life.

Banyan Facebook contest, Facebook post, UGC

Clearly, the benefits of user-generated content are compelling. The trick is getting your customers to participate.

How to Inspire More User-Generated Content

It’s one thing for a big company to spend lots of money on creative UGC campaigns. But what if you’re a small business with a modest budget?

As we mentioned earlier, user-generated content can actually save you time and money. But you still have to be creative to make UGC work.

The ALS Association is proof that creativity doesn’t have to be expensive to pay big dividends. Remember the #icebucketchallenge?

Wiki Commons photo, ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, User-generated content

More about that epic challenge:

In 2014, Jeannette Senerchia’s cousin Chris introduced her to an ice-bucket challenge unrelated to ALS.

Coincidentally, the ice water stimulus mimicked the rigid muscle response so common to ALS sufferers like Jeannette’s husband Anthony.

And just like that, the ice bucket challenge became a cause for ALS research. The rest is history.

Creativity Is Key

As you can see, creative ideas often come about accidentally.

To jumpstart your creative approach to UGC, hold a brainstorming session with your team. Talk about your values and your unique sales proposition.

Next, determine your primary goals for user-generated content. Do you want better brand recognition? More social interaction and shares? Better customer reviews?

Pursue your goals one at a time with a targeted UGC campaign.

Applewhite Dental Partners, Facebook post, contest

Social Proof

It’s a given that your business wants great reviews and customer recommendations. So, why not turn those opportunities into events?

Maybe you offer discounts to customers who volunteer with you at a Habitat for Humanity building project.

At the event, you take loads of photos and videos. Then, you email the best photos out to customers on the spot so they can tag you on social media.

Or, you invite customers to a Fall carnival where a professional videographer is present.

Customers take home visual mementos; you get customer testimonials for your website or social pages.

Jordan Rowland photo, Unsplash, cotton candy, social event

Product Publicity

Getting ready to launch a new product or service? User-generated campaigns can be a fun way to create some buzz.

To tap into UGC, ask customers to guess what the new product is. Share a mysterious photo that hints at the product without showing it completely.

Several days before the big reveal, invite followers to enter a contest or giveaway by submitting some form of UGC—possibly a video showing how they’ll use the product.

Aaron Agius of the Content Marketing Institute puts it this way: “A (customer) given something of value will feel a subconscious urge to repay the favor.”

In other words, don’t be afraid to offer incentives for user-generated content.

Invisalign Instagram post, incentive for user-generated content

Brand Recognition

What if your following is still pretty modest? You can still recognize customers individually and grow your brand.

Charity events and sponsorships can also stimulate brand recognition and customer participation, especially if they’re part of a long-term strategy.

Also, if your business sponsors an organization, you’re already one step closer to great user-generated content. Encourage photo and video sharing that includes your branded hashtag.

“When your brand shares something a customer or fan created, that external recognition not only strengthens the customer or fan’s affinity with the brand, it encourages that person to share the content further with his or her friends (and your brand benefits vicariously).” – Aaron Agius, CMI

Starbucks has no trouble with brand recognition. But could part of its ongoing success come from creative UGC campaigns? Judge for yourself.

Starbucks, #redcupcontest, user-generated content

This contest is an especially effective UGC campaign: it’s simple (fans do something creative with Starbucks’ red cup and share a photo), it’s seasonal, and it offers the chance at a gift card. Win-win.

Customer Trust

What about customers who aren’t yet following you on social media? They can still offer UGC in the form of reviews. After a great experience with you is a great time to ask them to review your business.

You can also build customer trust by responding quickly to reviews when they come in (Banyan users can do this via their user dashboard).

Banyan reviews dashboard

If there are complaints about an issue, address them and/or invite your customer to contact you directly.

If someone comments on one of your social posts, start a conversation. Send an emoji. Show followers that their input matters.

And of course, if a customer raves about you on Facebook, thank them right away. Want to go above and beyond? Send them a freebie or a discount to show your thanks.

“According to research by Halfords and Bazaarvoice, people (who) read and/or take part in the writing of reviews wind up converting at a rate that’s 82% higher than users that don’t participate in this actions.” – Jeff Bullas

The fact is, customers want businesses to notice them and reward their content. How will you do this?


We’d love to see your best UGC campaigns. Tag us @banyansocial so we can help spread the word about your business.


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