Why a User-Generated Content Strategy is a Must For Your Marketing Playbook

Katie Tweedy
March 15, 2021
User-generated content can become a lifesaver for marketers tasked with doing more with less. How? Not only does it put some of the content production for brands back on the consumers themselves, but it's considered the most authentic and trustworthy form of content a brand can promote. Read more below.

User-generated content builds trust

Woman taking photo of skyline

Marketers are being asked to deliver more content in less time and with fewer resources. And not just any content. More than ever, customers are demanding authenticity and transparency from brands before making purchasing decisions.

According to a Stackla consumer insights report, over 90% of consumers say authenticity is key when deciding what brands they support (up from 86% in 2017). The increase in desire for genuine and honest interaction isn’t surprising in a society that has spent a year isolated indoors, away from friends and family, amid an economic crisis. Plus, trust — in government, in the media, in businesses — is at a record low, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer.

Here’s where user-generated content (UGC) can become a lifesaver for marketers tasked with doing more with less. Creating and marketing engaging content takes more time and money than most marketers have. User-generated content not only puts some of the content production for brands back on the consumers themselves, but it’s considered the most authentic and trustworthy form of content a brand can promote. In fact, according to Stackla, consumers find UGC 9.8x more impactful than influencer content when making purchasing decisions.

What is user-generated content (UGC)?

User-generated content is any form of content not created by the brand itself. UGC is not a new concept — consumers have been generating content for brands for years in the form of online reviews. Reviews have only gained popularity over time and continue to be a primary UGC input because they provide social proof of a product’s quality. Companies can then take advantage of this word-of-mouth marketing by improving their online rating platform design, usability, and visibility.

But UGC doesn’t end there. With the never-ending tsunami of new social media channels that allow people to self-promote, everyone can become a #influencer. People will happily make videos, post selfies, and take part in challenges and contests with the right prompting from a brand (and perhaps a bit of FOMO as they watch their family and friends participate in the action). A recent campaign from OREO is a perfect example — they took the fear and loneliness brought about by the pandemic and turned it on its head with #stayhomestayplayful. This multi-channel campaign aims to brighten people’s lives with fun and easy activities for families, especially those with children, to partake in and share across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Another form of UGC is shoppable social, which brands like UnderArmour are using to their advantage. Building upon hashtag campaigns by prompting consumers to “shop this look” right from Instagram, spurring a rise in social commerce.

Does user-generated content work?

In a word: yes. Data shows that UGC content drives conversions better than other types of content. Yotpo analyzed numbers from 200,000 e-commerce stores and 163 million orders to gauge UGC’s impact on conversion rates and found that overall, across all industries, people who look at UGC are converting 161% more than people who aren’t.

Stackla conducted a test for a beauty product, presenting consumers with two side-by-side photos of a woman wearing a beauty mask: one, a stock photo, and the other a UGC image of a customer wearing a facemask at home. Users picked the UGC image as the most authentic and the image most likely to be clicked if featured in an ad.

How does user-generated content impact overall SEO?

Not only does user-generated content build trust and engagement with audiences, but it also gives SEO a boost. How?

First, by providing more content for the page. More content on a page means more context for search crawlers to understand when determining page rank. In a Google Webmaster’s Hangout last May, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller explained that Google doesn’t treat UGC any differently than original content posted by marketers.

Additional page content also provides more material for customers to engage with. Reviews especially tend to resonate with consumers who spend a significant amount of time looking for social proof of product quality before making purchases. This increased engagement and page traffic, and the resulting reduced bounce rate signaled to search crawlers that the pages are valuable and have authority, which in turn contribute to page rank.

Pros & cons of user-generated content

As with everything, there are both positives and negatives when it comes to UGC. Before rushing to implement a UGC strategy for your organization, consider the pros and cons for control over content, planned SEO efforts, and potential audience engagement. Here are a few potential advantages and disadvantages associated with incorporating UGC into your webpages:

Pros
  • UGC offers a way to ensure consistently fresh content on your webpages
  • Adds authentic, relatable content that resonates with your audience
  • Provides search crawlers additional information to determine what your pages are about and how relevant they are to a searcher’s query
  • Can help a domain rank for long-tail keywords
  • Creates a sense of community and lets your audience source information directly from their peers
  • Gives your brand a vehicle to collect feedback
  • Tends to result in increased engagement time on webpages
  • Can provide content to be reshared or leveraged in social media – Reposting customer photos and videos on your brand’s social channels not only expands your brand reach but also encourages browsers to participate in content creation for your brand
Cons
  • Legal issues. UGC belongs to the person who uploaded it. Therefore, you need express permission and must provide direct attribution that makes it clear the content does not belong to you in order to share.
  • Can result in low quality, spammy, or redundant content. Spammers may attempt to funnel traffic from your content to unrelated or spammy content, or attempt to mislead your audience.
  • Carries an SEO risk for domains classified as YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) which is typically defined as domains offering news, government, financial services, health, and medical services. Any negative commentary can greatly impact a domain’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trust). Ultimately, YMYL domains especially need to be seen as trustworthy, in particular during our current state of pandemic and social unrest
  • Can result in negative commentary, which can negatively impact conversions and a domain’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trust)
  • Can result in lack of control over your page content and therefore organic rankings – A moderator should always evaluate and respond to negative reviews and spam content

With all this in mind, the value of user-generated content must be weighed against potential risks to strategically decide if this content is right decision for your brand.

What marketers need to know

User-generated content can be a time and money saving tactic for your brand, making it possible to create authentic and engaging content that builds consumer trust. So, how can you tell if UGC is the right strategy for your brand?

Some type of user-generated content strategy is smart for all brands, regardless of the industry. Tourism, lifestyle, retail, fitness, services, software, and even nonprofits have all used UGC to great effect.

Ultimately, consider a UGC strategy if you:

  • Are launching a new product or service – UGC is a must-do for building anticipation and creating consumer desire
  • Need to create awareness for your brand – Promote content from loyal customers already engaged with your product
  • Want to advertise an experience – In travel and tourism especially, consumers want to visit the location in advance through your customer’s eyes
  • Are hosting a live event – Live hashtag feed during events is great for building engagement
  • Rallying support for a cause – Hashtag campaigns for volunteers in acts of service or around a specific issue are particularly effective

The truth is in the numbers. User-generated content is a proven strategy that should be part of your marketing playbook.

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