What Is User-Generated Content and How Should You Use It?

Last updated on by Ted Vrountas in Conversion Optimization

Want people to pay more for your product? New research shows you should promote it with user-generated content.

According to a study by TurnTo Networks, 90% of consumers say it holds more influence over their buying decisions than promotional emails and even search engine results.

If past campaign results are any indication, they’re right. User-generated content has the potential to impact a number of key performance metrics — but, both positively and negatively. That’s why it’s important to know how to earn it and use it the right way.ike

What is user-generated content?

In marketing, user-generated content (also known as UGC or consumer-generated content) refers to content related to your brand that’s created by someone who’s not an official representative of your business. It could be a social media update, a review, a video, a podcast, or a number of any other types. If it involves your brand, and none of your employees or affiliates created it, it’s user-generated content.

What makes user-generated content so effective?

Unfortunately for us, marketers and advertisers are inherently untrustworthy. We’re tasked with positioning products and services in their best light, and in the process, we omit details that may negatively impact consumer buying decisions (and sometimes we take it a little too far).

With smoke and mirrors (or hairspray and shoe polish?) we can make fast food look appetizing:

With the perfect angle, lighting, and a little help from Photoshop, we can make any hotel look like a resort:

And with staged photographs, we “ruin the day of even the most enthusiastic kids,” all in the name of making the sale:

So we shouldn’t be surprised that a 2013 survey found that 76% of consumers think ads are “very exaggerated” or “somewhat exaggerated.” In that same survey, one in five respondents even went so far as to say they “refuse to make a decision” about a product based on its advertising (impossible unless you’re living under a rock, but still, the point is: people hate most ads).

Later, in 2015, further research revealed people’s perception of the marketing industry as a whole. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t good.

This is how respondents answered when asked: “Who practices integrity?”


Below lawyers, financial institutions, and even US Congress, the marketing and advertising industry managed to earn only 4% of survey respondents’ trust. Later, when asked why media personalities lie, the number one answer given was “they want to ‘sell’ more effectively:”

It’s pretty easy to see why consumer-generated content is so effective: because it’s not coming from us — the lying, photoshopping, kids’-day-ruining marketers and advertisers.

We don’t have to speculate, either. According to TurnTo Networks, two-thirds of consumers say UGC creates a more “authentic” buying experience. Product reviews, Instagram photos, unboxing videos — these are unfiltered ways of evaluating an offer that “increase shopper confidence,” claims Jim Davidson, director of research at TurnTo Networks:

Consumers demand a more engaging shopping experience; they're looking to fellow shoppers to answer questions about products and share insights about purchases. This study demonstrates UGC is outpacing traditional marketing tools when it comes to increasing shopper confidence and influencing decisions

He also says that marketers have to “incorporate UGC into each step of the customer journey — not just the product page.” If you have yet to do that, take some tips from brands who have:

User-generated content examples

Dune London’s product pages

While UGC can be used effectively throughout the customer journey, one of the places it has the most impact is on the product page. The team at Dune London discovered that after adding shoppable Instagram photos to their website, which featured real customers wearing and accessorizing their offerings.

Specifically, they found that sales in which shoppers interacted with UGC increased by 82%. Mark Blenkinsop, Digital Marketing Manager at Dune London, says the reason is that the photos of others wearing the company’s products gives prospects the “extra confidence to purchase.”

Warby-Parker’s #warbyhometryon

Five years ago, Warby-Parker began allowing people to request five pairs of the company’s glasses to try on at home. The one they liked most, they could keep and pay for online, while the others could be mailed back.

Before they buy, though, Warby-Parker encourages trial wearers to post photos of themselves to social media with the hashtag #warbyhometryon. Currently, the result is 20,446 Instagram posts featuring people looking for, and giving advice on, which Warby-Parker frames to choose.

GoPro’s YouTube channel

Several years ago, GoPro helped kickstart the UGC movement by working their customers’ content into their marketing strategy. In 2013, it was estimated that 6,000 GoPro videos were uploaded to YouTube per day.

Today, a search for “GoPro” on YouTube yields 40,000,000 results. The brand is more than one of the YouTube’s most popular with nearly 5,000,000 subscribers; it’s also one of the marketing industry’s UGC pioneers.

The company now has its own channel on Virgin American Airlines and the Xbox console, through which viewers can watch as world-class skiers descend mountains, base jumpers leap from towering landmarks, and pelicans learn to fly:

The content is so entertaining, it’ll make you forget you’re watching one big continuous advertisement for GoPro.

T-Mobile break-up letters

When frustrated cell-phone users feared switching carriers because of high termination fees, T-Mobile invited them to submit “break-up letters” detailing their reason for leaving their current provider. In exchange, the company would pay the costs associated with switching from their current carrier.

Through a branded app, users submitted their letters, and many even shared those letters to social media:

At latest count, over 113,000 letters have been written, more than 67 million social impressions have been garnered by the campaign.

Lululemon #thesweatlife

Ordering activewear from a website is never easy. Not only does the clothing have to fit, but for wearers of Lululemon’s line, it has to fit while you’re contorting your body into a human pretzel.

The company’s “#thesweatlife” campaign encourages customers to share photos of themselves in action while sporting the brand’s gear, which ultimately does two things:

It reflects the company’s mantra of “sweat once per day” by inspiring internet users to work out, while also showcasing what the products look like in a variety of athletic positions.

How to incorporate user-generated content into your marketing

As is the case with any new marketing method, it’s important to have a plan for collecting and using UGC. As many as 86% of marketers claim they’ve attempted to incorporate user-generated content into their campaigns, but only 27% say they had a strategy for doing so.

Here are a few things you’ll want to figure out before launching your own UGC campaign:

Determine the goal of your UGC campaign

The effect user-generated content has on your business depends on what kind you plan to collect and how you use it. If your goal is to boost brand awareness, a hashtag campaign like Loews’ #TravelForReal on Instagram can help create buzz about your product or service:

If your goal is to boost website conversions, a campaign that solicits customer reviews, like this one from Amazon, can help you earn the social proof you need to make the sale:

Remember that the goal of any UGC campaign is to generate content that your customers actually use to inform their buying decisions. You want more than pretty pictures uploaded to Instagram.

For example, GoPro’s YouTube channel effectively illustrates all the different ways the product can be used; and T-Mobile’s breakup letters showcase all the different reasons for dropping your current carrier.

Make sure, before you start creating hashtags and calling for content, that you know what you want to accomplish with your UGC once it’s generated.

Create a system to collect consumer-generated content

T-Mobile received over 100,000 breakup letters by the end of its campaign. To use them effectively, the company needed a system to collect and organize it all.

Before the start of their campaign, T-Mobile’s marketing team decided to use a branded app that integrated with Facebook.

On the other hand, National Geographic dedicates a page on their website to collect user photo submissions for their 2017 Travel Photographer of the Year contest:

Your collection method doesn’t have to be anything highly technical, though. Many companies find a branded hashtag to provide all the organization they need.

Although, collecting on social media with a branded hashtag can be a little trickier since ownership rights over photos and posts can be a bit harder to earn. By collecting UGC via an app or portal, companies can be confident that what they collect can be used in official advertising campaigns without legal issues.

Be clear about what you want and what you’re willing to offer

Some companies, like GoPro, are breeding grounds for user-generated content. UGC is built into their product design.

But for most brands, earning user-generated content requires an offer in exchange. National Geographic’s is a $2,500 prize along with a “Galapagos expedition for two,” while T-Mobile’s was paying for termination fees.

If you run a campaign to collect UGC, make sure that the rules are made clear to your audience and that you offer a reward proportional to the effort involved in creating the content. Here’s a great example from National Geographic’s campaign.

Skim through those terms and conditions and you’ll find no confusing legalese. All the rules and prizes are written in plain language to make it easy for any member of the company’s audience to comprehend.

Consult legal specialists

Running a consumer-generated content campaign is anything but straightforward from a legal standpoint. Rules surrounding giveaways are often complicated depending on your location and medium of collection — as are your rights to any content generated by your users. You’d be wise to consult legal specialists before using any UGC in your marketing.

Be prepared for anything

Jill Byron is the Vice President of Marketing at Mode Media. In an article for Advertising Age, she offers some advice to brands who want to be “more authentic,” which is also valuable for companies looking to solicit user-generated content.

Don't sell your product -- stand it up and let it run. Let everyday people, professional creators and experts communicate their love or need for your brand in their words and style. Be willing to be criticized or attacked. There's real value in finding out things you may or may not want to hear.

While it’s worth following, it’s also important to keep in mind that some of these “everyday people” don’t always have the best intentions when creating UGC. In the past, brands that haven’t monitored user submissions closely have faced PR nightmares sparked by internet trolls.

Make sure you have an employee dedicated to catching anything potentially harmful to your company before it’s seen by too many users. Or, take the National Geographic approach by making all your users submit content via your website. That way, the odds of anything offensive reaching the public become much lower.

Learn from negative UGC, but showcase the positive

UGC allows consumers a more authentic buying experience, but at the end of the day, you’re still a marketer. Content that criticizes or attacks your brand should be taken into consideration, but not spread to the masses.

Curate content and monitor your submissions closely and pick only the best pieces of user-generated content to work into your company’s marketing campaigns.

Get started with user-generated content

Collecting valuable user-generated content takes more than coming up with a hashtag. Good UGC adds value to the brand.

It can show people the capability of a particular product or service, spread awareness, and boost social proof during the purchasing process.

Always connect all your ads to personalized post-click landing pages to lower your cost per customer acquisition. Start creating your dedicated post-click pages by signing up for an Instapage Enterprise demo today.

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