It’s no secret that traditional branded content doesn’t have the same effect it once did – consumers are quickly becoming desensitised to long-established styles of advertising. But many are catching up: six out of ten brands now have a standalone budget for content marketing, putting in place new strategies to attract attention without being obvious.

The social landscape

Social media is an everchanging landscape, constantly being redefined by current trends, algorithm changes and new in-app features. Long form videos, live Q+As, and in-platform shopping are all designed to rack up more minutes spent clicking, scrolling, swiping, and sharing. In turn, social media consumption is at a record high. Statista recently announced that users are now spending an average 145 minutes on social media channels every day; a vast proportion of that time is spent with various forms of promotional content.

In an ongoing battle to drive clicks, engagements and sales, some organisations have been forced to act strategically to cut through the noise on social. The result? A boom in user generated content. By encouraging consumers to shout about a brand’s products, services and values, businesses can humanize communications, increase consumer trust, and encourage advocacy among audiences. While UGC often serves the purpose of helping brands stand out with a refreshed look and feel, it’s equally important for others to blend in with more authentic content in a typically brand-heavy space.

How UGC helps brands blend in

When it comes to using and encouraging authentic content all year round, several brands have cracked the code. Homeware brand’s Instagram feed is 99% UGC, re-sharing tagged photos with witty captions and trendy references. Their website even features a call to action that encourages Instagram tags which could result in a re-share on the site itself. Furniture items on the website contain traditional listings with professional photography, but scroll further down, and you’ll find real-life examples of the item in-situ, using user generated photography.

Swedish fashion brand Monki does something similar, using tagged Instagram photographs for their online listings to give shoppers a more authentic look at their clothing items on real people. Their hashtag #monkistyle has a page on their website featuring UGC where consumers can shop in reverse, tracing back each clothing item to the sales page.

As consumers increasingly look for authenticity in their favourite brands, the move toward UGC as a core content type in a brand’s marketing strategy is certainly a step in the right direction.

How UGC helps brands stand out

Sometimes, it’s best for brands to introduce UGC to stand out in a memorable way. An early success story of a brand that actively went against the grain to make their voice heard was Coca Cola’s 2013 campaign, where Coke printed 150 popular names on its bottles and encouraged customers to ‘share a coke’ with their loved ones. The campaign was an overnight hit and people were quick to digitally toast each other in the form of social shares. It picked up 7 awards at the Cannes Lions festival and drove unprecedented sales results for the business.

Since 2017, the streaming giant Spotify visualises and feeds back users’ annual listening habits in a presentable way, prompting millions of listeners across the globe to share what they’ve had on repeat for the past year, from Taylor Swift’s greatest hits through to True Crime podcasts. Spotify also takes ‘Wrapped’ above-the-line, plastering the year’s most streamed artists – along with listening figures – across billboards and along the sides of buses. It’s a great example of a brand using data in a respectable way that doesn’t feel too invasive. And it pays off: in 2020, ‘Wrapped’ led to a 21% increase in Spotify’s mobile app downloads in the first week of December alone.

Where UGC can go wrong

Whilst well-planned calls to action for UGC can result in waves of gleaming customer content and feedback, dissatisfied customers or internet pranksters can dominate a campaign by getting involved for all the wrong reasons.

In May 2017, the official Walkers Twitter account offered fans the chance to win Champions League Final tickets if they uploaded a selfie with the hashtag #WalkersWave. In an automated video replying to those who submitted their selfies, Gary Lineker thanked the user for their submission, before holding the uploaded image to the camera and remarking: “Nice selfie.” However, Twitter users with mal-intent caught wind that there was little-to-no monitoring on the automated tweet mechanic and quickly started uploading images of the good, the bad and the very ugly – including notorious serial killers.

This slip-up resulted in a wave of poor publicity for the F&B giants and acted as a reminder to all to approach UGC with caution.

At the height of COP26, a new Instagram feature began to make the rounds – an ‘Add Yours’ sticker that read ‘We’ll plant 1 tree for every pet picture’ encouraged users to contribute their own photos to the Instagram Story trend, garnering over 4 million shares. Soon after this, the business behind the trend, Plant A Tree Co., came forward to claim responsibility in an Instagram post, explaining that they realised they would be unable to deliver their promise after the sticker went viral, but Instagram continued to allow it to be shared. Despite being a highly effective method of obtaining UGC, users have now become distrustful of the Plant A Tree business, resulting in a major backfire for the company and other similar movements.

UGC: The Highs

  • It’s one of the most cost-effective campaign formats. With users becoming the creators, UGC requires little maintenance in terms of content creation – resulting in an excellent way for brands on a budget to spread awareness.
  • People trust people. According to Shopify, UGC-based ads achieve 4x higher click-through rates and a 50% reduction in cost-per-click than standard branded content. Consumers are becoming desensitised to traditional advertising – so it’s never been more important to stay authentic.
  • It encourages brand loyalty. Quite simply put, sharing a customer’s story actively shows your appreciation for them, and makes it more likely for them to come back again in the future.

UGC: The Lows

  • There will always be negative content. UGC calls are designed to encourage authentic feedback from real customers, so it’s inevitable that not everyone will leave a glowing review. Whether it’s an inappropriate Instagram comment, a poor product review or a harmful blog post – stay conscious and tread carefully to avoid damaging your brand image.
  • Managing the community. UGC will always require close supervision from somebody. Sharing content across socials, replying to customer reviews and monitoring message sentiment will all require time and money to execute well. Failure to monitor UGC campaigns can result in an influx of poor feedback, spamming, and in some cases, black-hat SEO attacks.
  • Keep it above board. When re-purposing employee and customer feedback, brands must remain conscious of the legalities. For example, even if a user uploads an image using a specific campaign hashtag, the brand is still required to ask for explicit permission before reposting it to their own channel.

Keeping up with the trends

Evidence suggests that user-generated content is growing in popularity amongst brands and consumers alike. Understandably, users value the honesty and integrity of an individual over generic promotional messaging from a large business – and this is exactly why brands need to be smart in re-distributing positive stories and feedback via their own channels in a distinctive manner. At saintnicks, we’ve seen first-hand how embracing UGC has elevated our brands’ social media presence and increased revenue. The key to UGC is a pro-active yet measured approach – with a focus on authenticity, purpose and loyalty throughout. So whether you’re looking to break through the noise on social, or incorporate more natural-feeling content into your posting plan – UGC can serve a vital purpose in shaping your next content strategy. If you fancy a chat on all things user-generated, get in touch with our team today.