You’ve probably heard the old marketers’ adage, “It’s cheaper to retain customers than to try to win new ones.”

What if that wasn’t necessarily true? Are you new to the world of User-Generated Content (UGC)? Or are you familiar with it but you’re not sure how to include it into your marketing strategies? Well, here’s a blog post for you!

User-Generated Content is genuine, organic content created by, well, your users. Your customers, your audience, regular people who interact with you, and create content that can be used to champion your brand. It’s a fairly new trend in marketing, and it’s picking up steam because marketers are seeing that it definitely works. Oh, you want some proof? Well, UGC-based content has shown to be 20% more influential on purchasing decisions than other types of media. That’s probably a good indicator of why 25% of search results for the world’s top 20 brands are links to UGC.

Why does it work?

For a variety of reasons. People don’t feel sold to. UGC is a conversation, rather than a brand broadcasting a sales message. It creates a personal connection between a brand and its customers because these customers feel that their opinions are heard and valued. That makes people want to participate in UGC, which in turn, creates “social proof”: it makes audiences feel that if other people like a product, they probably will, too. And, it helps brands make sure they’re talking about what their audience is really interested in, because it’s the audience doing the talking!

So…UGC is a win for marketers.

You get more content marketing without expending a lot of resources or budget, and you increase your ROI, as well as the engagement and loyalty of your customers. Does it get better than that? Sure sounds like that old adage might need a bit of a rewrite.  

So what messages can you use UGC for, and how can you add it into your marketing mix?

Market your products in a real way

You knew I was going to say that. But it’s true, collecting UGC is a perfect way to market your products. Fashion house Burberry, for example, used UGC of people wearing Burberry products, launching a website dedicated to men and women wearing all colors and sizes of their trench coats. It was a great way of showing the versatility of their product, and how it can be worn in real life by real people (instead of showing a nude high-fashion model wearing it in a way that only she can – cough-Rosie Huntington-Whiteley-cough). Burberry’s ecommerce sales jumped 50% year-over-year following the launch of the site.

Use UGC to change your product…really

How can you use UGC to change your product? Figure out what your audience really wants and use it to determine the future of a product, like Heineken did. Through the Reinvent the Draught Beer Experience challenge, customers could share videos and ideas to help improve the product (while, of course, increasing brand engagement!).

Advertise with reviews

Did you know that 87% of consumers use reviews to help them decide on a purchase? I know I sure do – when considering the purchase of exercise equipment, I watched the product video and checked out the company’s site…and then I spent most of my time reading all the reviews to see what the “truth” really was. I’m not alone. That’s why sites like Amazon work so well, and why Airbnb is so successful: people rely on the opinions of others. Kia discovered the power of reviews, and used them to create this convincing video ad:

Market your events

User-Generated Content doesn’t always have to focus on products. Events are a social thing, so it’s likely a lot of UGC can be created at any of your events. Collect the content to use it as promotional footage for the next year. Use it to figure out what worked and what didn’t, and what your audience really wants to see so you can create even stronger campaigns for future events. Use it as reviews for your event landing pages.

Market your brand and team culture

This video from Target shows a Target employee giving a rousing speech to other employees on a Black Friday, encouraging them to serve their customers well and have some fun. The user in this case was another company employee, and the video promoted Target’s brand through the dedication and passion of its awesome team players. Target released the video, using the UGC content to highlight their team culture.

Use UGC to create top-of-funnel campaigns

You don’t have to rely on product reviews for your UGC. Take a look at how Coca-Cola used User-Generated Content. The content doesn’t have anything to do with their product, but they used the fun and entertaining quality of the content to create their own top-of-funnel campaign.

Promote philanthropic efforts

What’s better than getting the warm fuzzies from a story about the impact of a company’s philanthropic efforts? Instead of issuing a press release or putting some official pictures on your blog, you can use UGC to create an experience between you and your audience. The results will feel more genuine, and the impact can be greater.

Estee Lauder created a breast cancer awareness campaign in 2013, encouraging women to support each other and create healthy habits, and share their stories. Images, stories, and videos were shared, helping to create a positive, relatable and human experience.

What forums are perfect for UGC?

User-Generated Content is perfect for more than social media. Here are a few ways you can use it.

Create video campaigns

No matter what your message is or what content you want to promote, consider creating a video campaign. After all, it’s the next best thing to being there in person, so it helps your audience connect with you in ways other media can’t.

Take Pampers, for example. They collected a bunch of videos uploaded by parents (after asking permission, of course!), and combined them into one enjoyable, emotional, and relatable campaign that received a lot of positive feedback from their audience.

Yes, you should add UGC to social media

When you think of interacting with your audience, you probably think of social media. User-Generated Content is typically created through social media, and it’s natural place to share it, too. After all, social media users spend more than five hours a day consuming UGC. For example, Facebook users watch more than four billion videos a day. While that’s not all UGC, it proves that social media is a great place to share your UGC in the form of video or other media.

User-Generated Content is a stronger option than posting brand-created advertisements, since social users ignore or block those ads. UGC, on the other hand, performs better, offering a 300% higher click-through rate, and 50% lower cost per acquisition. It feels natural, and instead of standing out and being pushy, it feels like it’s an inviting part of the social experience.

Add it to your website

Whether video or other format, UGC is perfect for your website or landing pages. Stella and Dot, the jewelry company, includes UGC right on their home page, showing women wearing their jewelry in all kinds of unique and individualized ways (which always makes me want to buy more of it!).

It’s perfect for creating a connection with your visitor, and helping them experience your product in a different way from sales messaging.

Add it to blog posts

Whether created by you or by the customer him- or herself, a blog post is a perfect place to add some UGC, whether video, images, or plain text. It tells a story in a more genuine way, and helps the content feel less sales pitch-y, and more informative, entertaining, and authentic.

So there you have it. Try out some of those ideas for yourself, and let us know how User Generated Content works for you! Just remember: make it easy for your audience to generate that content (no red tape, please!), and keep it real (leave buying phony reviews to the companies who need it!). You’ll end up with a strong and impactful experience!

Photo of a desk with a laptop, charts, etc. overlaid with text reading:

Emily Ross