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What is UGC?

UGC is the abbreviation for user-generated content. User-generated content is content (visual, written, etc.) created by entities other than the brand being represented in the content. It could be a customer, a shopper in your store or even a browser on your site.

Below is an example of UGC from Society6. You can see that they reposted an image from a customer posing with one of their products.

The value of UGC

Even though UGC is sometimes lesser quality than your professionally shot product photos, it's still impactful. In fact, more than three-quarters of shoppers prefer customers' shots to professional ones, according to one Yotpo survey. And Shopify reports that placing those photos on product pages can increase conversions by as much as 24%.

Social proof is powerful, even without photos. A Salesforce survey found that more than half of people trust information from online reviews and peers, compared to just 20% who trust brands directly.

Beyond directly impacting sales, UGC is also valuable for your marketing efforts. This can reduce the amount of content you need to generate internally. Just remember to get the appropriate permissions for use (more on that later). Even if you don't USE the UGC, it can serve as inspiration.

How to encourage customers to share content

Only 10% of shoppers who have a positive experience with a brand feel compelled to share it on social media, according to one Ipsos study. That means consumers typically need an extra nudge to help amplify your brand.

Some brands and products inherently lend themselves to social sharing. But many brands don't fall into that category and need to put in a bit of extra thought behind their UGC curation strategy.

To do this, it helps to consider what actually motivates consumers to share content on social media in the first place. CoSchedule looked into that:

  • 84% of users engage in social media to support initiatives and brands they care about
  • 78% like to stay connected to people they may not otherwise
  • 69% do it to participate in the world
  • 68% want to share more about their personal identity
  • 49% share to inform, influence or inspire action around the product

Based on those insights, look for ways to connect your brand or product to a social-sharing motivator. For example, if you have a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR), you'll want to prompt customers to share content about that.

So where does that content get shared, and how do you collect it? Eyeglass brand TheraSpecs marketing manager Gregory Bullock advises brands to take inventory of their existing feedback systems. "You probably have more systems than you realize," he says — even if UGC isn't yet a focus for you.

Once you've audited those touchpoints, you can adjust how you encourage users to share content. Sometimes, it's as simple as asking. "If an ecstatic customer gives you a glowing rating, follow up with them," says Bullock. "At a minimum, see if you can share what they've already submitted but also to see if they're willing to offer more details that you can leverage elsewhere."

You can also use other channels, even outside of post-purchase communications. Solo Stove sent out an email to ask their customers for their opinion, which led users to a form on their site. The brand then incorporates that UGC into their own campaigns.

When all else fails, you can always incentivize it. That's way Niyama Sol Ambassador Alex Tran does. "When people post unboxing videos or flat lays of their clothing, we reward them with points and post the flat lays on our social media accounts," she says. "We sometimes run contests to generate user engagement."

They use the SocialLadder app to reward users with points towards free Niyama Sol merchandise in exchange for sharing content. They also use the #mysolstyle hashtag to curate the content in a single feed. You can also host contests and giveaways, requiring UGC as a way to be eligible to win.

How to get high-quality UGC

UGC and high-quality UGC are certainly two different things. While imperfections are more authentic and engaging, they're not as useful when it comes to repurposing the content for other channels.

Create buzz about your brand with these tips on repurposing product photos

This is as simple as reviewing what content is being shared and picking out those whose aesthetic matches your brand and your audience.

This is the approach that the marketing team at Würkin Stiffs takes. "Reaching out to followers with a decent-sized social media following and who are already posting good content has been the most successful," says Dylan Self, ecommerce marketing manager for the brand. "They're already familiar with the brand and are appreciative of being noticed."

Self also notes that this requires a manual process, which can be time-consuming for bootstrapped companies in particular. His advice? "Get out there in the social media scene and really tap into your customer base and network," he says. "Send honest DMs and emails, over-deliver on products, and have fun."

Getting permission to use UGC

It's important to note the legalities behind using other people's content. Customer reviews are typically published publicly and don't require permission, especially if it's on Amazon or your website.

You're also completely okay to repost or share content posted publicly on users' social media pages. And you're free to embed social media posts that are public and put them on your website (they're great in blog posts!). But you'll likely need to request permission for anything else.

You can also create an "approval hashtag" — essentially, a hashtag associated with your brand that implies everything posted with that hashtag has been approved for the brand to use as they see fit.

Remember, it's always best to consult a legal professional who can advise you on your specific scenario, as every situation is different.

How you can use UGC in your digital marketing strategy

Customer reviews

Customer reviews are probably one of the most common forms of UGC, and they're also extremely impactful. Only 2.2% of consumers don't reference them at all, per The eMarketer Ecommerce Insights Report.

Lucky for you, customer reviews are also one of the easiest forms of UGC to collect. If you haven't already, set up automated emails to solicit feedback in the form of a customer review.

You can also allow customers to add photos to their customer reviews (this is one of Yotpo's features, for example).

If you're selling on Amazon, there's also a question and answer section filled with UGC. Users can submit questions about a particular product, and those who've purchased the item in the past are free to respond with their answers. You can use these Q&As to inform an FAQ page on your site, or the product descriptions for the item on Amazon and elsewhere.

Beyond publishing reviews on their respective product pages, you can also create an entire page on your site dedicated to them. The Cat Ball has a page that lists of all of their customer reviews, using the app to automate the feedback collection process.


Repost on social media

Remember, you can repost all you want on social media without needing permission. This is a quick and easy way to boost social proof not only for your brand but also for the customer who shared about your brand. Validating your followers by promoting their content is an excellent way to nurture relationships.

Cassie Pauley, social media and PR manager at Evelyn & Bobbie, frequently works with influencers to create UGC for the brand. For new product launches, she coordinates with their targeted influencers to send them product to test before it's available to the larger market.

"We send out product with printed collateral urging them to post, tag and share on social media," says Pauley. "We generally repost it on all of our social media channels."

Pauley credits their successful influencer collaborations to the exclusivity of early access to the product. "Customers are going to be more likely to share if they're excited, love it and want to be an early adopter," she says.

Publish on your website

There are a few ways you can use UGC on your website. The simpler, more straightforward way — and the one that doesn't require permissions — is by featuring a social feed on your website. This could be on a section of your site or on a separate page dedicated entirely to this purpose (this works especially well if you have a specific campaign).

This is the approach that OUAI Haircare takes:

You can also take it to the next level and request original content from users so that you can publish it on your site. This might be customer stories on your blog, product photos on individual product pages, or website and social media banners, to name a few ideas.

Grilla Grills actually encourages customers submit recipes to use with their smokers and grills. They wanted the community to be more involved in recipe development for the brand, so they designed an entire page specifically for recipe submissions.

The brand then shares the recipes on social media, and users head over and excitedly engage with the content. Not only does it become a great resource and way to interact with our current existing customers, but potential customers feel confident that they can cook like that with their products too.

Use it in email

Email marketing is a great way to nurture customer relationships and stay top-of-mind — and it's a perfect channel for UGC. Huckberry shares an image at the bottom of their email newsletters, usually from hired brand ambassadors.

And United By Blue has repurposed customer reviews for email marketing campaigns. "Due to our commitment to transparency, authenticity, and our mission (for every product we sell, we pledge to remove a pound of trash from the world's oceans and waterways), our products tend to strike an emotional chord with consumers," says Ethan Peck, PR associate for the brand. They also incentivize product reviews in exchange for a discount, so the team has plenty of content to choose from.

Here's an example of an email they sent with animated GIF and customer review:

The UGC in emails complements the UGC they post on social, too. "Our social and photography team has done really well making sure our content is high-quality and consistent," Peck says.

He also credits their success to the brand's engagement with user posts. "Like and respond to their comments, respond to their DMs, like their photos," he recommends. "Give them a reason to continue to come back and share."

Promote the images on Google Shopping

A more outside-the-box approach is to use the UGC on Google Shopping. It's not as widely used as the tactics listed above, but one good example is swimwear brand Cupshe.

Moving forward with UGC for your brand

UGC is a great tool for boosting awareness and credibility for your brand. When you integrate it into your overall digital marketing strategy, including social, email and even your own website, it can help push users to hit the 'buy' button.

As many have noted here, it's important that the UGC you repurpose for other uses is high-quality and matches the aesthetic of your brand. Find some images that are close but not quite there? Send them over to us, and we'll get one of our professional photo editors to create the look you need.

Learn more about photo retouching services that can make your UGC shine

Alexandra Sheehan

In her past agency life, Alex has led digital marketing initiatives for Fortune 500 companies. Now, she’s passionate about helping retailers and retail industry leaders harness the power of the written word and fuse it with strategic content, email and social media marketing campaigns.

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