UGC: The Brand’s Guide to Finding and Cultivating User-Generated Content in 2021 (Updated July 2021)

user generated content UGC

So, there you are scrolling your way through Instagram on a Sunday night when suddenly you come across the perfect post for your upcoming campaign. It’s a great shot of your product in action that you just know your target demo will love. Problem is, even though the post features your product, it’s not your post! This type of content is known as user generated content (UGC), which is jargon for “branded content that wasn’t created directly by a brand.”

UGC is a vital part of any successful social and digital marketing strategy. If done correctly user generated content can bolster social engagement, increase leads and drive sales. The flip of that coin, UGC can also leave you vulnerable to legal action or a PR nightmare.

It’s 2021, and user-generated content is stronger than ever. Between the growth of new social media platforms (looking at you, TikTok) to an increase in the technical savviness of millennials and Gen Z’ers, 2021 may very well be THE YEAR of user-generated content. To help your brand maximize its UGC efforts, we’ve updated this post with all new ways to find and cultivate user-generated content. All updates are in bold below. 

Who Owns Content on Social Channels

The general rule of thumb is that whoever posts the original content, owns that content. The second that picture is snapped or that video starts rolling, the copyright is set. If you repost or use that original image without permission or consent, you leave yourself liable to recourse from the original poster. Don’t assume that you can just grab any ol’ post off of a person’s social feed to use for your own means.

Why Use User Generated Content?

Risks aside, user generated content provides a ton of value to a brand’s social and digital presence. As a general observation, UGC:

  • Costs Less to Produce: Probably one of the top reasons for using UGC is that it’s practically “free” to the brand. No need to hire out a photographer or videographer, and forget having to rent studio space. Any creative costs were already covered by the creator of the post.
  • Builds Consumer Trust51% of consumers trust UGC over any message shared by a brand’s owned property. Even if it’s the same message, people are more likely to trust it coming from a third party than from an advertising campaign. By incorporating user generated content into your content mix, you can help to strengthen trust between you and your audience.
  • Increases Your SEO Value: According to Kiss Metrics, for the world’s 20 largest brands, 25% of their search results link to UGC. The more links to your site the more organic traffic and backlinks.
  • Earns More Engagement and Increases Follower Count: Engagement increases 28% when user generated content is used in product videos. On top of that, fans are twice as likely to share user generated content with their friends and family, which helps to expose your channel to new fans and potential followers.

Pro Tip: The above point holds true for advocacy marketing campaigns as well! Be sure to incorporate UGC in your SocialToaster (or other advocacy platform) campaign to drive engagement and fan actions.

Where Can You Find Brand-Aligned UGC On Social Media?

If you’re on the hunt for user generated content, we recommend starting with a third-party social media content audit. Specifically, focus on the following:

  • Location Tags: If you’re a brick-and-mortar location, use the location tag in Instagram and other platforms to view social posts that people have published while at your location.
  • Brand/Product Name Hashtags: Perform a search using your brand name or product name as the tag to identify social users already engaging with your product.
  • Lifestyle Hashtags: Don’t be afraid to move away from your brand to look for content that would appeal to the lifestyle of your target demographic.
  • Run a Social Media Contest Built Around a Specific Hashtag: Have people use the contest tag as the means of entry to help catalogue and build your UGC options.

How to Share UGC To Your Social Channels

You found the content, now what?

1) Ask for Permission

For brands that want to share a specific piece of user generated content, the easiest place to start is to ask the creator if you can share the post. When asking, be sure to keep the following tips in mind:

  • Be succinct and polite in your request
  • A little flattery on the image can go a long way
  • Be transparent in what you’re using the post for (campaign, single posting, advocacy program, etc.)
  • Be sure to state that you’ll give credit to the post creator

Most of the time, if you follow the above steps the person on the other end will pass along the okay. However, sometimes a creator might deny your request or ask for compensation to use their content. If they deny your request, move on to the next piece of user generated content you want to share. If they ask for compensation, you’ll have to decide if the content is worth the compensation requested.

Pro Tip: When building a social media contest (any contest, not just UGC-centric), be sure to include some legal around image rights. Many brands will include a section in the rules that states that by using the contest hashtag they’re giving consent to the brand to reuse that content as they see fit. Be sure your social contests include this language if you want blanket reposting approval on user generated content posts. If your contest didn’t include this provision, then reach out to each poster on a one-to-one basis to get the required permission.

2) Give Credit to The Original Creator

Permission in hand, it’s time to post that sweet, sweet UGC!

It’s considered good form to give credit to the original poster when you repost their creative. While the mechanics for this vary by platform, the gist is the same: tag or name the account that provided the content so that those seeing the post know who the original creator was. Extra points if you drop a watermark on the image that includes the original creator’s account name.

3) Thank the Original Creator

Once the post has been published, reach back out to the creator and thank them. Let them know where they can find the repost. Also, consider sending some swag as a thank you. A little Koozie love can go a long way towards ensuring their cooperation for any future sharing possibilities.

4) Maintain Your Aesthetic 

Whether you’re grunge, repetitive, minimalist, spliced, top-down, color or black and white, it’s important to your grid that you keep your aesthetic when choosing which UGC to post. Your grid is how your followers, audience, and new audience members identify you and recognize your posts on their timelines and explore page. For the UGC images that don’t necessarily match your aesthetic but are still share-worthy, throw them up in your stories! For bonus points, create a special highlight tab of UGC images that you want others to see but don’t necessarily match your grid’s aesthetic.

5) Offer Something of Value in Return

In the Age of The Influencer social media users know that good content is worth as much as gold. This means you may come across some users who may be reluctant to allow you to repost their content and use it as you see fit. If this happens to you, offer something of value in return. A discount code, free swag or a gift card can go a long way in winning over hesitant content creators.

Have more questions about user generated content? Let SocialToaster show you how to turn your brand advocates into UGC-creating machines!

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