April 23, 2020

What is User-Generated Content?

The phenomenon of the “influencer”, with their followers counted in thousands if not millions, has transformed the social fabric of our society. They have also created a lucrative new marketing channel for brands. Despite the vast numbers of influencers (Instagram counts around 558,462 active influencers on their platform), recent research has found that the vast majority of internet users lack confidence in what they see and read online. Only 8% of them globally think that three-quarters or more of the information they get from social media is true.

This drops to 4% when it comes to information from mega-influencers like celebrities and bloggers/vloggers. That was the finding of Universal McCann’s UM 10th annual Wave study which tracks 56,000 internet users around the globe.

While there are plenty of traditional influencers with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers and booming megaphones, they don’t make up the majority of people on social media. As the demand for brand authenticity explodes and companies look to user-generated content (UGC) as a way to connect with their customers in an authentic way, advertisers are increasingly looking to leverage micro-influencers -- accounts with less than 1,000 followers – in their creative campaigns. At the end of the day, consumers are humans, which is why shared, real-life moments can affect the purchasing decisions of hundreds of millions of consumers.

Not only do consumers trust UGC much more than traditional forms of advertising, but they also regard micro-influencers as being more personally-invested in the content they are creating, so therefore trust them as authoritative resources when they’re deciding whether to buy a product.

But what really is “user-generated content” and why do companies want to advertise with it so badly? In this post, we’ll explore the breadth and depth of UGC, as well as its unprecedented impact on the advertising industry at large. 

The rise of user generated content

If you use the internet, chances are you’ve come into contact with user generated content (UGC). UGC is defined as any material produced by a person – from an amateur photographer to a professional content creator to a passive social media user – and uploaded to the internet. It can include artwork, music or film, to name a few, and is increasingly used by brands to showcase their products and services.

Contrary to popular belief, UGC does not solely refer to millennial memes or viral cat videos. Nor does it refer to overtly branded posts. Analisa Goodin, Founder and CEO of Catch&Release, a content curation and licensing company, sums it up best: “We see Sourced Content – another term for UGC – as a medium, which expands a broad spectrum of creative needs, from very high production value, to viral videos, to candid moments captured by someone on their iPhone.” Whether that’s a TikTok dance challenge video, or an up-and-coming photographer’s cinematic drone footage, UGC’s creative range is as limitless as the internet.

Democratization of Content Creation

The lines between a professional or non-professional content creator are blurred, which creates a huge opportunity for brands to use authentic content to tell different kinds of stories that haven’t been able to be told before. We call this the “democratization of advertising”.

While social media is often the best channel to access this type of content, it can come from anywhere (Think: blogs, personal websites or video sharing platforms). This is in large part due to advanced camera technology. “Everyone has pretty decent technology in their pocket to be able to create whatever they want – which wasn’t always the case,” notes Aaron Duffy, founder and creative director at SpecialGuest. Content has thus become "democratized.” Anyone and everyone can create and share their work online, opening the floodgates to millions of creative options for brands and advertisers to tap into. 

Over 100 million photos are uploaded to Instagram every day, and 500+ hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Yes, you read that correctly. This sheer amount of content readily available online makes it no surprise that UGC has risen in popularity among brands and advertisers over the past decade. They can now find any type of content in an instant -- cinematic, archival, hyper-local, feel-good, you name it -- to make their creative vision come to life.

Social media hasn’t just made interactions with consumers more natural – it has democratized content creation so that real people can contribute to the experiences brands are trying to create. And with more people creating and consuming content faster than ever, the impact of a single piece of content will become more valuable (and truly, influential) than the personality or celebrity status of the person who posted it.

 

Authentic Storytelling

But the benefits go beyond the freedom to source from across the entire web. UGC also offers flexibility in versioning and editing (since the content is pre-existing) and enables advertisers to create more meaningful connections with consumers through more authentic visual storytelling. It's clear the inherent authenticity of user-generated content is good for business. And study after study has proven it: TurnTo Networks’ 2017 consumer study found that 90% of consumers were influenced the most by content of or by their peers and family, outranking branded promotional emails and even search engine results. In a recent survey of 100 advertising professionals published by Catch&Release, the ability to “increase brand trust” was ranked as the top reason for deploying UGC in creative campaigns.

Consumers want their relationships with brands to be participatory – they expect their values to be observed and their individual preferences respected; they want consistent and authentic engagement at every level (not to mention every screen); and they want their lived experiences to be reflected in the way brands present themselves to the world. Ultimately, this is the magic that user-generated content can create for both brands and the customers they serve.

In this age of content overload, many advertisers are struggling to keep up with increased demand, when budgets are tighter, and timelines are shorter than ever before. UGC not only provides necessary flexibility, it’s an effective creative medium for driving both brand affinity and consumer action. With UGC, brands have the power to impact culture by leveraging authentic content, produced by real people, to tell culturally relevant, emotionally compelling visual stories.