A Complete Guide to User-Generated Content: Producing the Best On-Brand Influencer UGC

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It’s no secret—consumers would rather get product recommendations from peers rather than brands. A Stackla study found that 60% of consumers view user-generated content (UGC) as the most authentic form of content.

UGC is the finest example of word-of-mouth marketing in the digital age. And leading the pack of vocal consumers are social media creators.

Bar graph of "What kinds of social media do you use regularly?"
Image via Statista

A bar graph titled “What kinds of social media do you use regularly? Social media usage by platform type in the U.S. 2021”

69% of respondents use social networks regularly (e.g. Facebook). 

60% use media sharing (e.g. Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest). 

54% use instant messengers (e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat). 

24% use (Micro-)blogging (e.g. Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress).

20% use business networks (e.g. LinkedIn). 

19% use discussion forums (e.g. Reddit, Quora). 

17% use consumer review networks (e.g. Yelp, TripAdvisor). 

9% do not use social media regularly. 

4% use other social media regularly.

What is UGC?

UGC is any third-party mention of your brand online. Content arising from outside your organization is perhaps the most valuable digital marketing tool at your disposal.

Online mentions from customers, creators, key opinion leaders, other brands, etc., have an enormous impact on your target audience. 

For example, third-party mentions of your brand online make better impressions with that person’s friends, family, and consumer peers. UGC is a form of social proof and word-of-mouth marketing. And as such, UGC is great for building brand awareness.

Woman creating user-generated content by taking a stylish selfie

But even after buyers hear about your brand, they’re going to have questions, hesitations, or objections. UGC can address each of those questions and concerns more efficiently, resulting in buyers moving through your marketing funnel with less friction.

Nurturing authentic UGC should be the marketer’s chief goal when using influencer marketing. When followers see their favorite social media personality using and praising your products or services, they are more likely to convert.

Why is user-generated content so important?

Buyers have lost interest in brand-centered advertising. Organic, authentic growth is the new standard, and this disruption is notably more urgent as social channels become more popular among consumers. 

“More than half of consumers state that word of mouth and social media are their preferred ways to discover new brands.”

– GRIN, 101 Vitally Important Influencer Marketing Statistics

As a result, marketers have shifted their focus to online user-generated content. 

For example, experts found that third-party brand mentions account for a 500% ROI on photos. User-generated posts, videos, online reviews, tags, and hashtags cut through the noise of traditional marketing.

Influencer marketing allows marketers to partner with authentic voices to produce on-brand influencer UGC. Influencers, brand ambassadors, and key opinion leaders are responsible for some of the most impactful UGC on social media. 

What’s the difference between user-generated content and influencer-generated content?

Creator and influencer brand mentions are the most popular types of UGC. Brands partner with social creators who love their brand, and that creator’s product endorsement increases the brand’s bottom line.

As you examine UGC solutions for your organization, it’s necessary to understand that influencer-generated content is a form of UGC. But not all UGC must come from influencers, which is why the two aren’t the same thing.

Here’s a quick comparison of user-generated content and influencer-generated content. 

User-generated content (UGC)Influencer-generated content (IGC)
Can come from anyone outside your brandComes from creators who curate online communities 
Takes many forms (social posts, comments, reviews, etc.)May be homemade but still has a wide reach
Isn’t always professional qualityHas a greater likelihood of going viral
Can be private or publicIs always public
Can include original posts or post comments/sharesTypically refers to original content posts rather than post comments/shares
Can come from brand-influencer collaborations

Types of user-generated content

Like branded content, UGC also comes in various forms.

Many wonder what exactly UGC looks like “in real life.” Let’s look at the most common types of user-generated content that successful brands leverage.

Post comments

These are the comments on your company’s blog posts, product pages on ecommerce sites, and social media posts.

Brands can get more comments on their posts or blogs by adding a call to action (CTA), such as asking the readers to share their experiences using the products or services.

Post shares

While the classic post share on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn still has an enormous impact, TikTok’s stitch and duet features have expanded UGC options on social media. In other words, each social channel has unique sharing options, and marketers who capitalize on those options get far more mileage out of their UGC.

Users share content that resonates with them and their audience. Brands that know how to create shareable content consistently generate more UGC and engagement than those that don’t. 

Customer reviews and ratings

This type of UGC content includes reviews provided by people who have bought and used a company’s products. These are some of the most critical types of user-generated content.

According to a Yotpo study, customers are up to four times more likely to buy products that display star ratings on the buy page.

Bar graph of "Most common ways for online shoppers worldwide to research an unfamiliar digital retailer before making a purchase as of June 2019"
Image via Statista

A bar graph featuring the most common ways for online shoppers worldwide to research an unfamiliar digital retailer before making a purchase as of June 2019.

93.4% of respondents read customer reviews. 

77.5% compare prices across multiple sellers.

66.2% check for a secure payment process.

61.9% use a search engine. 60% look for coupons and discounts. 

33.6% ask friends if they’d recommend the company.

27.2% look at the company’s social media channels.

25.7% look up recent news articles about the company

17.9% look up the company on a business accreditation site. 

13.7% read the company’s mission statement.  

8.8% read about the company’s staff. 

0.2% do none of these.

And according to a BrightLocal study, 85% of consumers believe that online reviews are equivalent to personal recommendations in terms of trustworthiness, and 93% of customers check out local reviews to determine whether a business is good or bad.

How to get more reviews

When you are trying to build a better image for your brand or product, send a post-purchase email to customers to ask for reviews.

Incentivize customers to write reviews by offering them coupons or loyalty reward points in exchange. 

Product reviews from experts

These are reviews done by a relevant third-party, such as creators or bloggers. Brands can leverage influencers to write detailed product reviews and include direct purchase links within their content. 

Like product reviews, UGC doesn’t necessarily have to be detailed and posted on a blog or the company website. People write product reviews in social media posts and online directory listings all the time. Brands can ask creators to write reviews and post them on social media, where they have a solid follower base.

Airbnb is a brand that almost exclusively uses UGC and features it on Instagram. The brand encourages its users to take pictures of their stays at Airbnb properties and tag the brand in their posts. They then select a few to repost.

Brand tags and mentions

Brand mentions mean that a user or creator mentioned a brand in their social media post or Story. These are important because they enhance your brand visibility among users’ followers.

Sponsored posts

Brands can leverage influencers to create content featuring their products.

Brand-influencer collaborations aren’t just a form of UGC; they also inspire followers to engage posts featuring that brand. For best results, creators need to be honest when a brand sponsors their content. 

“Regardless of the creator’s follower count, almost 70% of consumers are bothered when that creator lacks transparency about a sponsored post.”

– GRIN, 101 Vitally Important Influencer Marketing Statistics

Additionally, any product integrations must fit that creator’s brand and message. Genuine product endorsements are authentic and can be as effective as organic UGC.

How can you use creator UGC in your influencer marketing strategy?

To a degree, UGC should happen organically. Even if you partner professionally with influencers, the best IGC is 100% genuine.

That said, you can take steps to leverage available UGC to drive conversions.

Locate as much UGC as possible. 

Particularly during an influencer campaign, be sure to get links and screenshots of your IGC. You can also search hashtags and tags or look for comments/shares on your branded social media posts. 

Organize the UGC. 

After locating UGC, organizing those posts by style, color, and type can help you repurpose those UGC posts across other channels.

Identify trends. 

Not all UGC will affect every audience. Pay attention to which UGC posts (voice, tone, social context, etc.) get more attention than the others.

Attribute UGC to creators. 

When sharing UGC from creators, consider giving them a shoutout. You can also reach out to them directly with appreciation and an invitation to partner in future campaigns.

Calculate influencer UGC engagement.

One indicator of UGC authenticity is engagement. You can manually calculate engagement by dividing the number of shares and comments by the number of followers/views. If you’re using an IRM automation tool like GRIN, the software will identify engagement metrics for you. 

Experiment with creator UGC.

Using trends and engagement metrics, collaborate with your creators and experiment with different kinds of posts. This approach will help you dial in your on-brand UGC to convert more customers.

Repurpose the most successful UGC.

Assuming you have content rights, repurpose your top-performing UGC in your other marketing channels. On-brand influencer UGC makes great content for email newsletters, PPC ads, and more.

Guidelines to produce on-brand influencer UGC

Amassing the right amount and quality of on-brand influencer UGC doesn’t happen by accident. Your brand can tailor your influencer program to produce the kind of UGC that converts.

Few brands illustrate this kind of on-brand influencer user-generated content as well as Lume Cube does. In a recent Brands Working Remote Talking Influencers webinar, Trevor Farrow and Audrey Van Vark from Lume Cube tell the story of how they scaled their program from 50 to 450 active creators focusing on top-notch UGC.

With the help of our friends at Lume Cube and feedback across the spectrum of GRIN clients, we’ve outlined the following critical guidelines for producing on-brand influencer UGC.

Find creators that align with your brand.

The quality of your UGC comes down to your influencer vetting process. You should identify creators that already exemplify the tonality and vision of your brand.

Audiences can spot inauthenticity—especially during influencer marketing campaigns. Those you select to be ambassadors for your brand should already demonstrate an organic connection to your brand.

“You want influencers that talk the talk and walk the walk—not just post the post.”

– Katya Allison, Brands Working Remote Talking Influencers: Lume Cube + GRIN

For Lume Cube, Trevor and Audrey could spot this organic connection among specific kinds of creators, such as those living an active, photography-based lifestyle. These influencers had high engagement metrics because they focused on showing their followers how to improve their skills and overall quality of life.

“We know their stuff is awesome, and we just want them to use [Lume Cube] to keep doing what they’re doing.”

– Trevor Farrow, Brands Working Remote Talking Influencers: Lume Cube + GRIN

When you find the right creators, your work as an influencer marketing manager is much more manageable. Ongoing UGC from your properly vetted creators happens naturally, and audiences can sense the authenticity.

Give your creators guidance on the product or service.

Some of the best on-brand UGC occurs when you give creators free products or complimentary services. 

That said, don’t assume that everyone will use your products or services the right way. Taking the time to guide influencers on how to get the most out of your offerings will be time well-invested toward authentic UGC.

Give creators direction.

Especially with new creators, have a conversation about expectations. Even if your only criteria is, “Your posts are excellent—please do the same thing while incorporating my product,” take steps to tell that influencer what you’re looking for explicitly.

But even in situations where your creators need less guidance, you should help them grasp your brand vision. 

Most successful influencer marketing managers use creative briefs to onboard new creators. These briefs include your brand vision and direction on post tone, marketing angle, and a color palette.

When you want your influencers to post is essential to your campaign objectives. Be sure to discuss timelines (or date ranges) wherein you would like a creator to post.

Lastly, be upfront with your creators about your campaign objectives. They will be more effective if they know you’re looking to drive sales, web traffic, brand awareness, etc.

Offer creators examples of what you’re looking for.

If you know that a particular approach to post style will convert, share it with your influencers. 

By offering screenshots or links to posts that illustrate your expectations, your creator will be able to flex their creativity within the correct parameters.

Pull content from past campaigns that met your objectives. You can use these examples to illustrate what you’d like to see in your upcoming campaign. Discuss these examples with your influencer team and highlight specific attributes that made the example post a success.

Allow influencers to be creative.

As important as it is to discuss expectations before an influencer marketing campaign, you shouldn’t have to micromanage your creators.

Suppose your creative outline prevents your influencers from being able to experiment with different locations, angles, and backgrounds. In that case, you may need to relax a bit and allow room for your creator to achieve the authenticity you seek.

Influencers are successful because of their own creative choices. If you’ve adequately vetted them, you can depend upon them to be effective brand ambassadors.

Influencer Creativity = Impactful Content

Successful influencer marketing managers also collaborate with their creators. If your organization plans to launch a major marketing initiative—such as an experiential marketing campaign—discussing creative ideas with your influencers can raise the effectiveness of your other marketing campaigns.

Measure success by your ability to repurpose UGC content.

At the beginning of your influencer program, you hope your creators will post. And you’re likely to feel satisfied with their willingness to work with you at all.

But before long, you’re going to prefer quality UGC over quantity. Instead of just hoping that a creator will post, exert effort to collect UGC that you can repurpose across your owned and paid media channels.

The best IGC is authentic and versatile. You will be able to reuse that content across multiple marketing channels, including branded social media, PPC ads, and email marketing.

Add creator management tools to scale your influencer UGC.

Brands like Lume Cube, MVMT Watches, and Organifi quickly learned that using spreadsheets to manage their influencer programs can get overwhelming.

At first, managing your creator relationships on spreadsheets will suffice. Because successful influencer marketing is data-driven, you must keep track of your creators and critical campaign metrics.

But to scale your creator management team like a pro, you will eventually need a platform that can automate all the time-consuming parts of your program. The tools you choose should save you time and increase the effectiveness of your campaigns.

Where should UGC software fit into your marketing tech stack?

If you’ve not already done so, you should discuss UGC with your broader marketing team to decide where a platform fits into your overall marketing tech stack. Depending on your marketing plan’s size, you may need more than one UGC solution to help you achieve your goals.

What is UGC software?

“User-generated content (UGC) platforms, also known as customer-generated content (CGC) platforms, help brands collect visual product or company mentions from social media and other sources to repurpose for marketing efforts.”

G2.com

UGC already exists in various places online, particularly for brands with a large customer base, but it’s up to the brand to find it. These software solutions help brands find those posts, comments, images, etc., and then create a process for obtaining usage rights, sharing those posts, resolving conflict, and more.

Additionally, the right UGC platform will help brands create more opportunities for ongoing UGC, such as:

  • Experiential campaigns
  • Virtual contests and events
  • Influencer campaigns
  • Product review requests
  • Promoting UGC

What do you hope to accomplish with UGC?

For most brands, UGC means earning trust from new prospects and customers faster. Third-party mentions can give your brand enormous credibility.

As such, taking the time to name your UGC goals will help you select the right set of tools. Each brand works differently, as does every industry and audience segment. Your UGC goals should be specific to your industry, audience, and brand.

How will you define UGC ROI?

After identifying your goals, you can assign a few key performance indicators (KPIs) to each. For example, if your goals pertain to increasing brand awareness, your KPIs might include:

  • To increase social media following by [percentage] by [deadline]
  • To achieve [number] engagements by [deadline]

Whatever your UGC goals are, establishing relevant KPIs and performance metrics are critical for calculating your strategy’s effectiveness and selecting the right tools.

What different types of UGC software are there?

UGC all-in-one tools

Several software platforms are dedicated entirely to finding, creating, and managing your UGC. They each serve many different purposes with an emphasis on maximizing UGC ROI.

You may or may not need an all-in-one solution. For example, if your business is new, you may achieve better results by using free tools and spreadsheets to manage your UGC online.

But your marketing goals will also dictate what type of UGC solution you need. Many platforms specialize in UGC management only, while others do a little bit of everything.

Social listening

Social listening tools focus on identifying people on social media accounts who talk about your brand. These platforms target tagged and untagged mentions so that you don’t have to dig for UGC manually.

Social listening solutions are ideal for brands only concerned with knowing what people say about their brand on social media. You can use this tool to amplify positive voices, invite customers into a brand community or advocacy program, address negative feedback, and more.

Customer review management

For many brands, positive customer reviews are critical for growth and credibility. If this is true for your brand, many UGC solutions focus on helping you collect and manage reviews from customers.

You want as many positive public reviews as possible. To achieve this, you will need to have a reliable customer support process to resolve customer complaints promptly. Additionally, your product team must be committed to delivering the best positive experience to your target audience.

That means that the right platform will streamline communication between your customers, customer service, and product development teams. Additionally, it will automatically encourage your happy customers to share their experiences online and refer others to your business.

Virtual event & contest/competition tools

Marketing events and contests do a great job driving UGC for your brand. Many solutions help you manage these events, track brand mentions, and acquire content usage rights.

Reputation management

If you work for an organization that touches complex or controversial issues, a reputation management platform might be your best option. The same is true if you operate in an industry that is evolving fast (for example, SMS marketing used to be overgrown with spam until the FTC and TCPA strengthened regulations and opened the doors for conversational text message marketing).

These solutions help you target misinformation about your brand and measure your progress as you overcome mixed feedback from your target audience. Many PR experts use reputation management as a crisis response or when rebranding.

Because reputation management is closely related to customer review management, many solutions can help you manage both simultaneously.

Creator management

Creator management platforms allow you to organize your recruiting and campaign workflows if you’re interested in promoting your brand through social media influencers, creators, or brand ambassadors.

A critical component of a robust creator management solution includes platform integration with your ecommerce provider for streamlined product gifting. Additionally, influencer support tools automatically track creator content, engagement, and overall performance.

Customer advocacy management

Customer advocacy programs mobilize your brand fans to take their relationship with you to the next level. As advocates, they can enjoy special perks and incentives for creating UGC and referring new customers to the brand.

Customer advocacy solutions focus on helping you build your community of like-minded customers. These tools help you stay organized as you scale your program and grow your brand.

What are the most important features of UGC software?

Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to shopping for UGC software, your goals and KPIs will reveal which features are most important for your brand. 

When investing in a marketing platform, your first step will be to schedule demos with a few providers that match your marketing objectives. Next, you can research top tools on places like G2 and Capterra. These resources do a fantastic job aggregating detailed customer feedback and will rate tools by their effectiveness.

You should also examine your current process for finding, organizing, and publishing UGC online. Manual processes can shed light on what you need to automate to save your team time and increase ROI.

Updated: April 2022

Frequently Asked Questions

UGC marketing prioritizes third-party mentions over branded messaging. It finds, promotes, and repurposes content created by customers, partners, creators, industry experts, prospects, etc.

  • Post comments
  • Post shares
  • Consumer reviews/ratings
  • Brand mentions
  • Blog posts
  • Videos and photos
  • Sponsored influencer posts

Buyers are more likely to trust UGC over branded content, particularly if that UGC comes from people they trust.

Social media is a place where people interact online. UGC is any content created by the user. Most of today’s UGC occurs on social media.

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