User-Generated Content (UGC): Getting the Internet to Create Content for Your Brand

User generated content banner image illustration showing logos for different UGC channels: YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook, etc.

No matter what kind of business you run, content powers your marketing channels, from your website to your social media to your sales channels.

But generating content is a steep investment of time, resources, and talent. 

That’s why many businesses incorporate user-generated content into their marketing strategy to save time, earn trust, and engage more users to create videos, photos, testimonials, and even customer support resources for their brand.

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What is user-generated content (UGC)?

User-generated content (UGC) is any content relevant to a brand, such as product photos, how-to videos, customer reviews, and Instagram Stories created by customers, employees, and creators rather than the brand itself.

Since your business isn’t the one creating it, UGC allows you to:

  • Save time on content creation by supplementing your own original content with crowdsourced content
  • Engage your community and create stronger relationships with customers by involving them in your marketing and getting to know them better
    • Tap the expertise of channel-specific creators who understand what works and what doesn’t for content on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and other platforms. 

    Companies like Nanoleaf, creator of the popular color-changing light panels, have relied on massive online communities that feature their customers’ user-generated content. It’s a way for them to connect with even more creators on their Instagram, Twitch, TikTok, Twitter, and more.

    Screenshot of Nanoleaf's Creative Online Community section on their homepage, which shows UGC from their fans on TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels.

    The general public trusts people more than brands, and UGC is content created by people.

    UGC effectively overcomes one of the biggest hurdles in making sales: consumer skepticism. People rarely trust the word of brands they’re not familiar with. (Do you?) 

    A 2020 study by Edelman found advertising had only half the impact of earned media, as consumers surveyed preferred to “hear directly from technical experts or people like themselves.” That’s where UGC comes in.

    As new social channels emerge and embrace social commerce (and smartphones put an entire suite of creative tools in people’s pockets) there are now more ways than ever to streamline and scale the production of UGC to fuel your marketing.

    Find UGC creators through Shopify Collabs

    Screenshot of Shopify Collabs, which says "Find influencers to promote your products" and shows a database of potential collaboration partners.

    Search a database of millions of creators to collaborate with, produce UGC, and promote your products to new audiences. 

    Learn more about Shopify Collabs.

    3 types of user-generated content and examples

    What most people think of when they hear “user-generated content” is content created by happy customers about your products and services. 

    But you can consider UGC an umbrella term for all content related to a brand that isn’t created by the brand.

    We can break UGC down into three categories based on the type of “users” you engage:

    1. Customer-generated content
    2. Employee-generated content
    3. Creator-generated content

    1. Customer-generated content

    Customers are arguably the most powerful source of UGC to build your brand with. There’s no better salesperson for your products than a genuine, satisfied customer.

    Customer-generated content takes the word-of-mouth marketing that happens in private conversation and brings it out into the public as content, where the rest of the world can see it.

    Customer-generated content can include:

    • Customer reviews and star ratings displayed on your product pages 
    • Unboxing videos filmed by customers and posted on Instagram using your branded hashtag
    • Product photos taken by your customers, displayed next to reviews 
      • FAQs and answers powered by your customers where they can ask their individual questions and get public customer support
      • The conversations from customer communities on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter where customers can engage with and share content with others, and interact with your brand

      Solgaard is a shining example of how to use customer-generated content. The brand sells sustainable travel gear and integrates UGC into the product page for its flagship carry-on closet suitcase.

      A screenshot of Solgaard's reviews carousel that showcases its 4.9 star rating with 1,419 reviews

      Maintaining an average rating of almost five stars despite more than 1,400 reviews, Solgaard displays its confidence in its products proudly with customer-submitted photos of the carry-on in use, reviews, and even a user-driven forum for questions, where hesitant shoppers can voice their concerns for a customer service rep to answer.

      A screenshot of the answers portion of its product reviews carousel where users can ask their questions and have them answered

      ErgoDox Ez is another example that shows how to build a community around UGC. Its open source customizable keyboards naturally invite users to share their ideas, tips, and creations. 

      With its own subreddit community, r/ErgoDoxEZ, customers can share details about their personal keyboard configurations with each other—or just photos of cats standing on top of them. 

      Screenshot of the r/ErgoDoxEZ subreddit with UGC featuring a cat sitting next to the keyboard

      2. Employee-generated content

      Happy employees, like happy customers, may also volunteer to contribute content to your brand. 

      A key distinction is employee-generated content isn’t part of their role. The lack of obligation means it comes across as authentic, and though it may not generate sales directly, it might entice others to want to work with your company as an employee or a partner.

      Employee-generated content can include:

      • Photos and videos shared by employees using an employer brand hashtag, showcasing work culture at a team event to attract talent 
      • Employees sharing company content on their personal social profiles, such as big press mentions or company milestones 
      • A fresh hire announcing they’ve started a new position at your company through a LinkedIn post their network might see and celebrate (or even someone moving on from your company while praising the culture you’ve built)

      Shopify employees use the #LifeatShopify branded hashtag when sharing insight into their work lives, making it easier to find and browse this content.

      3. Creator-generated content

      While the best UGC is often organic, you can also incentivize it through free gifts, contests, affiliate commission, or direct payment.

      You might know this as influencer marketing: paying a creator with an engaged audience to create and promote content around your brand to their fans. 

      But today, video-centric platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube have given rise to creator-generated content with more options to amplify it—where the platform expertise of the user comes first and the influence over an engaged audience is a nice-to-have. From the casual user to the amateur to the professional, everyone who creates content on the internet is a creator, redefining what user-generated content means today.

      Creator-generated content includes:

      • An Instagram influencer sharing a photo of your product with an exclusive discount code
      • A TikTok video about your product by a small creator, which you can then repurpose as creative for TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook ads
      • Photos submitted in a contest for your Instagram followers, where they compete by creating, submitting, and sharing content with their own networks
      •  A YouTube review of your product, whether you provided the YouTuber with a free sample or they bought it on their own

      A popular creator-generated content strategy you’ve likely seen before is working with influencers who align with your brand to create product reviews.

      Shargeek, a brand that sells power banks with a unique transparent design, worked with tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee to get featured in this video:

      You can also find an excerpt from this video on Shargeek’s website, demonstrating how you might stretch a single piece of UGC to get more value.

      A screenshot from Shargeek's website of an excerpt from the Marques Brownlee paid promotion that says "Very classy, anyway, I love them, they are $200+ and not cheap, but hey, here is dope tech. Unless the airline will take it away from me, I will use him for everything."

      How to create and collect UGC for your brand

      If you find your target users naturally share content that relates to your brand, you’re in luck—you’ve already got fuel for your UGC strategy.

      But if that’s not happening naturally yet, you can find a creative overlap between content that meets your goals and the content people actually want to make and share.

      Create a branded hashtag

      Branded hashtags are the easiest way to encourage, collect, and automate user-generated content, especially on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and LinkedIn.

      Learn more: Why do people use hashtags?

      That’s because you can share them along with a “call to create” anywhere you’d like:

      MVMT, a company that sells watches and accessories, uses #jointhemvmt to give customers and creators a centralized place to contribute content.

      Its Instagram profile features the hashtag prominently and the tag is unique enough that it reduces irrelevant noise if you click through to browse the feed.

      A screenshot of MVMT's Instagram profile showing how it promotes UGC through its branded hashtag and highlights.

      A screenshot of the #jointhemvmt hashtag feed that shows off UGC models wearing the brand's products.

      Searching the hashtag lets you see all your submissions in a single feed, making it easy to choose the UGC you want to:

      • Reshare to your stories
      • Pin as a story highlight on your profile
      • Add to your product listing in your Instagram Shop
      • Embed as a UGC carousel on your Shopify store using a social proof app

      Incentivize submissions with contests and giveaways

      Contests and giveaways aren’t just useful for brand awareness. They often provide incentive for participating in a brand’s UGC efforts.

      A simple photo contest where users submit their best photos that fit a certain theme, for example, can help crowdsource future content for your social media calendar and reward the most engaged members of your audience.

      In the example above, Letterfolk uses #LetterfolkDOTM to collect user submissions for its Design of the Month contests that encourage participants to share Instagram stories featuring the designs they create using its tile mat.

      A screenshot of LetterFolk's IG story where they promoted their UGC contest asking for design submissions from their audience.

      A contest campaign like this not only lets you expand your reach through your audience’s social networks when they post their entry, but also produces UGC that you can then re-share on your own social media profiles.

      You can power your contests manually using hashtags and explicit instructions, or use contest and giveaway apps to streamline the process and offer additional entries for performing other calls to action—like creating a video and a photo about your products or sharing the UGC across multiple channels.

      Ask for UGC in post-purchase marketing touchpoints

      As you build out your UGC strategy, you’ll likely create marketing flywheels that automate asking, collecting, moderating, and featuring content submitted as UGC.

      If you want new customers to create UGC about your products, the best time to ask is around the time their order arrives and they’ve had enough experience with your product to form a positive opinion. 

      These post-purchase touchpoints can include:

      • Automated post-sales emails that arrive in their inbox after their order arrives in the mail
        • Product packaging and inserts via subtle instructions on how to share your product after they unbox it

        Aloha, a plant-based protein powder business, prompts recent customers to submit user-generated content by incorporating a call to action for it into post-sale emails and incentivizing UGC contributions with two tiers of discounts you can unlock:

        1. 10% off your next order for leaving a review
        2. 20% off your next order for adding a photo and video to your review 
        A screenshot of Aloha's post-sales email asking for UGC via a product review in exchange for a 10% or 20% discount on the customer's next order.

        But you can go even further to encourage user-generated content while increasing lifetime value through loyalty programs. Evy’s Tree sells luxury clothing for women and offers different membership tiers in their loyalty program based on the lifetime purchase value of the customer. 

        One of the easiest ways to earn points across all the tiers is to share the brand on social media for 250 points.

        A screenshot of Evy's Tree's loyalty program pop-up showing the ET VIP membership tier where you can get 250 points for sharing on social

        Explore paid user-generated content platforms

        With more creator marketplaces like Billo popping up for tapping small-time creators, and even Cameo for working with celebrity creators, businesses have more options than ever for connecting with creators and influencers for paid UGC.

        Paid UGC sounds like an oxymoron—UGC is supposed to be organic, right?

        Most creators, regardless of their reach or follower size, only put their face or name out there for a brand or product that is aligned with their values. Losing the trust of their audience wouldn’t be worth it.

        Cameo is full of examples of this new class of UGC. Established Titles used the platform to run one of the more iconic UGC ads in recent years that generated a bit of buzz online because it featured rapper (and newly minted “Lord”) Snoop Dogg talking about the brand.

        The tongue-in-cheek ecommerce store sells novelty titles based on a dated tradition in Scotland where owning a small plot of land was enough to become a “Lord” or “Lady.” 

        How to use UGC in your marketing safely and effectively

        All that UGC you collect won’t do you any good if no one sees it or if it only lives for 24 hours as an Instagram story and then fades into the ether.

        An effective user-generated content strategy gets the most mileage out of each UGC asset across different channels, audiences, and marketing tactics. 

        Get permission first and be upfront about usage 

        UGC isn’t your content. Nor is it stock media where you can buy a commercial license through a marketplace.

        Be proactive about asking for permission to use someone’s content and upfront about how you’ll use it. Get it in writing if possible via email or direct message, or place the terms and conditions for your UGC submission process in a visible location on your channels.

        The last thing you want to do is betray the goodwill of your users or run into legal issues just so you can use third-party content for self-promotion.

        Most people will allow you to use the content they produce, if you ask. If you have trouble getting permission in advance, you can always link to the original source to credit the creator, but be ready and willing to take it down if they tell you to.

        Use UGC as your ad creative

        Using UGC as your creative for ads on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other channels can help maintain a backlog of fresh images. It’ll avoid fatiguing your advertising audiences with the same types of ads by the same art directors by injecting a fresh point of view.

        Even better, you can run whitelisted ads to boost content shared on someone else’s profile (they need to be on a Business or Creator account) by adding them as a Brand Partner through Meta.

        A “Sponsored” label will appear on the post in your audience’s feeds, like this example below, from Mejuri

        Source: Mejuri x Julia Fernandez

        Repurpose UGC for other channels

        Repurposing UGC is a missed opportunity. There’s no rule that says UGC created for one channel and format can’t be repurposed for another, assuming you have permission.

        You can take:

        • Reviews from your product page and turn it into a Facebook ad 
        • Tweets about your brand and run them as Instagram ads
        • Unboxing videos on TikTok and turn them into Instagram reels
        • Customer support questions and put them on your FAQ page
        • Instagram photos and add them to your product pages

        The sky’s the limit. Twitter took tweets about how awful 2020 was and put them on billboards as part of a brilliant out-of-home campaign.

        Leverage UGC as social proof on and off your site

        Aside from expanding your reach, UGC can also act as social proof to build trust with your audience on the platforms where you have a presence.

        This digital real estate is often used to showcase branded photos, videos, and content to website visitors. By carefully curating the content that shows up in these places and positioning it as a gallery of community submissions, you can use UGC to show off your products with how people will use them.

        MARKETING IDEA 💡: An app like Shoppable Instagram & UGC by Foursixty can be a great way to increase sales from user-generated content. With the Shoppable Instagram & UGC app, you can create shoppable image galleries from user-generated content that can be added to your your online store, email campaigns, and and Shop App page.

        Be sure you have a way to moderate submissions so you only feature brand-friendly UGC. Automatically pulling in content under a branded hashtag without moderating is a risk, especially since public hashtags are available to everyone.

        Instagram profiles are a popular place to feature UGC, especially as people naturally snap photos and videos of products in use to share in their posts and stories. 

        This saves you from having to constantly create original content (since the attention economy needs you to post consistently), it can also engage your existing customers with the potential to tap into their audiences tool.

        It’s easy to write UGC off as temporary. But as long as individual creators tag your brand account, you can pin their content to your highlights. Many brands have a dedicated highlight for customer-generated content, such as positive reviews to make these stories last forever.

        Cotopaxi uses UGC sprinkled throughout its “gear for good” brand; it’s in its profile and highlights, all organized around topics and campaigns:

        • Tagged content in its profile features UGC photos of customers wearing its products 
        • “Día by Día” features content of customers wearing the Cotopaxi fanny pack
        • “Quaranteam” features employee-generated content, taken during the pandemic to connect the team to each other during a challenging time
        A collage of screenshots from Cotopaxi's Instagram profile, showing how they leverage UGC on their profile's highlights with UGC stories. One story says "Family pack that fits 4 beers perfectly @cotopaxi" and the other shows an employee with her dog.
        Source: @cotopaxi

        Tap into the power of the people with UGC

        Before you can earn a customer’s business, there’s something else you need to earn first: their trust.

        User-generated content lets you rally the voices and creative power of communities in your brand’s orbit to make and share naturally persuasive and authentic content.

        Get creative with how you source and leverage user-generated content and you’ll find endless opportunities to use it across all your marketing efforts.

        User-generated content FAQ

        What is user-generated content?

        User-generated content (UGC) is any type of public online content created by users, such as reviews, comments, photos, videos, blogs, and discussions. Everyday people, not professional content creators, usually create UGC, and it often reflects what people think about a certain product, service, or event.

        What is an example of user-generated content?

        An example of user-generated content is a review written by a customer about a product they purchased. UGC can also include photos and videos of users interacting with products, or a blog discussing a specific service. Even social media posts about an event or business are considered user-generated content.

        What are different types of user-generated content?

        The different types of user-generated content include reviews, ratings, comments, photos, videos, blog posts, forum postings, social media posts, and interactive content such as Instagram or Twitter polls. Each of these types of content can provide valuable insights into a product, service, or event, and can be leveraged to create greater customer engagement and brand awareness.

        How is user-generated content used in marketing?

        User-generated content marketing is the practice of leveraging and promoting UGC to achieve marketing goals. This can include featuring customer reviews and photos of a product on a website, reposting user-generated content on social media channels, responding publicly to customer feedback, or using customer case studies to create new content. User-generated content marketing can be a valuable resource for businesses, as it builds trust and credibility.