By Georgette Olaiya, Talent Management Director, The Corner
In today’s saturated marketing landscape, standing out among the noise is paramount. Savvy audiences know meaningless puff content when they see it, and more than ever, are demanding authenticity. They want to know what a brand stands for, if its products really do what they say on the tin, and whether they’re worth investing in. These are the kind of questions you might ask someone who already uses a product – and user-generated content (UGC) is the social equivalent to canvassing your mates for recommendations.
UGC, often made by social media users independently of brands, simply because they rate a particular product and want to share their opinions on it, gives a raw and unfiltered perspective that’s more relatable and believable to consumers than traditional advertising. This dynamic approach not only cultivates brand ambassadors, but can foster loyalty to your brand. Finding the right content and creators, though, can be complex – with so much content being posted on social media daily, where do you start? And how do you implement it into your marketing strategy?
Back to basics
Before we get into that, it’s important to understand why UGC is such a powerful tool. It adds an element of authenticity and more personal, like something a friend could have created – rather than a brand telling you what to buy, it’s more like advice from someone you trust. This personal touch helps faceless brands develop more personality, too.
It’s almost a throwback to what YouTubers were when they first started out, over a decade ago. Before they were famous, they were ‘normal’ people, unboxing and testing products. Influencer content has evolved over the years, becoming more polished and curated, and people came to expect that sponsored content and ads on social media would be of the same high quality as the videos big-name influencers were making. UGC, on the other hand, feels more authentic and relatable. It’s a return to the roots of content creation, and TikTok is a big part of the resurgence of that. Most people on there aren’t influencers; they’re just regular people, some of whom happen to go viral.
As well as TikTok being instrumental in giving anyone and everyone a voice and a chance to go viral, lockdown was, too. It was a massive wake-up call for brands – they couldn’t get production teams together to product high-level content because of restrictions. UGC can be done entirely remotely, by finding a social media user, sending them a brief and a script, and asking them to record it themselves. It’s much more cost-effective, too. You can work with several UGC creators at once, meaning you get a large volume of content produced quickly.
Genuine consumers, real opinions
To really leverage the power of UGC, brands should find people who match well with their product, just as they do when selecting traditional influencers. They should look for individuals who would genuinely use their products and represent their brand’s message. Audiences know talent and influencers will be paid to work with the brand, and that can take away some of the realness as people know it’s an ad. UGC can bring back that authenticity – some people might already be using a product and posting about it off their own back, so these people are the ones to enlist to make content. If they’re already going out and buying it, they’re an authentic consumer.
As people scroll through social media and see ad after ad, it’s the content that feels like it’s really talking to them that’ll stop them in their tracks. As explained earlier, you’d listen to advice and recommendations from a friend, and that’s what UGC is. Seeing people who live a similar life to you, in a similar house, in similar clothes, recommending a product is more impactful than someone whose lifestyle is so aspirational it’s unattainable.
Take Skin & Me, for example. It’s an excellent example of a brand that successfully gets the balance right. Whilst the brand still works with traditional influencers – it also integrates both UGC and curated content. They personalise their products for different skin types, and have real customers on their feed showing the results. Potential customers will see people who look like them, talking about the product in a straightforward way. That used to be the role of influencers, but as that market evolved, they became more akin to celebrities. A gap opened up where influencers used to be the ‘voice of the people’, and UGC is filling that space.
The wider strategy
When measuring success, it’s important UGC is looked at as part of the marketing strategy as a whole, rather than in a silo. It doesn’t mean you have to stop working with influencers or celebrities – different types of content can work together and complement each other. Measuring the impact of UGC should be done alongside paid media results. Focus on the whole narrative, not just the numbers – yes, reach, engagement and ROI are important, but so is a cohesive story and the way you present your product and its benefits to consumers. UGC is a really effective way to do this, but it should be part of the marketing mix, not a standalone entity.