- Small-business owners and marketing pros say user-generated content boosted their brands on social.
- User-generated content is cost-effective and helps small businesses expand their reach.
- It also builds up consumer loyalty and confidence in tandem with growing brand awareness.
- This article is part of “Marketing for Small Business,” a series exploring the basics of marketing strategy for SBOs to earn new customers and grow their business.
There are a lot of reasons to love user-generated content, or UGC, as a small-business owner.
For starters, small-business owners told Insider, sourcing photos and videos from users can help businesses quickly generate content to use on their social channels, website, and more.
“We can scale content volume and frequency, even with a small internal team — and it’s less costly than scaling via traditional photo or video shoots,” said Angel Kho, cofounder of the baby-products brand Loulou Lollipop.
It also gets results, according to marketing pros. When users post content about a brand on their own channels, it gets the brand in front of new audiences. UGC also provides strong returns when posted on a brand’s own channel.
In one recent campaign, Kho said she saw over four times the reach and nine times the engagement on UGC versus professionally shot content. “UGC is the modern-day ‘word of mouth,'” Kho told Insider. “Having authentic voices speak about, test, and share our products is key for growing our awareness.”
Insider spoke with several small-business owners to learn how they source user-generated content and use it across channels to maximize their marketing efforts. They shared three key tips.
Encourage users to create content — and help them out
Getting users to be advocates for a company may seem challenging, but in practice, many brands find that sourcing UGC is as simple as asking.
-sign manufacturer Custom Neon includes a simple flyer with every product it ships that encourages customers to take photos or videos of their signs and post them to their social accounts along with Custom Neon’s hashtag.
“This is the perfect placement for such a request,” Clare Jones, the company’s marketing manager, said. “The sign is out of the box, switched on, and looking awesome. Whilst they are caught in that excitement, we want in on the action!”
Elizabeth McNevin, the founder of social-media-advertising consultancy Sociale, suggested that businesses try to ramp up UGC with small incentives, such as offering a discount on future orders for people who post their experience or running a giveaway where customers have to post and tag the brand in order to be entered.
Launching an ambassador program with incentives like free products, discount codes, or affiliate commissions can also be a way to turn dedicated customers into micro-influencers who create content for your brand.
Brands that communicate often with their customers can also help them create content to share. Lilian Chen, the cofounder, and COO of Bar None Games has her employees take screenshots of people participating in virtual quizzes and game shows to send to players after the fact. Since doing that, they’ve seen a huge uptick in customers sharing photos of their teams on LinkedIn and Instagram.
“It makes it so much easier for people who aren’t naturally content creators to post and distribute it to their network,” she told Insider.
Use it for more than just organic social media
Reposting UGC on social media is an obvious way to fill your brand’s social channels with engaging content.
McNevin believes that brands must have UGC if they want to run successful ad campaigns. “One of my clients came to me only having used professional, commercialized videos in ads, and their purchase conversions were relatively low,” she told Insider.
Since implementing UGC Reels and TikTok videos for ads, her company has seen a fourfold increase in click-through rates, a 50% decrease in cost per click, and a return on ad spend ranging from four to 14 times more than its previous two to six campaigns.
“I’ve tested so many different creatives over the years, and user-generated content stops people in the feed and makes them curious,” she said.
Jones found that having a bigger bank of UGC helped her land more press for Custom Neon, providing her team with more beautiful images of the product that they could use to pitch to niche home publications.
McNevin also suggests that her clients add UGC to product landing pages to show off how it’s being used by real customers. “Once you have the content, there’s so many ways that you can use it,” she said, encouraging brands to get creative about how they repurpose UGC.
But it’s important to be aware of copyright and licensing best practices before republishing UGC anywhere. Like other creators in media (photographers, videographers, etc.), UGC creators have the same rights to their intellectual property. McNevin said the easiest way to get permission to use a customer’s image on your own brand feeds, press, or ads is to just DM them and ask — but always check with an attorney if you’re unsure.
Mimic UGC in your brand-created content
If you’re just launching a new brand, still working on encouraging users to share their experiences, or worried about usage rights, McNevin suggested bringing the feeling of UGC into your brand-created content by using more authentic storytelling formats.
For instance, Lauren Kutting, the founder of the bag-organizer brand ToteSavvy, shared that she and her team regularly create simple content showing how they actually use their products in their everyday lives, such as at a family outing.
“Our customers and community respond well to this content because it doesn’t look like we’re pushing a product. Instead, we’re showing them how these products make our lives easier,” Kutting said.
Over the past few months, the company has shifted to using more of this “mock UGC” in ads and has seen a 118% increase in return on ad spend compared to the first quarter of 2022.
“Small-business owners should capitalize on creating mock UGC in-house to fill the gaps between their professional content and true UGC,” Kutting said. “It’s an excellent, low-cost way to amp up your social media strategy while building customer trust in showing your products in a really authentic light.”