Since its inception more than 10 years ago, user-generated content (UGC) has had a storied career. From a few videos on a then little-known website called YouTube in 2006 to full-blown media campaigns harnessing the power of real people, the evolution of UGC is remarkable.

Creative professionals were quick to understand the power of content from the public. There is authenticity behind original images, comments, and mentions that carry more weight than manufactured marketing campaigns.

UGC is 76 percent more trustworthy than brand content, while 75 percent millennials prefer visuals over words. Marry the two together, and you have a recipe for the compelling content that resonates with audiences.  

But what elements go into making the ultimate UGC campaign?

Be authentic

UGC has popped because it’s genuine. Consumers see content and feel an affiliation because, ultimately, it could have been theirs. Every one of us can look at a UGC photo or video and think to ourselves, “I could have taken that”.

It has become more than a buzzword in the latest marketing trends. UGC is shifting from creatives using, say, one or two UGC campaigns per year in their strategy to an essential cog in brand’s content calendars.

Companies from varying sectors use it as a way to sell their product and strike up relationships with customers. Loews Hotels is one example and channelled UGC by using photos of actual hotel guests for their “Travel for Real” campaign, rather than hiring professionals actors.

Understand the categories of UGC

Like most marketing methods, UGC doesn’t root itself in one medium. Peer reviews, visual content, and social media posts all account for sub-genres within the larger makeup. They key is finding which method best suits a campaign.

Even visual UGC isn’t regimented to one style. Some brands create social media campaigns and directly reach out to their users. They ask for visuals matching a specific photo requirement, accompanied by a relevant hashtag.

There are also UGC-dedicated companies that create a marketplace for social media users to put their content up for sale. The are multiple advantages to this method: brands tap into a vast pool of content without worrying about copyright issues. All legalities are taken care of as part of the package.  

From the content creators perspective, instead of uploading visuals to a brand’s social media page, they can do it in the marketplace. This means they can showcase a broader range of work and enjoy a financial reward for their efforts – something brands asking for specific content through social media don’t usually do.

Offer diversity and inclusivity

Whether by design or subconscious, the actors, models, and professionals we see in campaigns tend to look similar. Not only do brands lose authenticity, but vast sections of consumer markets find themselves ignored.

UGC’s core strength is in its inclusivity. Consumers create communities and feel like they are part of a brand because of its inclusive nature. Calvin Klein tapped into this mindset while adding an element of nostalgia.

The fashion giant recreated the “My Calvins” campaign from the 1980s that featured Brooke Shield. Only this time, instead of using an iconic celebrity, they asked several celebrities, influencers and regular people to post pictures in, you guessed it, their Calvins.

It didn’t stop there, however. The brand not only wanted people to recreate a classic ad; they asked consumers to fill in their own strapline preceding ‘My Calvins”. The campaign went viral, with more than 179,000 photos tagged within a couple of months.

Use sentimentality

Marketing campaigns aim to strike a chord with their audience. Yet many of them fall flat – especially when consumers know the campaign was contrived. We show more empathy and emotions to situations that we believe are real.

Facial Aesthetics, a brand specialising in cosmetic surgery and spa care, understood the need for sentiment. The company used the simple method of asking their customers to write poems about their mothers.  

In exchange, they offered a free makeover for participators’ mothers. Aspiring poets had the opportunity to gain exposure, while Facial Aesthetics saw considerable growth on their social channels.

They increased awareness by tapping into one of the emotional bond sons and daughters have with their mothers.

Be visual

This year alone it’s predicted that 84 percent of the internet will be visual. Peer reviews and user comments on social media certainly hold their weight. But there is nothing quite like striking imagery to capture the imagination.

There is no real thought process involved with images we make an instant connection. With the advent of imagery and the ease of capturing and uploading pictures, visual content has evolved at a breakneck pace.

Social media has become the source of more than 1.8-billion images. With companies offering legal ways for brands to access them, opportunities to engage through a visual medium is more important than ever before.

The perfect UGC campaign

As the famous saying goes, “the customer is always right”. And it’s the customers, everyday people, real users, or however you want to label them, who are key influencers for brands. They provide a sense of weight and validity to products because their interactions are genuine.

Celebrity endorsements and big-budget campaigns still hold a place in the marketing ecosystem, but content from real people now lines alongside them. It certainly looks like it’s here to stay, and the brands that understand UGCs importance will prosper.

Olga Egorsheva

Olga Egorsheva


Olga Egorsheva, CEO and Co-Founder of Lobster.