The Ultimate Guide to Instagram UGC (User-Generated Content) Marketing

June 3, 2021
Megan Andrew

Instagram UGC campaigns are a way you can expand your reach and awareness, generate leads and sales, all while celebrating the most important element of your brand: your customers.

Instagram User-generated content marketing (UGC marketing) campaigns are powerful.Here's why:

  • They allow you to amplify your engagement
  • Gain new followers, and
  • Attract leads that will love you

In fact, 79% of consumers say UGC has a 'high impact' on their purchase decision.The beauty of Instagram UGC marketing is that it’s real content, coming directly from your audience; there’s no overselling, no spammy promotions, and zero room for inauthenticity.Your business can cry until the cows come home about how great its products or services are, but when praise comes from other consumers, it’s far more convincing. The UGC customers generate for your brand is valuable and lends credibility to all the other marketing you’re doing.So, what is UGC marketing and how can you create a UGC campaign of your own?

What is Instagram UGC marketing?

User-generated content, or UGC, is essentially any content derived from users (in other words, anyone who interacts with a brand using content). That content could come in the form of written reviews, a brand mention in a blog, video reviews, tutorials, or vlogs, as well as photos of a brand’s product or services.UGC could include:

  • A vlog, such as an online shopping “haul” or demonstrating how to style a brand’s product
  • A social media post about a product
  • It could even just be a Tweet by a consumer mentioning a brand’s product

This content is typically sourced from social media, but can also come from website review sites or even just emails and direct communication with consumers. It’s often given freely by consumers, or even by micro-influencers and trusted experts who want to look like they’ve found the next big product. That said, there are definitely ways brands can incentivize UGC from their customers, or even potential customers.But, while getting your audience to actively participate with your brand and create UGC isn’t necessarily rocket science, it’s also not easy. Audiences who create UGC usually either love your brand enough to go out of their way to post about it, OR they need to have a strong incentive to participate, which you can provide! More on this later.Typically, UGC marketing is used to achieve any (or all) of the following objectives:

  • Growing brand awareness
  • Building brand trust through user recommendations
  • Driving product consideration and trial
  • Driving product sales
  • Changing brand or product perception
  • Driving trial and consideration of a new product

More recently, however, UGC marketing is increasingly being used for content generation – in other words, brands are turning UGC assets into marketing materials. These assets can be extremely valuable. After all, customer testimonials and reviews are one of the most effective sales tools – 90% of customers reported that UGC influences their decisions to make a purchase, outranking all other forms of marketing, including search engine marketing and email marketing.

What is a UGC marketing campaign?

So now you know what UGC marketing is, but what is a UGC digital marketing campaign? Simply put, it’s a promotional campaign, usually driven by the brand, but it could also be driven by influencers or other stakeholders. The aim? To generate user-generated content.The great part about UGC digital marketing campaigns is that they don’t necessarily require an enormous investment. In fact, a UGC marketing campaign can become a huge success purely through having a great campaign idea. If that idea can incentivise users to come together, connect, and celebrate some aspect of your brand, the campaign can gain momentum rapidly.Did we mention that UGC marketing campaigns are also low-maintenance? Sometimes they’re as simple as getting users to post through a hashtag and monitoring that hashtag every few days. Other campaigns will require a little more work, depending on its objectives and how quickly it grows. Once your campaign has picked up momentum, UGC campaigns are relatively easy to maintain and can be run on an ongoing basis.

What can UGC marketing do for your brand?

As we’ve suggested, UGC marketing serves many functions. Some UGC marketing campaigns are designed to achieve the highest possible awareness and generate sales. Others are created as an avenue to create content, which can be used by the brand as marketing collateral later on down the track. Here are some of the key things UGC marketing can achieve for your brand.

1. Amplify your reach and exposure

The first and most obvious benefit of UGC marketing is amplified reach and exposure for your brand, or even for a specific product. In this way, UGC is perfect for new businesses who are trying to get maximum exposure, but it can help existing brands who are trying to reach a new audience. That’s because when users post on their own channels, they’re amplifying your brand or message to their followers, and so on, giving your campaign exponential reach.A perfect example of this is with the brand Frank Body. Frank Body built a $20 million global beauty brand purely on social media. Much of that growth was due to a “very deliberate UGC strategy”, in the words of its co-founder, Jess Hatzis.The company used the hashtags #letsbefrank and #thefrankeffect on Instagram to facilitate and encourage the sharing of “shower selfies” with the product shown on consumer’s faces and bodies. They incentivised their customers to post these images by giving away monthly prizes and also tied the UGC campaign into influencer activity to increase engagement.Today, the brand now has over 100,000 tagged images on social media, which has amplified their reach tremendously and provided them with an endless stream of new content.

Example UGC of Frank_bod promoting customer using their coffee scrub on their Instagram

2. Increase user engagement

Most marketing campaigns are a form of one-way communication. A brand sends out an email marketing campaign, and consumers scroll, click, and shop – if they are enticed to do so, that is! But that’s about as far as the engagement goes. Even a lot of social content these days is battling flat or declining engagement rates. So, what’s the solution?UGC marketing can be a great way to boost audience engagement rates, which can, in turn, help your brand’s posts become more visible in social media algorithms. But also, and more importantly, UGC opens up the channels of communication between you and your customers. UGC marketing campaigns encourage users to create and share their own content, on their own terms.For instance, GoPro has one of the most comprehensive UGC strategies out there, which helped them transform from a tiny online store to one of the biggest brands in the world. It’s a no brainer, really – after all, GoPro products are specifically made for content creation, and UGC only serves to highlight the quality of GoPro’s products.In the same token, GoPro is designed to be used in the most out-there, extreme situations – when people are jumping out of planes, mountain biking down the edge of a cliff or surfing through the most perfect barrel of a wave – making for some of the most interesting content a brand could hope for!The brand incentivises this UGC creation using various competitions and prizes, such as the Million Dollar Challenge and the GoPro Awards for the best content. These initiatives helped GoPro receive thousands of submissions, providing them with thousands of pieces of UGC. In the same way, it provides thrill-seekers and content creators with a platform and brings them exposure. It also helps build a community of like-minded brand loyalists who are continually discovering all the things the GoPro products can do.By boosting user engagement, UGC marketing can even help you uncover valuable feedback about your products or services. Plus, high levels of positive engagement also inevitably lead to conversions.

3. Build brand trust and loyalty

As UGC is generated by the user, it does a great job in building up your brand loyalty and authenticity, which is important to consumers. 20% of people have even gone as far as unfollowing a brand on social media because they thought the brand’s content was inauthentic. 60% of consumers feel that UGC is the most authentic form of content.And it makes total sense – UGC can help uncover the real, unedited opinions about your brand, products, or services. And, as scary as it might sound asking your customers to freely share content about your brand, in most cases, there’s nothing to be concerned about. Unless that is, you have a problem with your product or customer service – in which case, you’ve got bigger problems on your plate!Eventually, this transparency and user participation means greater brand trust and loyalty from your existing customer base as well as new customers for your brand. Studies have shown that ads featuring UGC elicited 73% more positive comments on social media than traditional ads.

4. Draw prospects into your funnel

So how do you take UGC to the next level? Well, all this additional exposure and engagement will assumedly push leads down your funnel, as well as ensuring that you retain your existing customers, too. You can ensure this happens in several ways.Brands are increasingly using UGC to promote specific products and convert consumers at the end of the funnel. This is especially helpful in industries like fashion, beauty, and homewares, as there can be several ways to style a garment, try a new makeup look or arrange your homewares. By showing how other consumers are using products, it not only demonstrates the versatility of an item, but it also shows how a range of people are using your products – people who might have different body shapes, facial structures, or just different lifestyles.It has become quite common for women’s fashion retailers like Glassons to use UGC that has been created by existing customers to promote their products. Customers can upload their photos to social media using #glassons for a chance to win a monthly prize as well as the chance to be “featured” on their social media pages.The campaign is run on a long-term basis. Not only does Glassons use the UGC on social media, but they also use the content on individual product pages, as they’ve done below. In this way, brand loyalists turn into brand ambassadors, with (seemingly) very little effort from the brand.

Four UGC posts of women showing off their Glassons outfits

5. Generate valuable content

UGC marketing is a cost-effective way to generate content. In fact, depending on how you generate UGC, it can be drastically cheaper than generating brand marketing assets through, say, an expensive photoshoot that requires booking talent, stylists, a set, producers, and photographers.UGC is revolutionising the content game, allowing smaller brands with a devout following to generate fresh content so they can compete with huge multinational corporations for increased market share. In a recent study, consumers said that ads incorporating UGC were 28% more unique, 31% more memorable and 5% more engaging than those that didn’t.According to the youth travel company, Busabout, using UGC instead of brand marketing assets allowed the business to save 65% of its marketing budget. They also saw amazing results – the company saw direct web bookings increase by 33% in the UK following their UGC campaign.

How to run an incredible UGC marketing campaign

So, by now you’re probably sold on UGC marketing (and if not, you should be!), but are wondering how to get started. Not to worry! We’ll walk you through it.

1. Identify your objectives

First off, you have to develop the objectives for your next UGC campaign. Why? Well, a UGC marketing campaign designed to get maximum reach isn’t going to be run the same way as one which aims to get the best, high-quality UGC possible.So, think about your objectives. These are likely to vary depending on your business and what stage it’s at. For instance, if you’re a new brand or you’re trying to launch a new product, perhaps your goal is awareness. You might even have multiple objectives for your campaign, such as awareness and driving sales.

2. Define your audience

To understand how to get your consumers to create UGC, you need to understand your audience and meet them on the platforms they love best.It makes sense that Glassons meets their customers – young females – on Instagram and TikTok. But it might not make sense for your brand. If you’re a B2B brand targeting middle-aged business professionals, it might make more sense to meet your audience on LinkedIn, or even via email marketing or on your website.If you need to, conduct audience research using customer surveys. Look at which of your existing channels is already achieving the most success and engagement, and use it as the basis for your UGC marketing campaign.

3. Plan your strategy

No matter your overarching objectives, you need to make it as easy as possible for your customers to upload content. One of the best ways to kick off your UGC marketing campaign is through a competition or an incentive on social media. All you need to do is:

  • Come up with a branded hashtag. This needs to be easy for your audience to remember
  • Offer an incentive or a prize. Your prize doesn’t have to be huge; it just needs to appeal to everyone to ensure that as many people participate as possible. A great example would be a $100 voucher, given away monthly. You can even offer an incentive such as the chance to be featured on your social media account and website, or offer money-can’t-buy-experiences like a styling session, or even the chance to work with your brand in some way
  • Set the terms, like the time period, and any prize details. You need to tell your audience exactly how they can participate. Host this information on your website or within the announcement post on social media
  • Tell your consumers about the initiative, as many ways as possible. Tell existing customers via email and post about it on social media
  • Watch the UGC roll in!

Sounds simple, right? Well, it’s not as simple as it sounds, but it’s really just the details that are easy to get wrong. For instance, you need to make the entry mechanic for your campaign very simple. Some brands, such as homewares giant, Wayfair, simply asks users to “share their style” on Instagram using #wayfairathome. But not every brand has 1.6 million followers, so an incentive can certainly help!

Wayfair's Instagram homepage asking for users to share their style with hashtag #wayfairathome

Like anything else on social media, it helps to seek inspiration from other brands, test a new campaign, see what works for you, and refine your strategy from there.You can even kick off your campaign by using influencer content to show consumers all the creative ways they can get involved in the campaign. This also establishes a clear standard on the kind of content you’re willing to re-share.

4. Collect your UGC content

Even if you’re not specifically looking to create content that can be used as future marketing collateral, you want to have a defined process for collecting UGC. You might find that, despite your modest expectations, your UGC marketing campaign has helped amass a lot of valuable UGC that you’d like to use. Without a process, it will be difficult to collect, curate, and share this content with others.Consumer review platforms like Trustpilot have a function for auto-generated social media posts, allowing you to instantly turn reviews into UGC that you can re-use.Part of your UGC marketing campaign includes mobilising your social media team to moderate your UGC content. As your campaign grows, so will the time required to manage it. This includes:

  • Engaging with any users creating UGC that focuses on your brand or products – after all, they’ve taken the time to engage with you, they should at least hear from you!
  • Checking that your UGC marketing campaign hasn’t spiralled into a negative space or includes any inappropriate content. Monitor your tagged posts and un-tag your brand if necessary
  • Saving any high-quality content
  • Monitoring the comments on posts to check for any valuable customer feedback or negative comments

5. Distribute your UGC

If your plan is to use the UGC generated in future campaigns, you need to ensure you’ve gained each user’s permission in order to use their content. Even if someone has used your hashtag and tagged your brand in the post, you still need to ask for their written permission to use their content.Not only is it the polite thing to do, it also leaves the user with a positive brand experience and even opens the conversation up for future collaboration. Unfortunately, you can’t just take a user’s content and whack it on a billboard, much as you’d like to!Brands can seek permission in a few different ways. They can either:

  • Send a personal direct message to the user asking for their permission to use the content on your social media, website, and email (or wherever you will be using the UGC). To incentivise them further, you can tell them that you’ll credit them – as you should
  • Copy and paste a message within the comments of their social media post asking for permission. Ask the user to view and approve your terms and conditions for featuring their image
  • Post a comment on the image asking them permission and requesting that they respond “YES” to your brand, allowing you to re-use the UGC

Remember, whatever the process, it can’t be too complicated. Filling out a long form is too time-consuming for the user. You need it to be as easy as possible so you can ensure maximum participation!When you do share your content, be sure to credit your content creators and, if you’re sharing the content on social media, tag them. Remember; they’re doing your brand a favour by providing you with free content! Tagging users shows them you appreciate them.Like any good campaign, it’s important to report on your UGC marketing campaign so that you can refine your approach for next time. If you’re just getting your feet wet, you can always start with a small UGC marketing campaign.If your campaign is not as successful as you’d have liked, you can always think about removing any barriers to participate, revising your call-to-action or ramping up the incentive you’re providing. Try to amplify your UGC marketing campaign on multiple channels, not just social; mention it in your email marketing and on your website. You can even encourage UGC by adding a call to action in your product packaging.

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