User-generated content (UGC) is one of the foundation principals in social media and content marketing. However, “instead of creating content, we should be creating opportunities for content creation: instagrammable moments, inspiring experiences.” Smart brands should be able to understand the value of such content and turn it into their own influential advantage. Nowadays, content marketing, in not only about creation and distribution but focuses on driving “profitable customer-user action.”

User generated content automatically creates a level of trust between consumers and brands. In most of the cases it creates higher levels of trust and awareness than typical ads or promoted content. For example, ask yourself the following: who do you trust the most? A brand’s own content saying that its product is super good or the comments, photos, reviews of another customer?

The answer would be to trust another customer even if in the end you will take into account both things in order to consume a product. Think of it like going through reviews/comments on Trip Advisor or AirBnB. Good comments will definitely have a great impact – mentally, psychologically AND in terms of brand trust. Evidently, the same goes for bad reviews.

“The psychology of social proof is a pivotal part of content marketing – people are automatically drawn to a product or service that they know others already engage with and trust.”

The ultimate challenge with UGC is to find a way to mirror your brand to a piece of content of a user and make the best out of it. A video gone viral, for the right purpose, featuring your brand, is the best thing that can happen. Free publicity, first of all, and stronger brand awareness leading to increased chances of gaining potential clients.

Moreover, content sharing between everyday people brings out a more mundane, more real and original value. It shows that this is not something that the company paid money to be done. Take celebrity advertising for example: Kim Kardashian showing that she uses X body cream may result in a boost to sales but the consumer deep inside knows that this is a paid advertising. On the other hand the same content by a known peer may have better results.

However, despite the fact that UGC is at its foundation valuable it also presents many important challenges. The biggest threat is bad content with a negative message. No one wants her brand to be associated with content that contains hate speech, porn, profanity and other inappropriate material.

Opening up to users and consumers also leads – to some extend – to questionable credibility and wrong perceptions. You cannot control (unless you are able to delete such content) users who want to troll, or want to create false impressions for an inexplicable reasons.

In addition, UGC campaigns face the risk of using copyrighted material which will obviously lead to court rooms. What brands can do about it though is to own the rights of UGC and thus, earn long-term engagement opportunities. Running a campaign in a social network will only get you buzz and reach but not any ownership over the content. Hashtag campaigns for example, asking users to create content and engage with the brand will only benefit Twitter or Instagram since you don’t own the metadata. “Instagram owns branded UGC, licensed and royalty-free, and the metadata behind the UGC generated from the hashtag campaign. Customers don’t win anything for their loyalty, and the brand is left with a few minutes of reach, at best.”

Tackling the pitfalls of User Generated Content

According to Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of Vayner Media, “the faster your business realizes that it’s a media company, the more likely it will be to succeed.” Meaning, that what you can do is follow the example of other “media” companies like Apple and Starbucks. Both of them follow a somehow different approach but with the same end results: UGC ownership and effectiveness.

Apple, being a real experience-based company, scans the internet of good quality content produced by its fans and then contacts them in order to buy rights to their work.

On the other hand, Starbucks, instead of creating a hashtag campaign for its “White Cup Contest” they offered the winners $300 gift cards in exchange for UGC rights.

Owning your UGC removes you from any unnecessary risks of copyrighted material while at the same it enables you to use the existing material for future campaigns.

Conclusion

Done right, User Generated Content can lead to valuable content, easily monetizable and of high quality. What is more, according to Ben Dickens from DVO, advertising based on UGC can result in a 400% increase in click-through rates and can increase web conversions by 26%. This is the result of ineffective advertising along with ad blockers which ultimately leads to content marketing.

It should be noted that creating UGC campaigns is not an easy task. It takes lots of careful planning, time investment and problem awareness. In the end you will be rewarded.