Everything You Need to Know About User-Generated Content

User-generated content is the most credible, trustworthy content you can possibly have on your website or across social media. How to get more of it.

Want more content? High-quality, on-strategy content that resonates with your audience?

Who doesn’t?

Most content marketers will be creating more content this year. That means more budget required, more staff, more promotion. One smart way to handle at least some of your content creation is to get other people to do it for you. That can take a lot of forms:

  • Content curation
  • Influencer contributed or co-created content
  • Outsourced paid content (from agencies or freelancers, for example)
  • Employee-generated content (EGC)
  • User-generated content (UGC)

For now, let’s talk user-generated content. It’s a big topic and a huge opportunity. As it ends up, user-generated content is perceived as being more trustworthy than other types of media … and that makes it more valuable.

User-generated content tends to get more conversions, as well. Data for the chart below is based on a Yotpo study done last year. It shows the lift from average conversion rates that UGC gives.

That’s not all. Ends up, user-generated content performs well in advertising, too. Shopify reports that advertisements with UGC content get:

  • 4x higher click-through rates
  • 50% cost of acquisition
  • 50% drop in cost-per-click

What exactly is user-generated content, aka “UGC”?

It’s content (videos, text, tweets, posts, photos, comments, and more) your audience or other Internet users create. UGC includes:

  • Videos your audience or anyone else creates that even reference your brand, products, or services.

Here’s a user-generated video by a young Lego fan. Check out how many views this has!

  • User reviews.

Almost any ecommerce site has user reviews set up. But almost none can compare to the massive collection of reviews has created.For local businesses, Yelp is the 800-pound gorilla of user-generated content (okay… maybe after Facebook).

  • Content from social media contests

There are plenty of examples of this. Some companies give these sorts of campaigns a little boost with personalization.

  • Blog posts, pins, social media updates, Twitter chats, webinar question,s and any other imaginable format all count, too. Customer letters to your company are another form of UGC, too. No matter what form they come in:

That’s only a partial list, but you get the idea.

So now that you know all the forms UGC can take, you’ll probably start seeing it everywhere. And that’s good. But how can you get some UGC for your own company? And what can you do with user-generated content once you’ve got it?

Funny you ask….

5 ways to get your audience to create more user-generated content

1. Run a contest.

This can get you a lot of content. Spin it into tweets, Facebook updates, Pinterest boards, images for your newsletter or more.

Here’s an email Canva sent to announce their latest contest.

Pro tip: Set some quality guidelines for your contest submissions; otherwise you risk promoting low-quality content. And even with user-generated content, the quality has to be good.

That doesn’t mean you require, say, world-class photography skills. It does mean you include some kind of clause in the contest terms that lets you reserve the right to exclude submitted content that isn’t up to snuff.

2. Host an event.

Events have many things going for them, but they’re also awesome for user-generated content. Especially if you make good use of an event hashtag.

3. Offer quizzes and polls.

And surveys, too. All three of these formats are fantastic ways to check the pulse of your audience. They can also make for first-rate content.

Ask your best clients for their reviews, their photographs, their feedback. Make it easy for them to share on social by having your linked icons right there. Just ask at the right time, in the right way. Kind of like how you ask for referrals.

Mention how much user-generated content helps you, especially after a client has just conveyed they’re unusually happy with you. Say something like, “It really helps us when you tweet a photo of that new (product X). It’s even better when you’ve got your team in the photo.”

Here’s a B2C example of asking an audience to contribute:

5. Launch a forum.

We’ve already mentioned social media. This tip – launching a forum – is basically building your own social media platform. It’s not for companies with small audiences, lean budgets, or a lack of commitment. Well-run forums are a significant investment.

First, you need someone who can be a moderator. Second, you need to ensure you’ve got enough of an audience and enough interest so your forum doesn’t become a ghost town. But if everything works, a forum could be a huge content asset for your company… and another channel for customer support.

One way to NOT get user-generated content

Don’t pay for it. I know… it’s tempting. But paid UGC has the odor of advertising about it – it just doesn’t seem quite as authentic as unpaid UGC. Also, depending on your industry and your audience, if even a whiff of a word of you paying for your user content gets out, the legitimacy of your entire campaign is blown. In the case of reviews, you might even get your account banned or potentially face legal action.

One case where payment is okay: Some companies send “thank you” gift certificates to their best UGC contributors. It’s not a large sum – just $25 or so. But it’s a nice way to say “thank you”. You could send a bit of swag as well … and ask for a picture or your contributor wearing it.

How to use user-generated content

All right – so you’ve got your user-generated content machine up and running. Your audience is participating (woo-hoo!).

Now what?

There’s plenty to do. And plenty of benefits happening that might not be immediately obvious. However, most of the applications for user-generated content as pretty straight forward.

  • If you’re running a contest, you are:
    • Building engagement with your audience.
    • Creating terrific social media content prospective customers will identify with. It’s often better to show “real people” using and liking your products and services than to show a model or an ad promoting your products and services.
    • Creating content that can be reformatted into content for updates on other social media platforms.
    • Creating content for your email newsletter.
    • Creating raw material for a blog post about the contest.
    • Creating content that could be used in social media ads.
  • For events, you are:
    • Creating content for your social media feeds.
    • Creating content for emails.
    • Creating images for your blog and website.
    • Creating content to promote next year’s event.
  • Reviews on third-party review sites:
    • Attract new customers.
    • Build confidence for prospective customers near the end of their buying process.
    • Reinforce the experiences of existing customers.
    • Boost your SEO efforts.
  • With reviews on your own site, you :
    • Increase the amount of content on the page, which helps with SEO.
    • Have content that reassures visitors they can trust your site and your products. That means more conversions. This principle applies to products, but it could also apply to content assets, too.
    • Have UGC you could re-use in advertisements.
    • Have UGC you can re-use on social media. With permission, the reviews people leave for your products, services or content could be included as the text component of a social media update. Like this:

Caveat: A few legal considerations around user-generated content

There are a few things to consider before you start re-using user-generated content with abandon.

Many companies re-use UGC without any problems, but it’s always good to be careful. Even if 99.9% of your audience is fine with you using their words and images in your marketing, it’s prudent to ask permission first. No need to risk a lawsuit or even alienate a good customer.

Here are two common situations that can arise with user-generated content, and how to respond to each of them. Please keep in mind: I am not a lawyer. Before you launch any major campaign that’s based on UGC, check in with your own company’s general counsel.

You want to use quotes/customer reviews from a third party review site on your company website (or on social media, or anywhere else).

I see a lot of small businesses doing this. It’s generally okay, but here are some best practices to make it more okay:

  • When you identify the person who left the review/comment, use just the first initial of their last name, rather than their full name.

This is a smart approach with almost any user-generated content, regardless of the source. The testimonial/content won’t lose any credibility by skipping the full last name, and you’ll have done the lion’s share of protecting the reviewer’s identity and privacy. If you want, add their geographic location, like this:

“What a great company!” – Patti L., Cheyenne, Wyoming

  • Link back to the page where the original review appeared.

This is nice online etiquette. It will make the original review site less likely to go after you if you give them a little gift of a link back to their site.

  • Read the Terms of Service, the FAQs and the forums/help pages of whatever site you’d like to use the review/testimonial from.

Hopefully, you’ll find documentation that says it’s okay to quote reviewers, so long as you obey certain rules.

  • If you are about to launch a major campaign or print a review/testimonial from one of these sites, consider getting permission from them in writing.

Again, I am not an attorney. But I am a big believer in Murphy. It’s just too dangerous to print 250,000 flyers (or even 2,500 flyers) without express permission to use another site’s or service’s content. Print is not fixable, like the web is. It’s also vastly more expensive.

You’re running a campaign and you’ve seen great photos and posts from people that would be awesome to use in your campaign – can you use that content?

Possibly. But ask permission first. That’s what Jon Steiert, Social Media Manager & PR Specialist at Pet360 does. In a podcast on Jay Baer’s site  Steiert explains exactly how he and his team get permission from their very active social media audience (discussion begins at minute 17:45):

“We need to be sure we’re getting the explicit permission from the user. One of the ways we’re doing that is we actually just got Curalate on board as one of our vendors. If anybody doesn’t know what Curalate is, it’s a visual analytics scheduling and rights tool.”

“…They allow us to scale up our Instagram and Pinterest presences really efficiently. They have this one tool called Yes Tags. And so if somebody tags us in a photo on Instagram or if there’s a particular piece of content that we’re looking for [we are notified}. For example, recently we just finished up a contest called #BeyondTheYard, it was in support of the Spring Guide that we had compiled.

People were sharing these great shots of themselves and their cats and dogs going hiking. We wanted to use it for marketing assets basically, but we had to send them a message and Curalate allowed us to do it at scale.

We could send out 5, 6 messages at once from photos that we really loved and it would just say “Hey – we loved this photo, it’s a great shot. Would you mind if we used this for our website and our social media channels? Please reply with ‘#pet360yes’ to accept.” And then we just say thank you.

Everybody was always so thrilled that we had called them out and recognized them that they – I would say 99.9% of the time – they were saying “absolutely yes. We can’t wait to see it on your social channels”. And then we would use it across Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter. We would include it in a SlideShare that we put it in our emails.

It’s really useful for us, and it’s something that I think people like to see how many other people are just like them. So in addition to making it a showcasing mechanism, it’s something that allows people to say, “Pet360 gets us” and they really are appreciative of what we do.

(Note: We asked Jay Baer of for permission to use this excerpt from the podcast. He said yes.)



There’s a goldmine of user-generated content available, once you know where to look and how to encourage it. So long as you can set up some company guidelines, and cover your legal and privacy bases, there’s no reason to not add this to your content creation rotation.

What do you think?

Are you using UGC in your content marketing? Got any plans to use it more often? Tell us what’s worked or not worked in the comments.