What is user-generated content, and how can I make it work for my business?

The general definition of user-generated content is any form of content created by the user and posted by said user on a digital platform. Platforms include social media, blogs, forums, and the like. When we look at this definition, in theory, all content is user-generated content. However, for this post, we want to look at it from the point of the customer or consumer - meaning that UGC (user-generated content) is content created by your customer that is about your brand and shared on their platforms.


The first thing that may come to mind in this instance is influencers. Yes, the content that influencers post is considered user-generated content. However, small businesses often cannot afford to include influencers as part of their marketing strategy. Affordability issues aside, leveraging the benefits this approach offers further requires implementing a relatively intensive and multi-faceted marketing strategy, something small business owners generally are not ready or realistically able to do. Small businesses then spend tons of money on a single post from a social media influencer but cannot capitalise on the interest it generates.


User-generated content does, however, not only mean using influencers. Businesses can take advantage of this content and generate continuous brand interest without having to fork out tons. Let me explain how.




Why should I care about user-generated content?

Let us consider Starbucks as an example, specifically their South African accounts. If you look at their social media feeds, you will regularly see them sharing posts from their consumers. Be it a photo of a cup of coffee, a selfie in a store, or a video of someone showing off their new tumbler, Starbucks' social feed is FULL of these kinds of posts. This content fosters brand interest and creates a sense of community whilst reinforcing word-of-mouth marketing.


There are also tons of data available to support the efficacy and need for user-generated content as part of your marketing activities. Take word-of-mouth as an example. Data tells us that consumers are 2.5 times more likely to view user-generated content as authentic than content created by the brand itself, which speaks to building trust between the business and the consumer. Furthermore, data indicate that more than 50% of millennials base their decision to buy a product on recommendations from family and friends.


So, using the content your customer has created goes a long way towards helping you as a business to capitalise on these consumer trends.


How do you practically do this as a small business?

I know I used Starbucks as an example earlier. They are this massive international company with enviable resources. So, how do you do what they do? What can we learn from them to help us better develop user-generated content for our small business?


To answer this question, we need to look at what needs the content fulfils for the creator. Starbucks has been able to create a community and establish an associable brand. They also give consumers a reason to want to post. The user becomes part of a community - whether they are a coffee drinker, a freelancer working at a Starbucks, the PSL fanatic, you name it. Starbucks further offers actual physical stuff that people would want to post. For example, the barista who spells your name wrong on your cup, the pastry display at the counter, the regular events held at the different branches, etc. Users will not generate content if there is nothing that can serve as the topic of their content.


So, when we translate this to a small business, you can adopt a similar approach by paying attention to your packaging. When your customer opens their order, make it an experience. Include a handwritten note thanking them for their purchase or something extra such as a recipe card if you sell foodstuffs. Clothing companies could offer a percentage discount on their next purchase if the user shares an image of how they styled their items.


It is also important to remember to give your consumers clear instructions on how to share their content so that you can use it. The user must tag you in their posts. To make it easier for your customer to do so, clearly state the different handles for the platforms. Include them on your website, social media profiles, printed material, and other digital channels such as emails, WhatsApp, etc.


Final thoughts on user-generated content

In conclusion, if you give your consumers a reason to post content and something to post about, you will be able to take advantage of the many benefits that user-generated content offers without breaking the bank on your marketing spend.