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It's Time to Redefine the Term "User-generated Content"

User-generated content is an effective marketing tool to connect with your consumers on a personal level and drive engagement. However, generating enough quality user-generated content can prove to be a challenge for companies and agencies alike. This article discusses how Cohley generates actionab
Parker Dietz
November 3, 2020
April 11, 2024

When you think of user-generated content (or for future context, UGC)...what comes to mind? Are your thoughts flooded with blurry, out-of-focus selfies? Is it a photo that your grandmother could have taken? 

That’s the image of UGC that lives in the heads of many marketers today. With that outlook, it’s no surprise that so many brands shudder at the thought of incorporating content from 3rd-party creators. The UGC they’ve had access to up until this point is not a great representation of what is truly possible. 

Ad campaigns like Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” challenge, where Apple challenged iPhone photographers to submit their best shots for a chance to be featured on billboards in cities around the world, prove what’s actually achievable with handheld devices today. 

So how do you, as a brand, acquire UGC that could be featured in Vogue? Keep reading to find out.

What is UGC

According to Wikipedia (which in itself is one of the largest user-generated content databases in the world), UGC “is any form of content, such as images, videos, text, and audio, that has been posted by users on online platforms such as social media and wikis.” That’s a pretty broad definition. 

In reality, UGC can be any piece of content generated by external, 3rd-party sources (i.e. the opposite of in-house or through a creative agency). But it’s not limited to those low-res smartphone photos organically posted to social media. In fact, it’s time to entirely redefine the term “UGC.”

In a marketing context, UGC is most commonly gathered reactively from social channels like Instagram and repurposed across digital channels, including but not limited to social media channels and a brand’s website (typically on digital channels). UGC is nothing new for marketers - it’s been a popular medium in recent years, and for good reason: 79% of people say UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions. There’s an incredible amount of untapped potential, and it keeps getting better. Why?

 

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UGC’s Untapped Potential

Would you believe that every photo on this page is UGC? They’re all shot by content creators in the Cohley network. If you’re shocked right now, that’s evidence that the term UGC needs to be redefined. 

UGC should be thought of as any piece of content that is created externally (i.e. outside of the company).

A major reason that UGC will continue to climb in quality and accessibility is that smartphone cameras keep improving. The camera quality of today’s phones is astounding (can you even still call them “phones”?). The iPhone 2G, released in 2007, was able to capture 2 million pixels. Fast forward to now and the iPhone 12 is able to capture an impressive 12 million pixels. Each year the big smartphone manufacturers compete for who can produce the best camera, meaning each year the UGC becomes more refined and more accessible. In doing so, Apple, Samsung and other smartphone manufacturers have successfully  democratized the creation of beautiful photography, creating an army of content creators all around the world. 

Don’t be afraid to put them to work for your brand. 

As long as smartphone cameras keep improving (and all evidence points to that being the case), UGC is only going to continue to improve as well. But, there’s still some legwork required on the brand side to make the most of UGC today.

Examples of Great UGC in the Wild

nybucketlist

Travel and tourism companies are awesome at generating, using, and encouraging user-generated content. NYBucketList is a great example of taking high-quality content from users in any section of the influencer spectrum and using their content to develop a highly valued resource for New Yorkers and tourists.

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NYBucketList Instagram

Brumate

A favorite example of user generated content, Brumate is using non-sponsored content on their TikTok account to increase engagement on the social platform. Ecommerce UGC is an easy industry to get started in, with the barrier to entry low and cost effective enough to be a sustainable part of your marketing plan.

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Brumate TikTok 

Youth To The People

Beauty companies often find themselves with a variety of die hard fans and brand advocates without much if any marketing attention. Skincare company Youth To The People went the extra mile to highlight their brand values in a mini series on Instagram, fully utilizing the Instagram stories feature to keep UGC content around in perpetuity. The Beautiful People story set follows four brand advocates that embody the brand values in their daily lives, with swipe up features for expanded YouTube videos.

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Youth To The People Instagram Story 

Read more about traditional content vs UGC here!

Cohley’s Approach to UGC

At Cohley, we’re no strangers to UGC. Cohley, in fact, was born out of the UGC space when co-founders Tom and Erik sought a scalable, proactive solution for brands looking for high quality UGC. For starters, UGC expands further than just photos - videos (TikTok anyone?), product reviews, and professional photography/videography can all be included, as long as they’re assets that are created outside of the brand’s four walls.

UGC can be considered “opportunistic marketing” - taking advantage of something that manifests itself in the real world. But opportunistic UGC can be extremely chaotic, you need a system for generating it, storing it, and deploying it legally (that’s where Cohley comes in).

Cohley helps brands capture the opportunistic aspect of UGC, while simultaneously eliminating the chaos associated with it. Here are a few of the ways we do that:

Vetted Creators - Every content creator in the Cohley network has been vetted by our team before being accepted onto the platform. This ensures that they’re well-suited for brand collaborations and have the skills necessary to produce actionable creative assets. 

Creative Briefs - Each collaboration on Cohley starts with a creative brief. Just like any agency partnership, thorough creative briefs are the most important indicator of a successful relationship. By providing guidance to the creators, you can still maintain some creative control while also letting them flex their creative muscles. The key reason for Creative Briefs is to ensure that the content can be used across a brand’s channels and follows brand guidelines. Also, the creative brief allows you to ask for almost any visual asset - including photos, videos, and reviews. 

Content Rights - A major pain point with traditional UGC is the difficulty in earning the proper usage rights to the content. We’ve built the Cohley platform with this in mind, baking content rights into the standard terms of engagement between creators and brands. With Cohley, brands are granted full content rights in perpetuity, and the right to use the content across all platforms and marketing materials without restriction.  

Given the ever-increasing number of marketing channels and heightening digital traffic, brands today need more content than ever before. In order to meet that demand head on, it’s time for brands and agencies to reevaluate the ways in which they generate assets. With so many creative individuals in the world with high-powered photography equipment in their pockets, you might question why more brands don’t take advantage of externally created content. 

The reason is simply that, up until now, it’s been too time-consuming, too expensive, and too unpredictable. There also may be some anxiety associated with relinquishing control of the creative process to external creators. But with these mechanisms in place, Cohley has been able to take the traditional perception of UGC and turn it on its head.

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Parker Dietz
Head of Content
With a wealth of knowledge about competitors and pricing, Parker is all about exploring the best way to communicate Cohley's benefits. Outside of work, Parker enjoys poorly playing guitar at parties, watching every Adam Sandler movie ever made, and eating Arabic food.