How to use UGC social ads to boost engagement & save money

Updated on 21 Mar 2022 by Jade Rowlatt

Myth: your ad creative has to always be super expensive, high-production-value photos, videos and designs.

Fact: if you’re solely relying on this, you’re wasting thousands’ worth of your advertising budget.

Enter: user-generated content (UGC).

User-generated content campaigns are nothing new, but since Covid hit, they’ve become even more prominent. When the pandemic restricted in-person photo and video shoots, marketers had to repurpose their existing creative - or turn to colleagues and customers for fresh creative.

And it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

While user-generated content may seem tricky to nail, it’s not all that hard. But if your business is finding it difficult to build UGC into your strategy, you’re not alone.

In this post we’ll help you master the art of user-generated content by going through:

  • What user-generated content is
  • Why eCommerce businesses are hesitant to use it
  • Why UGC really works
  • How to get engaging user-generated content
  • If it’s right for your business

What is user-generated content?

As the name suggests, user-generated content is content (images, videos, reviews, audio) that’s created by anyone other than the brand. This includes customers, employees and those who simply follow or engage with the brand.

User-generated content comes in many different forms, which is why there’s no single ‘definition’ of the term. It could be as simple as a comment on a social post, or a fully-formed video filmed by a customer reviewing a product or experience. Either way, your UGC will be unique, depending on how your customers interact with your brand.

Here’s an example from Pela Case who are no strangers to user-generated content:

Why eCommerce businesses are hesitant to use UGC

While UGC campaigns are a popular marketing strategy, they can be a hard sell to begin with for eCommerce businesses. Here’s why:

1. Brand image concerns

Ecommerce brands are usually hesitant to bring UGC into their ad campaigns because they’re worried about brand image.

As a business owner, you invest a lot of time and money into how your brand’s presented to and interpreted by your audience. And that usually involves meticulously-planned, professional-looking ad creative to sell your story.

Ultimately, you might think UGC ads will be seen as amateur and off-brand.

But if you only present your brand through high-production-value content, you’re losing out on opportunities to show the human side of your brand - and real life customers.

And if the pandemic’s taught us anything, it’s that the line between professional and unprofessional has blurred (hell, I’m writing this post at home in my slippers with my cat on my lap).

2. Reluctant to experiment

Business owners and marketers might also think that if their current social ads/creative are already working well, user-generated content isn’t worth their time testing.

But many brands have found great success with UGC campaigns and often find them to perform just as well - if not better - than their high-production-value content campaigns.

Arguably, customers are craving more ‘real’ content, as opposed to ‘glossy, photoshopped’ content. So with the needs of customers constantly changing, you need to be flexible with your ad creative - or you’ll get left behind. Because the key to improving your digital marketing strategy is testing, testing and more testing.

Why user-generated content really works

Whether you do or don’t use UGC in your ad campaigns, it already exists for your brand. It’s how your brand performs in the wild (web), but you can still have a level of control over it - which we’ll talk more about later.

When you embrace user-generated content ads for social, you benefit from 5 key things:

1. It’s authentic, persuasive ad creative

Customers are constantly being bombarded by ads - and they’re tired of it. Even more, they’re tired of being lied to.

So ask yourself: if your social ad creative promotes a reality that’s unattainable or doesn’t exist (like clothing modelled only on young, thin, white women who don’t represent the average British person. Or beauty products only on those with flawless skin), why would your customers want to buy your product?

User-generated content has the ability to connect your customers to your brand and product because they see someone who looks like them. Someone who shares their challenges and desires. And that makes them more likely to convert.

The bottom line: reflect your customers in your ad creative.

For shoppers, trust in brands is 68% more important today than in the past. And while the ‘reliability’ of social influencers is forever up for debate, 61% of people are likely to trust recommendations from a friend, family members or influencer on social platforms. Whereas only 38% are likely to trust recommendations from a brand.

Like it or not, influencers are more effective at sharing your message and bring a level of reliability to your marketing.

FYI: you don’t have to spend a fortune partnering up with an influencer to take advantage of UGC. The everyday person is just as effective. They’re less ‘check out how amazing this brand is’ and more ‘if you’re like me, you’ll probably like this’.

2. It’s easy to integrate into the browsing experience

Consumers today (particularly Millennials and Gen Z) have a short attention span, and they tend to switch off or simply ignore ads. So if your social ad creative looks and feels like a professional one, expect it to be overlooked.

Whereas UGC campaigns mirror the content posted by their friends and family - and fits seamlessly into their social browsing experience. So they’re more likely to stop and pay attention to your ad.

3. It proves your product’s value
Customers are increasingly cost-conscious, which makes it more difficult to persuade them to buy your product (especially in a post-pandemic, rising cost-of-living climate). But user-generated content can be the way to get your foot in the door.

This is particularly useful if your product’s a pricey sell. To justify parting with that much money, some customers need a bit more convincing - and who better than from fellow customers?

4. It can produce better ROI

If you’re a small business with a limited marketing budget, UGC can be more cost-effective than forking out on expensive, high-production photos and videos. In fact, user-generated content can cost very little or be completely free.

Your budget might be best spent incentivising users to send over their own reviews, photos and videos. After all, most customers write reviews anyway, so you’re just making the most of a process that already exists. If you haven’t already, make it part of your email marketing workflow (we talk about this more further on).

5 tips for successful user-generated content

User-generated content can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. Either way, when you do it right, it works.

Here’s how to get started.

1. Look at brands you like

Firstly, they don’t have to be in your industry. What you’re looking at is the kind of UGC campaigns they’re running. What do you like about them? How could your brand improve? Answering these questions helps identify what type of UGC campaigns might be a safer sell (for both you and your customers).

2. Give your users basic boundaries

UGC doesn’t have to be perfect (you have editors for that). But you want the fundamentals to be there: like natural lighting, sharp photos, video length, horizontal video, neutral background. Ask your users to be clear and concise with their wording, and use explicit endorsements (see below) to persuade and nudge them to purchase.

Explicit endorsements instil more confidence than implicit endorsements.

For example:

  • Implicit endorsement: ‘I like this face cream’ - just one person’s evaluation
  • Explicit endorsement: ‘I recommend this face cream’ - they’re confident enough to approve it for others

3. Incentivise your customers
If you’re struggling to get quality UGC (or any UGC), motivate your customers with vouchers, discounts, giveaways and more. Reviews are popular, easy to do and, most importantly, influence buying decisions.

Use your email marketing to automatically send a ‘thank you for buying from us’ email. Then roughly a week after the product’s been delivered, ask them about their experience and encourage them to share photos on social (a great opportunity to create a branded hashtag) and remind them to send a review in return for a discount or other benefit.

4. Use what you already have

Instead of jumping in with new content, consider repurposing UGC and influencer content (if you have it) from TikTok, Instagram, Reels and more. If you’re not already, encourage customers to share their photos and experiences on their own social media accounts - using your branded hashtag - and see how they react. Just always be sure to credit the consumer whose content you use.

5. Analyse your campaign data
Look at ROAS and other metrics to assess how UGC resonates with your target audience. Then it’s all about the testing: adjust your ad creative based on what performs well, and think about similar approaches you can use moving forward. Remember: some brands do well with the majority of their campaigns being UGC, while others do better with an even mix. You’ve just got to test it out.

What not to do

When it comes to user-generated content, there’s one golden rule: don’t tell your users what to say.

If it’s scripted, your customers will know. And that means ‘goodbye authenticity’. Instead, trust your users to use the type of language and pain points (challenges) that’ll really speak to your audience. In the end, you’re in charge of whether or not you use their submission.

Should this be your long-term strategy?

We can’t give you the answer, but your testing will.

We suggest every eCommerce brand experiment with user-generated content ads at least once (but preferably several times). The best place to start is by comparing your high-production-value content data with your UGC campaign data. If your new ads are proving to be successful and driving a high click-through rate, then keep going. If all goes well, it can reduce your cost-per-click over time.

UGC can also present more opportunities to scale your work. Building your campaigns takes a lot of creative, which quickly becomes costly when you’re pumping out high-production-value content to keep up with growth. But content from your customers gives you more ad creative options to choose from, which can make your scaling efforts more cost-effective.

Just make sure you’ve got an automated funnel in place to keep collecting this creative, because you’ll need lots of it to keep testing and see which one takes off.

If you’re up against competitors with a much bigger budget than you, user-generated content campaigns can help give you the edge. Also you’ll eventually hit ad saturation with your paid ad campaigns, so you’ll need multiple campaigns, which means multiple different creative assets. UGC doesn’t have to cost the earth - you just need creativity and the willingness to experiment.

But remember:
UGC still requires a solid strategy, thought and time. Struggling with the strategy side of things or coming up with content ideas? It might be worth working with a content marketing specialist to help bridge the gap.

Get your UGC ads campaign off the ground

Stop relying solely on high-production-value ad creative and seize the opportunity to connect with your customers - with their content. User-generated content is an effective, low-investment way to give your customers the authentic, relatable messages they crave from your brand.

So get some testing under your belt and see how it performs. You never know, it could be your new top-performing type of ad campaign.

Want a helping hand in starting your UGC ad campaigns?
Get in touch for a friendly chat to see what UGC could do for your brand.