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UGC vs. influencer marketing: Which is right for you in 2024?

Joe Anderson
Founder at MightyScout
May 15, 2024

Connecting with an influencer's large audience has become a smart strategy for businesses wanting to reach their target market. So much so, that influencer marketing has boomed into a massive $21.1 billion industry.

But now, there's a new player in the game — user-generated content (UGC).

Unlike influencer marketing, where you incentivize people to talk and post about your products, UGC is content created by customers, or fans themselves.

UGC often includes lifestyle shots, behind-the-scenes glimpses, unboxings, Get Ready with Me (GRWM) videos, and even "ugly" content that feels genuine and relatable. It’s anything but perfect. But it works because of that. And it’s proving to be more effective than the highly produced brand-generated content in social media.

However, there’s a bigger question arising—should you invest time and resources in influencer marketing to produce this content, or create a UGC strategy?

In this blog we’re talking about:

  • Difference between UGC and Influencer Marketing
  • UGC’s impact on influencer marketing
  • Brands’ struggles with UGC
  • Strategies for overcoming challenges
  • Do you need one or should you use both strategies?

Differences between UGC and Influencer Marketing

1. Audience Targeting

In influencer marketing you can team up with influencers to target specific audience groups through their well-defined sets of followers, making it easier for you to reach the right people.

Meanwhile, UGC doesn't offer such precise targeting because it's created naturally by users, not with specific audiences in mind. However, it still reaches potential customers when shared as reviews or on social media, and you can make it more targeted using paid promotions.

However, keep in mind that you’ll need the permission of the creator to use the content for any paid promotions.

2. Measurability

Measuring success is easy with influencer marketing. You get clear numbers like reach (i.e., how many people see the content), engagement rate (i.e., how many interact with it), and conversions (i.e., how many take a desired action such as a sign-up or purchase). The numbers help you quantify how well a campaign is doing.

With UGC, it's a bit trickier. Since UGC is organic and shared widely, it's harder to track its impact consistently due to its appearance in various places and formats.

However, you can still look at things like how much UGC is out there, its quality, how engaged customers are with it, and whether it boosts conversions. These insights give a good sense of UGC's impact, even if it's not as straightforward as influencer marketing metrics.

For example, Masoom Minawala has a hashtag by her name #masoommagic. And you can see how much impact it generates for brands.

#masoommagic-image

3. Control

In influencer marketing, you (the marketer) can influence the content, and messaging, and decide how the influencer shares it. This lets you set goals, give guidelines, and pick the best influencers to collaborate with.

With UGC, your brand takes a back seat because creators shoot the content on their own, without any supervision.

4. Goals

The goal in influencer marketing is often about achieving specific business results: driving sales, building a library of lifestyle content, improving how people feel about the brand, and increasing awareness and engagement.

UGC is more about being authentic, building a community, and getting users involved. This style of content is all about forming real connections with the audience, not just pushing sales.

For example, Birds of Paradyes has an Instagram account where they post about existing customers and their experience with the brand.

Birds-of-Paradyes-image

5. Costs

Influencer marketing demands the big bucks because you pay influencers to create and promote content to an audience that trusts them. You invest in influencer campaigns to benefit from their impact.

On the other hand, UGC relies on free content generated by existing customers or fans.

6. Scalability

You can increase the impact of influencer marketing by working with more influencers. If you want more results, just add more influencers.

UGC can be scalable if you have many customers. More customers means more opportunities for them to post organically. Brands can provide a little nudge to encourage more organic reviews and social posts. For example, a note inside the customer’s shipment can mention where to leave a review or a hashtag to use on social media. But sometimes you may need to supplement UGC with influencer content to get the quantity you need.

UGC’s Impact on Influencer Marketing

“When it comes to UGC vs. influencer marketing, I'm always advocating for UGC partnerships because it gives the creators more creative freedom since they're not pressured to post to their own (social) pages” - Tiffany Knight, Founder and CEO at Brand Curators.

Indeed, brands are starting to consider ways to encourage more UGC. And the trend toward using the “smaller,” more authentic micro-influencers and nano influencers is clear.

A recent study conducted by EnTribe shows 86% of consumers trust brands more when they use content from real customers instead of paid influencers. Additionally, 83% of consumers are more likely to buy from brands that share UGC with real customers rather than influencer-created content.

This shift in feelings highlights a strong preference for authenticity and genuine experiences over influencer endorsements.

UGC has also shown a huge impact on what people decide to buy and how they feel about brands.

Meanwhile, Harris Poll’s research for Emplifi confirms people’s trust in UGC. Eighty-seven percent say real customer reviews and ratings have a bigger impact on their purchasing choices than reviews from influencers or celebrities (which come in at about 50%).

Plus, 58% of shoppers consider customer photos and videos as more important than factors like price, shipping costs, or return policies.

This preference for UGC shows how much people value authentic experiences shared by other customers.

Cost Is A Factor

According to Hoopla Marketing, "consumers are increasingly looking for trustworthiness, credibility and authenticity from influencers they follow." Brands are taking notice. Influencer Marketing Hub reports "a strong preference for working with small (nano - 44% and micro - 26%) influencers ahead of expensive macro-influencers (17%) and celebrities (13%)."

Aware of the shifting dynamics, brands are finding ways to use more content created by customers in their marketing tactics to establish a stronger bond with their consumer base. Not only is UGC less costly than influencer-generated content, its also effective.

UGC is perceived to be almost 9 times more effective than influencer content when it comes to purchasing decisions. On top of that, it is considered 50% more trustworthy and 20% more influential than other types of media.

Brands’ struggles with UGC

UGC sounds like a winning marketing tactic to connect with your audience and boost your sales. However, it’s not simple to implement, especially if you’re a new brand on the block.

abovealluring-IG-post

1. Lack of Initial UGC

For a new brand, there's often no existing UGC because they don't have an established customer base yet. This makes it hard to show social proof and authenticity to shoppers.

2. Scaling UGC

As a new brand or one with a small user base, even if you do generate some initial UGC, scaling it to reach more people is tough when your user base is small. You’ll need to find ways to encourage more customers to create and share content, which is a challenge.

3. Creating UGC for Lesser Known Products

If you have a line-up of products under your brand, the more popular products will get a disproportionate share of UGC. How do you get more UGC to build trust and traction for the less popular products that aren't as well-known but may be just as good?

4. Product Seeding

One way to get UGC-like content is by giving products to influencers with no expectations. Influencers can then create authentic content about the products. But, this approach requires careful selection of influencers, is not free, and can be costly and tricky to manage.

How much content can you expect from product seeding? Experienced marketing agencies like Kynship.co report a 20-30% posting rate and two to three pieces of content per post when influencers are sent free gifts.

5. Obtaining Content Rights

Another hurdle is getting permission from the customer to use UGC in the brand's marketing. Your brand needs to figure out the legal and ethical parts of using UGC, including asking for permissions and maybe negotiating with content creators.

First, let's clarify who owns the content rights when your brand is tagged.

Courtney Goudswaard of Kynship.co shares, "The default rule in the absence of any kind of contract is that when someone creates the content, they (the creator) own all the content rights. But this default rule can be changed through something like an influencer agreement or rights request contract."

How exactly do you ask for permission? Goudswaard shares the exact wording which she reports has a 90% success rate:

"Hey X! We're so glad you loved our product so much so you were willing to share this content with your audience. We'd love to be able to share this content with our audiences as well! Could we have the rights to use this content on organic and paid social for 30 days?"

6. Authenticity and Incentivization

When you encourage content creation, it's important to keep things authentic. Paying users or influencers to create content might make it seem less genuine, which could affect your brand's reputation. As a brand, think carefully about how you reward content creation to avoid these issues and ensure the UGC you use stays real and trustworthy.

Kno Commerce suggests an authentic (and mostly automated) strategy to encourage customers to create UGC:

"Set up a post purchase text automation to send once an order is delivered (either one hour after or the following day) and ask an open-ended question: What do you think of your product? Text us back and let us know!

This simple automation allows you to do two things really well. You can collect direct feedback on how customers enjoyed your product and it's an opportunity to engage 1:1 with those customers. Then, one week after the product arrives, invite customers to text a photo of them using the product. For anyone that responds, follow up with a special incentive for them to buy again.

Brands will also want to set up an automated reply to anyone who responds, asking for permission to use the photo on social media."

Strategies for Overcoming Challenges

Now, the question is: how will you deal with all those problems? Here are some strategies that’ll help you get over your UGC marketing woes:

  • Maintain the quality and relevance of your UGC by legally repurposing it.

Use hashtag campaigns to encourage user participation and make sure users know their content is associated with your brand. Always get explicit permission from content creators before sharing their content to maintain goodwill and avoid legal problems.

  • To get more UGC for your new brand, engage early adopters by offering incentives and discounts to encourage them to create content.

Host giveaway contests that motivate users to share brand-related content using branded hashtags. Implement loyalty programs that reward users for creating and sharing content, which builds community and advocacy around your brand.

For example, Rare Beauty — Selena Gomez’s makeup brand — started the hashtag #rareroutine to encourage customers to share their beauty routines using Rare Beauty products.

#rareroutine-image

  • When choosing influencers, research and connect with those who align with your brand's values and target audience.

Collaborate with influencers to create genuine content that showcases your products or services. Encourage the influencer to create content that inspires their followers to share their own experiences with your brand, such as product reviews, unboxing videos, or creative ways of using your products.

  • Obtain content rights upfront by getting explicit permission from content creators to use their UGC in marketing.

Use user-generated content rights software to make it easier to obtain rights from multiple content owners. Always give clear credit to content creators when sharing their UGC to show transparency and appreciation for their contributions.

Should brands and agencies be using UGC, influencer content––or both?

1. Scenarios where UGC is best

In certain situations, relying purely on organic user-generated content provides the greatest impact:

  • When you want to showcase authentic customer experiences and opinions, unfiltered UGC conveys a level of credibility that polished brand content can't match. Real people sharing genuine stories builds trust.

  • To engage your community and encourage participation, organic UGC makes your audience feel heard and valued. Reposting their content strengthens their connection to your brand and inspires others to join the conversation.

  • During a PR crisis, pulling back on-brand content and amplifying positive UGC helps organically shift the narrative. Authentic voices supporting you carry weight in tough times.

Focus on these scenarios to leverage UGC for building authenticity, participation, and brand resilience. Identify opportunities where unfiltered audience content can speak louder than your own brand content.

2. Scenarios where influencer marketing is best

For certain objectives, partnering with influencers provides distinct advantages:

  • When you need to reach a specific audience, influencers give you targeted access to their curated followings. You gain instant visibility among people interested in your niche.

  • Influencers excel at creating UGC-style content that still aligns with your key messaging. You get authentic creative tailored to campaign goals, offering more control versus organic UGC.

  • Repurposing influencer content as paid ads combines the credibility of UGC with the reach of your media budget. Micro-influencer content often outperforms polished brand creatives while letting you scale views.

  • For driving conversions, influencers can share trackable affiliate links and discount codes, attributing sales directly to their content. Tie your influencer partnerships to measurable ROI.

Tap into influencer marketing when you need a targeted, on-message UGC alternative that gives you greater control and attribution. Cultivate long-term influencer relationships to maintain an ongoing stream of relevant, high-quality creative.

3. Scenarios where both are best

Picture this: a travel company partners with a popular travel influencer to promote eco-friendly accommodations.

The influencer showcases the accommodations and highlights sustainability. Next, the influencer encourages followers to share travel experiences and sustainable tips using a branded hashtag.

The company now incorporates the generated UGC into paid social media ads for authenticity!

This scenario combines influencer marketing for reach, and UGC for authenticity, driving engagement and interest in eco-friendly travel.

It's the perfect blend and a favorite among marketers.

Abbey Bruggeworth, owner and founder of The All in Haus, loves both strategies. She says, “They each play a crucial role in any marketing plan or campaign. Influencer marketing leverages audiences, while UGC taps into the emotions of potential clients and builds rapport for the brand.”

As a brand, what does it take to get started with UGC?

Getting started with UGC as a brand that hasn't done it before or often can bring significant benefits. Here's why it's worth taking the leap of faith:

  • Content rights: Get permission from content creators before sharing their content to build goodwill and avoid legal issues. This shows respect for the creators and keeps your reputation positive.

  • Scaling production: Scaling UGC production lets your brand feature various content that matches your values. With good moderation, you can ensure quality and consistency across different UGC formats.

“The biggest challenge is motivating customers to create this UGC. What do people share on social media? Emotions from the purchase, the convenience of using the product, impressions of good service and beautiful packaging, care, and humor from the brand. If you consider these factors and integrate them into your product, you can increase the amount of UGC.” — Ana Najmušinová, Founder & CMO of the marketing agency NAVIAN.studio

  • Incentivizing content creation: Choose content creators wisely and give them incentives to encourage authentic engagement. Offering rewards, discounts, or exclusive experiences inspires users to share their experiences creatively.

Sometimes customers need a little more incentive to post UGC content. Take IES Abroad, for example. This study abroad program offers payments to its study abroad student travelers in exchange for posting about their travel experiences on social media. These students are not influencers, but rather authentic customers who just need a little incentive (i.e., payment) to tag the brand in their amazing travel content. And the authentic customer content is highly effective when used as creatives in paid ads.

If you do need a boost to your UGC, you can seed product to micro-influencers or nano-influencers who can create UGC-style content. You can also run campaigns or challenges asking customers to share their experiences through contests or hashtags, boosting engagement and participation. And don't forget to simply ask your customers by dropping a note in the shipping box or starting a conversation by text after the delivery.

Not everyone’s a fan of producing UGC with influencers.

Ana Najmušinová, founder and CMO of NAVIAN.studio, says,

“People who regularly create content are always a bit narcissistic. They enjoy it when their favorite or just trendy brand shares their content on their account. Therefore, I recommend motivating customers to create UGC from the very beginning of the brand's creation.”

As an agency, what does it take to get started with UGC?

For an agency, the very first thing you need to do is understand the impact of UGC in building authenticity and trust, and engaging your audience.

  • UGC strongly influences purchasing decisions and brand sentiment, and your clients need to be aware of that.

Glossier knows this well. It encourages more people to share their stories with Glossier and then it posts customer stories that are often heartwarming, as well as numerous photos of people using Glossier products.

As you can see here how the entire comment section is filled with love towards Glossier products.

Glossier-post

  • Next, use your agency's influencer connections to create UGC-style content suitable for paid advertising. Collaborate with creators who share your client's values and campaign goals to create authentic content that resonates with the target audience.

  • Create customized UGC strategies for each client based on their specific needs and goals. Encourage clients to engage with UGC contributors, share UGC on their social channels, and interact with UGC posts to foster community involvement and brand advocacy.

Finally, launch UGC campaigns that encourage users to share experiences, testimonials, and reviews.

Recommend clients host social media contests, partner with influencers, and use stories and live videos to start conversations, drive interactions, and build a community around their brand.

Wrapping up

UGC, which is content created by users themselves, is valued for its authenticity and the trust it builds with consumers. It's a powerful tool for brands who want to connect more deeply with their audience.

Then there's UGC-like content, which is often made in collaboration with influencers. This kind of content tries to capture the genuine feel of UGC while using influencers' reach and influence. It's a nice blend of authentic content with influencer expertise.

Pure influencer marketing is all about teaming up with people who have big followings to promote products or services. While it's great for targeting specific audiences, UGC-like content tends to work better in paid ads because it fits so naturally into people's feeds.

Now, it’s up to you to decide which strategy will fit your marketing efforts better.

Regardless of which strategy you choose, you’ll need a tool to automate the highly repetitive processes. Try a tool like MightyScout. Schedule a call for a personalized demo.