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How much can you really trust user-generated content?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher November 17, 2017
User-generated content that advocates for brands is all the rage. But how willing are consumers to do it? And are we on a slippery branded slope? We analyze examples and data from Sprout Social.

People share their lives on social. They share things that happen during their day, things that make them happy, important milestones and life events.

It’s a great opportunity for brands to build awareness, and sell products - if they can somehow become a part of these social sharing activities.

It’s easy to do when the brand initiates the sharing request. For example, asking people on Facebook to share pictures of their baby wearing Huggies diapers with a hashtag #huggieshug in exchange for a chance to win a year’s worth of diapers or $1000. People will do it - just for the chance to win something or to get their baby’s picture on Huggies Facebook page.

This is one insight we learn from Sprout Social’s Q4 2017 Sprout Social Index: Moments & Milestones: UGC, Brands & Emotional Touchpoints on Social.

The benefits of user-generated content

It’s no secret that people increasingly trust the recommendations of their family, friends, and peers over traditional advertising. Forty-eight percent of respondents have made a purchase for a milestone after seeing that product or brand on social, according to the study. So it pays for brands to get their products mentioned. But for the most part, mentions are brand initiated. Which makes us wonder how effective they are.

UGC that mentions a brand or its product brings many benefits, indicates an IAB report:

  • Heightened Consumer Trust
  • Stronger Brand Affinity and Engagement
  • More Earned Media
  • Stronger SEO
  • Research Opportunities
  • Cost-Efficient Content Pipeline

The IAB report notes:

Trust is an important factor leading to increased loyalty, conversion, and even purchases. This is particularly important for higher ticket priced items.

The Sprout Social study lists several reasons why people mention brands in their social shares:

  • Recommend a brand to others
  • Thank the brand
  • Receive discounts or incentives

The report states that there is an expectation that brands recognize this ‘recognition,' and that users expect something in return - whether it’s incentives or simply being mentioned by the brand.

Is this the UGC people trust?

Brand initiated social shares can create awareness, and they can promote customer loyalty if the content shared by customers is recognized and promoted by the brand. They are almost always fun or incite some emotional response. But is it the user-generated content (UGC) that consumers trust?

Consider the reasons people create UGC (again from the IAB report):

Consumers are drawn to UGC opportunities for a variety of reasons including a desire to be a thought leader, a need to be part of a group, a want to show off their creativity, and in some instances a gain of status or financial rewards for participating.

How many people mention brands for the recognition over simply trying to help other people? Or even better, how many mention brands just to thank brands with no expectation in return?

Consider this:


Or this:


Would you not think this type of true user-generated content is more trustworthy than something initiated by a brand, such as a contest or reward giveaway? And if it is, how can a brand leverage it openly without taking away its true power to promote the brand?

Maybe just by saying thank you back.

Either way, brands need to be on social, and they need UGC

So many people spend so much of their time on social that brands simply have to be there - even B2B brands. I will read a post on Facebook anytime over an advertisement on a web page (and I’m not a big social media user).

A few more stats to make this point:

Q1 2017, via Sprout Social:

  • 71% of people are likely to buy a product after a good experience with the brand on social.
  • 62% of consumers said they are likely or somewhat likely to purchase a product from a brand they follow on social
  • 7 in 10 Gen Xers will likely purchase something from a brand they follow on social.

Q2 2017: via Sprout Social:

  • In terms of how to build affinity and engagement, consumers want brands to be honest (86%), friendly (83%) and helpful (78%).
  • Being responsive on social prompts 48% of consumers to purchase.

But social is not only about awareness and promotion. It’s also about customer service and out of all the information available in the Sprout Social study, this table that shows brand engagement stats is what captured my attention:


My take

Like I said, I’m not a big social media user. I visit Facebook, check out Twitter and read posts on LinkedIn, but other than Facebook, it’s for business purposes. But I have a lot of friends who are continually promoting brands by sharing and participating in contests.

It’s a little annoying to see my feed filled with brand content - regardless of where it comes from. I feel UGC for brands is becoming cluttered too, making it even more difficult to cut through the noise. Every B2C brand is leveraging UGC. At what point will we tire of this type of content too, and what will come next?

Image credit - Feature image - Feedback © MK-Photo - UGC image examples and some consumer behavior data was provided by Sprout Social's PR agency. It's refreshing to see a PR firm handle a critical email with grace and provide supporting examples.

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