Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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UGC vs. Influencers: Making the Case for User-Generated Content

The lines between public relations, marketing and advertising continue to blur, with each industry increasingly mimicking or employing the best tactics of the others. Leveraging digital media channels to build relationships with your target audience is now a mainstay in most communication strategies.

Creating content, working with influencers (aka influencer marketing), and amplifying user-generated content (UGC) online are great examples of areas that may be managed by communications teams, dedicated social media person(s), public relations firms, freelancers or marketing managers. It just depends on the organization.

We’ll begin with some definitions and recent statistics, then move on to comparing UGC and IGC, tips, and example use case scenarios.

User-generated content (UGC) defined

User-generated content is any content made and shared by individuals rather than a brand or organization.

Perhaps the most significant benefit of UGC (created by customers or clients), such as an online review, social media post, podcast content, or video commentary, is that it’s viewed as more authentic and trustworthy. UGC is one of the best ways to cultivate and engage with your community — and foster brand loyalty. Bonus: UGC tends to be highly shareable, furthering brand or product awareness.

Don’t get me wrong, UGC won’t work for everyone, and it’s not without challenges. Like anything else online, addressing negative or inappropriate content is a serious concern. Curating and managing quality UGC is time-consuming, which still means labor costs. (Remember back when everyone thought “social media is free”? 😏)

Note: In this article, UGC refers to authentic user-generated content, not “UGC-style” (paid) content by creators that simulates the unpolished style of UGC.

Influencer-generated content (IGC) defined

Influencer-generated content (aka influencer marketing) is a collaboration or partnership between brands and popular online (usually social media) users to promote the brand’s products or services. It’s essentially a paid endorsement by someone online who has a large or niche audience, is well-liked and influential.

We’ve written about influencers and the influencer market – a lot. As a result, I won’t belabor this section. For reference or bookmark for future reading, here’s some of what we’ve published so far this year:

Influencer-generated content isn’t going anywhere. According to Influencer Marketing Hub’s 2023 report, the influencer economy is expected to grow to $21 billion (with a B) by the end of the year. However, given the current economic uncertainties, brands are understandably cutting back.

I have noticed an uptick in industry news on finding and using unpaid influencers (like devotees and fans). To me, this sounds more like a combination of UGC and IGC. This strategy is undoubtedly easier on the budget but poses huge risk potential for the brand.

Look out, influencers, UGC is on the rise!

People are getting tired of and even annoyed by the sheer volume of influencer content. And many turn away from brands altogether if they feel the influencer (and, by extension, the brand) isn’t relatable.

A pie chart with text[SOURCE]

A recent study by EnTribe, a global UGC and creator relationship management (CRM) platform, shows:

  • 81% of the consumers surveyed say influencer endorsement has either no impact or a negative impact on their purchase decision-making.
  • 86% are more likely to trust a brand that uses content from actual customers than paid influencers.
  • 83% say that they are more likely to buy from a brand that publishes UGC (from real customers) vs. IGC.

Harris Poll conducted research for Emplifi, a unified CX platform, surveying consumers in both the US and UK earlier this year. They discovered:

  • 87% of consumers said that real-life customer reviews/ratings have a greater impact on purchasing decisions compared to influencer/celebrity reviews (50%).
  • 58% place a high value on product pictures or videos from real-life customers when researching products online — outranking price, shipping costs, and return policies.

“There’s no better way to demonstrate brand authenticity than by putting organic customer experiences front and center. Brands that are already leveraging UGC are seeing measurable results,” said Emplifi’s Chief of Strategy Kyle Wong.

Interestingly, this really isn’t new news. In early 2021, market research firm, Infosurv, surveyed consumers in the US, UK and Australia on behalf of Stackla (now Nosto). The results showed similar findings. The findings support UGC’s growing influence on post-pandemic purchasing decisions:

  • 88% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they favor and support (with 50% saying it’s very important) — 8.7x more impactful than influencer content, the press release claims.
  • 79% said UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions, while only 12% said branded content and 9% said influencer content is impactful.
  • 59% of respondents said UGC, content created by other consumers, is perceived as the most authentic.

UGC vs. Influencer Marketing

Let’s take a closer look at the key differences between user-generated content and influencer-generated content:
A comparison of a content

Influencer marketing can be expensive. For example, Taylor Swift earns about $1.6 million per post; Dwayne Johnson (aka ‘the Rock’) pulls in more than $2 million per post. Granted, those are shockingly high examples, but even micro-influencers can earn hundreds to thousands per post.

Not only do you need a legal contract and to pay the creator, but you also must have the (internal or external) resources to identify, build, coordinate and manage influencer relationships. In addition to these resources, you need people to communicate approved messaging and timelines, identify brand assets for use, and develop and manage an overall approval process.

User-generated content comes with its own challenges, not the least of which is developing, building, and fostering a robust online brand community. Once you have that, encouraging and incentivizing your customers to be brand advocates and to post socially shareable content should be a bit easier. Even with a strong community, brands often motivate customers through giveaways, awards and recognition, contests, or exclusive or early access incentives. Just remember, this requires long-term commitment.

Anyone can re-share UGC like any other social post (implicit consent). However, if you want to use that content on other platforms, on your website or as part of a marketing or PR campaign, this falls under privacy laws that require you to get explicit consent. The simplest way to do this is by commenting on the post and asking permission to re-use.

Note: If your organization is large enough to have in-house legal counsel, you should seek it.
To be safe, you might consider using licensing agreements, consent forms, or a designated UGC rights management system.

Recent UGC examples

barbie AIgenThe most recent and wildly successful campaign with UGC integration is, of course, the Barbie Movie. I mean, who didn’t try out the Barbie selfie generator?!

As many astute PR pros have noted, with every selfie shared came more exposure and coverage for the movie, dolls, and accessories.

The Mattel and Warner Bros. Discovery PR and marketing teams prepared by securing over 100 brand partnerships in the lead-up to the movie. Through those partnerships, experiential marketing (like Malibu Barbie Café pop-ups and the “World of Barbie”) and social media (like TikTok lens extension and official Twitter emoji), they effectively manufactured “Barbie-mania”!

*The caveat of Barbie’s success is that most of us don’t work for multi-billion-dollar companies and will not likely see this level of participation.

Another great example of leveraging user-generated content is GoPro, the maker of action cameras (mobile apps and video-editing software). They encourage their followers to share photos and videos they take using the #GoPro Instagram hashtag.


The results are awe-inspiring — especially for a company that’s only about 20 years old! Even though I live a relatively uninteresting, rural life, I’ve considered (multiple times) buying a GoPro.

I’m a big proponent of studying previous actions to (try and) learn from other’s failures and successes. There are case studies and examples out there for nearly every industry, from healthcare to finance to higher education. Before beginning your program, I suggest seeking out industry-specific or case-specific ideas to model.


All of this signifies one thing clearly — the impact of influencer-generated content on purchase decisions is diminishing. Visual social proof (like user-generated content) is more important now than ever for brands to leverage as part of their online marketing and PR strategy.

People prefer real-life recommendations over influencer or brand promotions. UGC brings a sense of unbiased authenticity, trustworthiness, and credibility — all key to any public relations campaign!

Real-life experiences and endorsements don’t just make for good content. They drive results.


Burrelles monitoring allows you to track mentions in real-time from all media – print, online, broadcast, and social — along with the ability to integrate Google Analytics for complete reporting and evaluation. Contact us here for more information and to discuss your specific needs.

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