Type to search

Why brands are leaning on user-generated content (UGC) content during COVID-19

Social & Digital

Why brands are leaning on user-generated content (UGC) content during COVID-19


User-generated content (UGC) campaigns are one of the biggest marketing trends to emerge in the past few years. For marketers, UGC can have a range of benefits, from budgetary to imparting an authentic human feeling that can be difficult to convey through traditional marketing methods. 

We recently caught up with Garth Williamson, the country manager of Shutterstock, Australia and New Zealand, to talk about why UGC content is so engaging and how the trend has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Williamson discusses what marketers should be considering in order to create UGC campaigns that resonate and are well aligned with the unique interests of customers.

Why is UGC a good option for brands during the COVID-19 crisis?

User-generated content, or ‘authentic content’ as known by some in the industry, is considered the ‘new revolution in marketing’. At its heart, it provides something useful to its target readers — its relatable, relevant and true-to-life. During a time like COVID-19, it is more important than ever for brands to step-back from the ‘business as usual’ approach, especially with so many consumers across the globe being impacted financially, physically and emotionally by the pandemic.

What trends have you noticed from incoming briefs during this time? What content is being highly requested and why?

Our Shutterstock Custom business — which provides digital marketers with high-quality custom visual content at scale, has received a number of briefs over the last month, with client profiles that fit into the following:

  • Agency – 70 percent
  • Travel – 15 percent
  • E-Commerce/ Retailers – 15 percent

Of the agency requests, 100 percent of them lean towards a UGC look and feel, with multiple requests for real delivery workers or facilities.

More brands are looking to address the pandemic directly to amplify their brand message. At Shutterstock, there has been an increased interest in citizen and ‘real life’ imagery as cause-related marketing takes its hold.

What marketing streams are best suited for UGC (EDMs, social media, consumer promotions)?

Social media has historically been the best suited to UGC, thanks to its visual components, discovery tools and frequent usage. However each marketing platform has its strengths and weaknesses, and some lend themselves to higher return on engagement for UGC than others.

While UGC is best suited for social media, there are many different formats that can work — from simple reviews to more personal content such as live video, contests, giveaways and photos.

More recently, due to the pandemic, brands are using UGC content for TV and YouTube ads. With all the late night shows and celebrities working from home, society is more open to seeing real life in these formats. The previously polished, high-produced campaign has been replaced with videos celebrating front-line workers and using current event imagery that connects with audiences in a timely and meaningful way.

Why is UGC content so engaging? Does it help make brands more human?

UGC is a refreshing take on traditional business to consumer communication. A recent study found that 96 percent of consumers don’t trust ads, perceiving them as opportunistic and out of touch. This attitude has been cultivated following years of clickbaity slogans and heavy-handed photoshopping which only widened the gap between the consumer experience and the advertised subject.

UGC plays into the powerful phenomenon of social proof. As humans, we are genetically hard-wired to learn from the experiences of others — whether that’s from someone we know or a brand that we trust. UGC has become a very important marketing strategy as it elevates a brand’s authenticity through the use of everyday people that are relatable to the consumer.

UGC will allow brands to represent common experiences and identify relatable pain points, providing a helping hand to the consumer, rather than being seen as just another sales focused business.

What brands have successfully utilised UGC in their strategy? Do any particular campaigns stand out?

The dichotomy between UGC and traditional ads is really interesting, especially during this moment in time where we are seeing an acceptance of unpolished COVID-19 content. There’s always a risk for brands moving to UGC and doing it in a way that doesn’t feel authentic. There was a Vanish campaign that used an SMI that I thought was flawed because it took an influencer out of her UGC environment and tried to recreate it with a highly polished treatment and set. The result was an unauthentic feel that removed you from the voyeuristic pleasure of UGC.

The local UGC campaigns that have resonated with me include:

Qantas – 2020 I still call Australia home

This is an iconic ad that most Aussies would know, revisited in the COVID era through UGC videos of children in their own homes. While the concept is not new, it just goes to show that you don’t need a completely new concept to elicit the same feelings as the previous campaign.

The Iconic – To Those Who Mother

For Mother’s Day this year, the well-known retail brand focused their campaign on celebrating and giving thanks to the mums who are working from home, homeschooling, entertaining and providing care all around the clock during COVID-19. It draws on UGC that are relatable and emotional, forgoing the overt sales pitch to focus on content that leaves a lasting impression.

What UGC opportunities exist that marketers are currently missing?

Marketers should use social listening to stay ahead of the trends and conversations taking place within their market audience.

Social listening involves tracking mentions and phrases across social media channels, analysing the discourse and tone surrounding a particular topic. This will be crucial in ensuring UGC marketing campaigns are well aligned with customer demands, pain points or interests.

COVID-19 has highlighted the need for community marketing, that focuses on responding to customers’ needs rather than shameless push marketing and blatant product promotion. Social listening will reveal the actionable insights that can easily be addressed through UGC, simultaneously creating a community, rather than just a customer base.

How can marketers and agencies better incorporate UGC in their overall strategies?

UGC doesn’t need to replace your tried and tested marketing strategies.

An effective way to prompt UGC is by tapping into the power of communities through gamification. This strategy will be particularly effective during COVID-19, where boredom has sparked a variety of social media challenges like Instagram’s head tilt filter, Instagram Live Q&A’s and TikTok’s #FlipTheSwitch. While these challenges weren’t overtly branded, marketers can learn a lot about the value of gamification to encourage customer participation.

For those that are pivoting their strategies quickly and don’t have the time to roll-out a full marketing campaign to collect UGC from their audience, look to specialised platforms like ours to help support the brief. This will allow marketers and/or agencies to focus on incorporating and rolling out UGC successfully across their platforms, rather than sourcing it.

Garth Williamson the country manager of Shutterstock, Australia and New Zealand.

Jasmine Giuliani

Jasmine Giuliani was the Editor of Marketing Mag from March 2020 to September 2021.

  • 1

You Might also Like

1 Comment

Leave a Comment