By Margaret Wise, Vice President of Strategy, Arke

Partner Perspectives


The days when companies controlled brand messaging are long gone. Today’s prospective buyers are likely to bypass carefully curated corporate marketing material in favor of advice from existing customers, or user-generated content (UGC).

As marketers, we understand this new reality. Our customers increasingly turn to each other and not to us for inspiration throughout their buying journeys. In fact, they now control many moments of the customer journey, as well as much of the content that shapes how others shop.

Welcome to the era of user-generated content

This user-generated content that our customers produce—from ratings and reviews to videos, blogs, discussion forum posts, digital images, and audio files—outperforms brand-produced collateral, a trend that you can see in the following statistics:

  • 86% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands to support, and 60% of consumers rate UGC as the most authentic form of content (Stackla, 2017).
  • 70% of US consumers say they are more likely to buy a product after seeing a positive or relatable consumer-generated image online (Olapic, 2017).
  • 73% of consumers say user-generated content increases their purchasing confidence, and 65% say it is more interesting than marketing created by the brand (TurnTo, 2017).

Why use user-generated content?

UGC is a modern name for a time-honored concept. People have always asked friends and neighbors for referrals. Digital technologies have just broadened the scope. We now have access to traditional neighborly insights on a global scale. And people love it.

In fact, UGC gives shoppers all the information they need to make informed purchase decisions. It’s fresh, fast, and ever expanding. Think about it. Everyone has an opinion—and a surprising number of people are willing to share their thoughts.

Benefits, risks of user-generated content

That sound you hear is UGC opening doors for brand marketers. Consider the evidence. For example, Sprout Social notes in its fourth quarter 2017 Social Index, brands now have unparalleled opportunities to share meaningful moments of their customers’ lives in an authentic, consumer-driven way.

And while UGC can accelerate brand recognition, the wrong content can decelerate it just as quickly. Because people tend to complain faster than they compliment; unhappy customers are almost three times more likely to tweet about their grievances than happy customers are to compliment brands on Twitter.

UGC raises legal risks, too—ownership and licensing, privacy, monetization, and false statements, to name a few. “As valuable as user-generated content can be, it has to be weighed against the corresponding risks, which can be substantial,” said Kristina Podnar, a digital policy expert, in an article on CMSWire. “And, unless you want frontline employees making that decision every day, you have to create digital policies addressing the potential issues.”

What could go wrong? Plenty. Brands should have—at the very least—manual governance to address potential complications. They need to understand what permissions or rights they have to use UGC. They also need a way to deal with potential disputes, such as crediting similar creative concepts submitted simultaneously.

Best practices for user-generated content

Leverage UGC as much as possible because it helps brands build trust with their customers. By incorporating the views of your customers, you show your openness and willingness to listen. 

But to make the most of UGC, companies need to manage it. Arke recommends these three tactics for doing that:

  1. Ask for permission from the author before incorporating UGC into your marketing and advertising. Contrary to popular belief not everything on the internet is free to use. To avoid problems, just assume all content is copyrighted and ask before using.
  2. Don’t assume the person who posted an image of your product was the one who took the picture. Ask specifically for the source of the image so you can get permission from the right person.
  3. Be generous with your appreciation, even if you have permission to reuse content. It adds credibility and trust to give credit to the person who created it. This is also a great way to build community among your customers and demonstrate that you not only enjoy their active participation but also value their thoughts and content.

Following these few simple guidelines, you can extend your marketing reach exponentially with the power of UGC.


Margaret Wise is Vice President of Strategy at Arke, a Sitecore Platinum Partner, and a Sitecore MVP. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.