Just the other day, I noticed something odd at my gym: a large, rectangular piece of white card, with the centre cut out. It was placed on the wall-to-wall mirrors by the stretching mats.
It looked like a frame – and as I got closer, I realised that’s just what it was. Branded with the PureGym logo, it had motivational messages and a cut-out on the side of ams with flexed biceps.
But it wasn’t until I saw a hashtag that the penny dropped. I was supposed to take a selfie in the mirror, surrounded by the frame, and post it on Twitter.
The problem is, I’m one of those rare individuals who don’t take their phone into the gym. When I work out, I prefer to do it uninterrupted by WhatsApp, email and all the other digital disruptors.
I did once take my phone with me to listen to music while I exercised, but realised to my horror when I got home how high the volume had been to drown out the already-blaring music in the gym.
So in the locker it stays.
PureGym, like so many other brands nowadays, has jumped on the UGC bandwagon.
User-generated content is all the rage at the moment – and for good reason. It’s free, there’s an almost limitless supply, and it’s perceived as being more trustworthy.
That last one is probably the most important. In a digital world of low trust and overblown promises, companies are trying to adopt a softer approach. UGC helps them be less salesy, and brings with it two vital ingredients: authenticity and transparency.
The fact of the matter is that if you blow your own trumpet, it’s not nearly as believable as if somebody else does it for you.
And the younger the audience, the truer that is. 86% of Millennials say that user-generated content is ‘generally a good indicator of the quality of a brand, service or product’.
UGC is all about making a connection, with companies and with each other. It’s about creating a sense of community and shared experience.
And it works.
When Starbucks launched its White Cup Contest back in 2014, encouraging people to doodle on their cups and post photos, they received over 4,000 entries and generated lots of social media activity.
Coke did the same thing with Share a Coke back in 2013/14, with personalised bottles that got people snapping and posting. The campaign apparently led to a 2% increase in sales, which probably explains why they give it a second outing earlier this year, this time with holiday destinations on the bottles, just in time for the summer season.
Apple’s ‘shot on iPhone’ campaign was a UGC master stroke. To date, over 1.4m photographs have been posted in Instagram, and the best ones have been featured 10,000 billboards globally.
Just think about it: they’ve created a worldwide buzz, got people actively involved and gained the rights to some stunning photographs. All for next to nothing.
Apart from coffee cups, cola bottles and smartphone shots, there are lots of other more mundane UGC avenues you can explore. Reviews, recommendations, blog posts, ratings and comments are all great ways to get the message out through users.
Research by Reevoo reveals that 70% of people value user-generated content over in-house content. Another study shows that a whopping 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
So UGC is the way to go – but it’s not without downsides. User-generated often means it’s out of your control, and that’s fine if it’s good, but not so fine if it’s bad. Once the message is out in the wild, you can’t control it.
So you should do all you can upstream to make sure the users are generating the right kind of content downstream.
That said, user-generated doesn’t necessarily mean unprompted: it could be testimonials that you’ve asked for, or case studies you’ve commissioned. People share their thoughts and tell their stories, but you’re curating and filtering the content so you can manage the message.
But you shouldn’t try to exercise too much control. The best UGC is spontaneous and unpredictable. So you’re living (a tad) dangerously, but you have nothing to worry about if you’re doing all the right things.
So what could you do to get users talking and sharing, liking and promoting? With a little creativity, you could tap into a rich seam of content that’s highly effective, virtually inexhaustible and blissfully cheap.
As for me, I still haven’t snapped my selfie at Pure. I think perhaps I need a few more user-generated muscles before I dare to share.