We often get asked about the difference between UGC (user-generated content) and social media content. Different people might say different things, but we’ll share with you how we explain it – and what each one is good for.

For us, social media content is something you can neither curate nor control. People are only sharing for their own benefit.

UGC, or at least our brand of it, is content you have gathered specifically from your customers – either to feature on your own channels to promote your brand, or for internal research/development purposes.

Social media content is often collected by ‘content scrapers’ (we’ve spoken about them before) – companies which use software to dig up data or content from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or wherever else. There are dangers of using these kind of methods:

You can risk alienating customers by using their UGC and social media posts without permission;

The content’s not created with the brand in mind, so your product doesn’t take centre stage;

And often you have to trawl through loads of stuff just to find something relevant.

But as people are increasingly using UGC and social media to inform their purchasing decisions, brands need to work out when they should grab something from social media and when they should be thinking about tailor made user-generated content.

Here are eight common scenarios in which you might find yourself questioning whether UGC or social media is better.

1. Live events

Situation: want to celebrate and amplify live collection and streaming?

Solution: scrape social

For live events, which start and finish over a day or a weekend, it’s better to scrape social for your content.

You’ll have to prepare ahead to make the process easier. Organise a hashtag and making sure all attendees know about it – that will help you gather all the content produced during the event. There are lots of useful platforms you can use for monitoring key words and hashtags. Then all that’s left to do is engage and amplify the people talking about your event on social.

UGC can strengthen brand stories and even completely change perceptions. - Highlight to share -

There are also platforms that will allow you to target people on Twitter using direct messages according to their interests so you can warn them what’s happening before the event. It’s worth saying that it’s not only the pre event plan which matters – it’s also an opportunity to tap into people’s FOMO if they never made it.

2. Telling a brand story

Situation: want to raise awareness about your brand?

Solution: collect UGC

To tell your core brand story, or change some negative perceptions you’ve been struggling with, ask your customers for some help.

UGC can strengthen brand stories and even completely change perceptions. If a brand wants to come across as more sporty, your marketing team can solicit for specific types and formats of UGC to use in a specific campaign. This would be far more risky if using social scraping – and more time consuming as you sift through the content to find exactly what you want. Being on point with your request means you’ll get amazing UGC that you can use everywhere.

Sure, it’s important to be in full control of your brand story – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to your customers and adapt your message to suit them.

3. Focusing on the details

Situation: want to show off a new product feature?

Solution: collect UGC

Again, this would be the time for UGC. Reach out to your customers for their take on what your product or service means to them.

It means that you can collect extremely targeted content; if you want to show off a particular feature of your product (for example, car interior, or the breakfast option on a holiday) you’re better off asking customers for that specifically (and proactively) after they’ve bought the product. You can use your existing customer touchpoints (like an email address), or check in with your customers again after a few months to see how they’re getting on.

We’re helping Mazda with a problem like this – check out this link and see how the MX-5 is tough enough to handle a road trip.

4. Big-bang seasonal campaigns

Situation: want to celebrate mother’s day?

Solution: scrape social

Seasonal campaigns are typically set up quickly, and over twice as fast, so it’s better to scrape social for your content.

If you’re doing a very specific, one-time, big bang, seasonal UGC campaign you can engage people on social using specific hashtags. You have to take what you’re given – there’s no quality control. But maybe that’ll add to the fun.

UGC will yield far more focused results than those from scraping social - Highlight to share -

There will be lots going on on social so it’s an ideal moment for your brand to jump on the bandwagon… but carefully – you don’t want to get thrown off.

5. Personalisation

Situation: want to use relevant UGC for different audiences?

Solution: collect UGC

This one’s a no-brainer.

Potential customers often have highly precise queries. And you can probably tell a lot about them from any data you’ve collected from them. This is an opportunity!

Content from social tends to be unstructured, unfocused and all over the place. Collect it in a structured way by both reviewer type and product, like we do… And you can make sure you’re displaying the relevant content to the right people. Let mums look at reviews from other mums. Let amateur photographers look at photos and content provided by other amateur photographers. You get the drift.

6. On the product pages

Situation: want to bring product pages or category pages to life?

Solution: collect UGC

You can’t fill a product page with content from social. There’s not enough of it, and it’s not structured enough to be able to split by product.

You’ve probably spent quite a while and some resources making sure your website offers an excellent user experience. Why ruin that with UGC that doesn’t correspond? If you have a lot of products, coverage is key. Collecting reviews and other content proactively will ensure you have a good amount of UGC on every product page.

7. Realtime conversations and customer service

Situation: want to connect with your customers around your campaign themes?

Solution: do it on social

If you’re running a campaign and want to keep the conversation going, or give a quick shoutout to vocal advocates, social media’s the place.

It’s a nice way to get your brand voice out there too – curate the people you want to talk to, and give them a thrill by mentioning them on a public platform. It’s also a good opportunity to give instant updates about stuff that’s going on with your business.

8. Business as usual

Situation: want to collect ongoing and systematic content?

Solution: collect UGC

Yep, you’ve guessed it: better to proactively collect.

If you’re looking to collect information that you could use in a campaign, for research and development purposes, to improve your SEO, fine-tune customer service or sell more, then UGC will yield far more focused and effective results than those from scraping social.

Sometimes scraping social media is more suitable for your brand’s needs. But other times, if you want to show potential customers exactly how existing customers are using a particular feature of your product or service, or if you want to tell your brand story through those who’ve already bought into it, then UGC is probably your best bet. 

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Social media content VS user-generated content