We’re always happy to welcome enthusiastic students to the Effective office for some work experience, and we recently had the pleasure of working with Grace from Cardiff Met. She put together this fantastic blog on user-generated content (UGC) for us and why she thinks it can be incredibly valuable to businesses (and brands) if it’s done in the right way. Take a read…

Take it from a 21-year-old; my generation lives through screens. Quite often, the first time I will find out about a catastrophe, event or a good deal will be on Facebook, not on the TV.  I’m more likely to look at the content generated by other Facebook users as opposed to the content generated by businesses.

UGC is growing, spreading itself across many social networks. UGC can take the form of a review, testimonial, blog, video, podcast or a discussion group. Thus a company can have a unique insight into the opinions of current and prospective customers. A survey has shown that 94% of professionals trust the content of their peers above all else; not the jargon-riddle advertising of businesses but the honest consumer. Product reviews, as opposed to specific services, are the most common example of UGC. Clearly, it is not just high-earning professionals that seek customer reviews but the general consumer too. It is ironic that most of us would trust a friend’s opinion rather than that of a business expert but that’s how it is.

With the rise of new technology, a new field of psychology has emerged which affects the way we buy things: ‘Cyberpsychology’. If I said this word aloud, I imagine I would be met with an audience of head shakers, ‘tuts’ and even laughter. However, it’s a real area of research. The way people view themselves, others and products has changed drastically over the last decade. We have to acknowledge that the most publicised effect on people’s behaviour is negative, e.g. low self-esteem and anxiety.

However, I believe there are many positive effects of this new technological age, particularly in the business sector. Also let’s face it; as much as many people may want it to, we are never going back. Now, if I want to buy a new foundation, I’ll go online and find a YouTube video. If I want to know what mobile phone to upgrade to next, I’ll go online and find customer reviews. If I want to know where the best café is in Cardiff, I’ll go online and search TripAdvisor. We are moving away from the ‘word-of-mouth’ mentality of the preceding generation, now, it’s ‘seen-on-screen’.


I previously mentioned Essena O’Neill, she is famous for advertising products on Instagram to over 600,000 followers and even more famous for spectacularly giving it up in a very long video, due to the severe anxiety she developed. Obviously, it is important that businesses are ethical in their approach if they decide to use consumers to sell their products.


Instagram is a more static version of YouTube, which if I’m honest is the one I’d go for if I wanted to advertise my business. YouTube overall…reaches more 18-34 and 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S. YouTube attracts a huge demographic, which is perfect for marketers wanting to promote their brands, products and services. There is now even something called TrueView (created by Google) which allows YouTube viewers to see the adverts they are actually interested in, meaning that a business can target its prospective audience.


We cannot overlook the huge potential of social network sites. Worldwide, there are over 1.49 billion monthly active Facebook users. Advertising on Facebook is almost like an auction, essentially bidding on your behalf. You create your ad, choose your audience and decide how much you would like to spend on it. If a business can get its products shared across as many newsfeeds as possible with UGC, then they’re laughing. Businesses should be proud of the products/services it provides, and promote them frequently. However, Facebook is a social network site; the ‘hard sell’ doesn’t work here.

Subtly is key, which is why UGC is ideal. One way of generating positive UGC would be by inviting customers to try free trials or test products. This would encourage conversations online, leading to free product/service promotion some businesses such as BT and Tesco have their own Facebook and Twitter accounts which they use to respond to customer queries. By providing fast answers, businesses can show off their excellent customer service skills.

From my own personal experience, I can safely say that in the past I have received better customer service online than I’ve had talking on the phone to an advisor. This appeals greatly to the ‘seen-on-screen’, self-service machine kind of people, who shrink away in shops when the assistant comes over asking if they need any help. However, if the response isn’t quick enough, complaints can be seen by thousands of other users, before the business has a chance resolve the issue.


UGC is a powerful way to build brand awareness online and generate sales. Marketers do however have to be careful. They need to adopt ethical campaigns that don’t rely on misinformation and putting pressure on content creators (like Essena O’Neil). All in all, social media marketing is a bit like Pandora’s box; if businesses do decide to adopt UGC into their online marketing campaigns, they’ll need a team who can handle the pressures and demands of a viral campaign, both positive and negative.