User Generated Content (UGC) has long been the creative solution for brands looking for free social resources. But as the creative economy evolves and even casual fans begin to see its worth, the days of the cheap UGC brand are over. UGC is dead and being replaced by paid content.
In the early days of Social Social Social, UGC was a key way for brands to connect with their audience. And unlike other methods of traditional engagement, such as For example, asking questions or getting followers to “like” them led to the invitation to fans to submit images to a number of assets that could fill a constantly active content calendar. It was a win-win: brands got free content while fans got recognition from a brand they love.
Some brands can still get away with it. For example, Apple's Instagram "Shot on iPhone" campaign published a series of public briefings for its community. In return, Apple brought professional-quality photography to its brand page. That makes sense because the brand affinity for Apple is extremely high. The promise of being one of the few select developers reposted on Apple's Instagram page has a ton of impact.
But for brands that don't have the same dedicated fan base, a call for UGC in 2020 and beyond won't produce the same result. If there is no clear incentive for users to share content, they are less likely to do so. And as the world of influencers, micro-influencers, and content creators continues to grow, audiences are less likely to share valuable branded content in exchange for a mere shout-out.
The space for influencer content has grown so much that there is now an ecosystem of tickers, instagrams, and YouTubers teaching avid developers how to benefit from their work. Tiktoker Juliannetaylorstyle, a content creator and business coach, instructs her followers to respond to brands reaching out to them by asking about the budget: “This sets limits from the start that you expect them to be get paid."
When developers are looking for their money, brands have to prepare for fan content. Rihanna's Fenty Beauty House may have been on hold due to Covid-19, but it's a short but prime example of branded content. It was created in the style of TikTok content houses, with handpicked beauty developers and a house full of Fenty products that can be naturally incorporated into their Instagram, YouTube and TikTok posts.
While countless beauty developers post tutorials on Fenty products that the brand can post for free, the content house approach has built a crew of recognizable personalities to create consistent, consistently high quality Fenty content. So if the post-UGC world is paid content, the post-paid content world can be branded content houses and creator crews, similar to the Fenty house.
In contrast to free UGC, paid content is created on purpose, through a specific contact or an assignment with a defined budget that supports and controls the process from conception to placement. It offers brands the same benefits as they can connect with their fans and pool assets for future social use. Even if it's no longer free, it can still be a lot cheaper than a traditional shoot.
How can marketers build a successful paid partnership program? It's all about making authentic connections with a fan or creator community: always add an incentive for calls to UGC or content. If you ask fans to do something on your behalf, it's worth it. Connect with key developers while keeping an eye on budget and payment options. Use social listening to identify authentic fans of the brands and creators with an audience that is aligned with brand goals and objectives. Track content and test, learn, and optimize to identify developers doing work that resonates with your social audience.