2020 was a year of extraordinary change, not least in the unprecedented change in consumer spending behaviours. During the peak of the pandemic, online sales were running two-thirds (66%) higher than normal and smart phone purchases increased by a quarter (25%) during the recent holiday period. Most shoppers (87%) admit they now rely on social media for help when making online buying decisions, with consumers five times more likely to be converted by previous customer experiences and opinions, compared to brand-created content.

One tool that has become indispensable for marketers as a way to unlock product innovation, reveal customer sentiment, and drive marketing strategy, is user-generated content (UGC). Including everything from reviews and rich social content, to influencer programmes, it is rapidly becoming the go-to communications strategy across all media, especially social.

Loran Gutt, VP of Corporate Development, Bazaarvoice

The exponential growth in consumers’ usage of social media platforms coupled with the surge in e-commerce over the last 12 months has created the perfect landscape for UGC. It has become a vital trust barometer for many consumers and instils a sense of authenticity that cannot be achieved by brand-led campaigns, particularly at a time when almost all brand interactions have become remote.

The social lens doesn’t just showcase a brand’s products, but also how it enhances people’s lives. UCG effectively shines a light on customers’ real experiences with a brand and its products, providing potential new customers with greater insight into how a product might fit into their own lives. This authentic content has been shown to establish trust among consumers, with research demonstrating over three quarters of shoppers (78%) trust reviews.

When it comes to the overall purchase journey, over three quarters of consumers enjoy making unexpected discoveries when shopping online. Social platforms, such as Pinterest and Instagram, have long been used as discovery tool. With wider social platforms now facilitating the journey all the way from inspiration through to transaction – think TikTok joining forces with Shopify and Instagram adding shopping in Reels – brands can now go beyond simply just advertising content when it comes to social.

Marketers need to understand what inspires customers, how to develop active brand participation to further grow UGC-based resources, and create a virtuous cycle of customer insight, inspiration, and co-creation. Brands should embrace consumers as part of their narrative and help them tell that narrative – consumers want to interact with the brands they love and this is a key driver of advocacy. That said, without building an engagement program around user-generated content, customers will not take the time to share their experiences.

The volume and variety of social platforms, and the opportunities for consumers to share their views and content, is only going to grow – and rapidly.  Numbers will increase, and the way users interact with them will continue to evolve. Equally, just as the growth in e-commerce is here to stay – 56% of consumers plan to shop online more than they did pre-pandemic – so too is the demand of consumer-inspired content. UGC has become a major content pipeline and brands will have to invest significantly in collecting, curating, distributing and analysing it.