Save Money & Improve Engagement by Using UGC for Social Ad Creative

User-generated content from your own customers can be a great option for social media ad creative. Learn why it works and some helpful tips on how to use UGC.

If you’re still exclusively relying on high-production-value photos, videos, and designs for your ad creative, you’re getting left behind — and wasting thousands of dollars of your advertising budget.

Why? Because there’s a new boss in town: user-generated content (UGC).

While the use of user-generated content campaigns has been on the rise for years, COVID-19 kicked it into high gear. When the pandemic locked down all in-person photo and video shoots last spring, marketers had to mine from the creative they had (a blissful but irrelevant reminder of the carefree days) or go to the source — employees, customers, and more — for fresh creative that spoke to the times.

And that trend is here to stay.

User-generated content marketing isn’t hard, and we’ve seen it work for our clients time and time again. But, if your business is struggling to adopt it into your strategy, you’re not alone.

In this blog, we’ll help you make the big switch, by explaining:

  • What user-generated content is
  • Why eCommerce brands struggle to embrace it
  • Why UGC actually works (plus some real-life eCommerce examples)
  • How to get engaging user-generated content
  • And whether it’s right for your business

What is User-Generated Content?

Before we get into the weeds, let’s get one thing straight. As the name implies, user-generated content is any content created by people other than the brand itself. This includes customers, employees, and even those who simply follow or engage with the brand or company.

There’s really no single “definition” for user-generated content. It could be something as simple as a tweet or comment on a social post, or it could be a video filmed by a customer reviewing a product or experience. Your UGC will look unique, depending on how your customers interact with your brand.

Here’s an example from our client Mountain House, who frequently uses UGC in their organic social media strategy:

Why eCommerce Brands Struggle to Embrace UGC

Despite its popularity, user-generated content campaigns can be (and often are) an initial hard sell for eCommerce businesses. There are two main reasons why:

1. Brand Image “Misalignment”

When an eCommerce client of ours balks at incorporating this type of content into their ad campaigns, it’s usually for one reason: They’re concerned about brand image.

Many business owners and marketers invest a great deal of time and money into meticulously planned, highly produced ad creative to sell the story that they want. They worry UGC ads will be seen as unrespectable or amateur.

But here’s the fact: The line between “professional” and “unprofessional” is continuously blurring (Hey, I’m writing this from my home office in my sweatpants). If you only present your brand through high-production-value content, you’re missing opportunities to show the human side of your brand and customers.

2. Unwillingness to Experiment

Other times, brand owners and marketers see using user-generated content as sacrificing quality — and, therefore, not worth the time to test when their current creative is working well.

But, for many brands, these campaigns perform just as well as high-production-value content campaigns. Often, they perform even better.

The digital space is always changing, and rigidity in your ad creative will leave you behind. There’s a reason why we’re all about testing here at Inflow: It’s the only way for your digital marketing strategy to improve.

Why It Works: The Benefits of User-Generated Content

Whether you use it in your own ad campaigns or not, user-generated content for your brand exists. It’s how your brand performs in the wild, but it doesn’t have to be an uncontrollable asset (I’ll get more into that later).

When you embrace user-generated content ads for social, you reap five important benefits.

1. It’s Authentic, Convincing Ad Creative

Customers are tired of the constant barrage of ads. They’re tired of being sold to, and they’re tired of being lied to. If your social ad creative sells a reality that doesn’t exist (for example, clothing modeled only by thin, white women who look nothing like the average American), why would your customers want to buy your product?

User-generated content, on the other hand, instantly connects a customer to your brand and product. They can see someone who looks like them, someone who shares their pain points and desires — and they’re more likely to make the final conversion.

For today’s consumers, relatability in advertising is nearly two times as important as popularity. And, while the “relatability” of social influencers can be debated all day long, they are more effective than your brand at sharing your message. Influencers earn sales, trust, and advocacy, and 63% of consumers trust influencers more than a brand.

(Note: You don’t have to shell out for an influencer partnership to take advantage of UGC. The everyday Joe or Jill is often just as effective.)

Less “Look how cool this brand is!”; more “Here’s what people like you have to say.”

2. It Fits Seamlessly Into the Browsing Experience

Consumers (especially Millennials and Generation Z) have a short attention span, and they’ve learned to tune out ads. If your social ad creative looks and feels like a professional ad, it’s likely to be overlooked.

UGC campaigns mimic the content posted by a user’s friends and family. It fits into their social browsing experience seamlessly, and that means customers are more likely to consider your ad.

3. It Proves Product Value

Customers are increasingly price-conscientious. Convincing them to buy a high-end product during a pandemic is tricky, but user-generated content can be the way to go.

One of our clients, Vitrazza, sells high-end glass chair mats for home offices and other spaces. The price can be a hard swallow for most customers. So, we let customers like them do the convincing.

We’ve written at length about how we tested high-production-value content vs low-production-value content in Vitrazza’s ad creative. You can read more about that in our case study, but here’s the gist: Low-production-value content (including UGC) consistently won by a landslide in performance and results. 

We focused on Vitrazza’s user-generated content campaigns on video, asking consumers to review their glass chair mats from their home offices. In very little time, the campaigns generated 4.2x ROAS, outperforming the previous brand creative.

The success wasn’t really a surprise. We knew 66% of people trust consumer opinions posted online, and 69% take action from consumer opinions — the highest engagement level among consumers. 

If your product is a pricey sell, hearing that it’s worth it from other customers can make all the difference.

4. It Can Lead to Better ROI

In some cases, these campaigns just make sense from a financial standpoint. High-production photo and video shoots can cost a lot of money; UGC can cost very little or be completely free.

If you don’t have a lot of money for your marketing budget, it may be best spent incentivizing users to send in their own reviews, videos, and pictures. Many customers write reviews anyway, so you’re just taking advantage of that existing process.

Here’s an example. One of our clients sells a menagerie of paper and home goods. But, with products like $10 pens and $13 socks, their customers’ average order value is pretty low. Sinking money into professional ad shoots simply won’t provide the return on investment (ROI) they need to grow.

If your brand is in a similar situation, UGC ads for social media channels may be your smartest investment.

5. It Expands Audience Base

We’ve mentioned how customers want to see people like them in advertising creative. If you’re segmenting your audiences, you tap into user-generated content to meet that customer desire.

Our client Cardboard Cutout Standees runs almost their entire social ad campaigns with this type of content. They sell cardboard cutouts of anything you can imagine, and customers are always excited to post images of themselves with their purchases. 

The brand has a surplus of UGC to use, but to expand their audience, we design their campaigns with an eye to diversity. The more potential customers see someone like them purchasing the product, the more motivated they are to investigate a product they previously had no interest in.

By reflecting certain audience segments in our paid advertising, we’ve expanded Cardboard Cutout Standees’ audience base. We scaled the account’s growth by more than $125,000 with UGC ads alone and exceeded the ROAS goal at 3.2.

5 Tips for Success 

The barrier to user-generated content marketing is not as high as you think. It can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. When you do it right, it works.

But, how do you get started?

1. First, identify your favorite brands. (They don’t have to be in your vertical.) Think about what kind of UGC campaigns they are running. What do you like about them? What do you think your brand could do better? When we ask our clients these questions, we get a better idea of what UGC campaigns may be a safer sell — not just to customers but to brand advocates and internal stakeholders.

2. Next, give your users basic parameters. User-generated content doesn’t have to be perfect; that’s what editors are for. But, you still want to make sure the basics are there, like good natural lighting, high-quality photos, horizontal video, video length, etc. Ask your users to be clear and concise with their wording; explicit endorsement language in UGC is more persuasive and will increase purchase intent.

3. Incentivize your customers. If you’re struggling to get quality UGC, motivate your consumers with gift cards, discounts, giveaways and more. Reviews are incredibly popular, influence buying decisions, and are easy to do. You can use email marketing to follow up with purchasers in a “Thank You” email. About a week after the product is delivered, ask about their experience, encourage them to share their photos on social , and remind them to submit a review in return for a coupon code or other benefit. 

4. Use what you have. Don’t be afraid to repurpose UGC and influencer content from TikTok, Reels, Instagram, and more. If you aren’t already, encourage your customers to share their photos and their experiences on their own social media accounts. Establish a branded hashtag, and see how your consumers respond. Remember: Always give credit to the consumer whose content you use.

5. Analyze your campaign data. Profitability is a key indicator of performance. Look at ROAS and other metrics to evaluate how UGC resonates with your target audience. Adjust your ad creative based on what performs best, and brainstorm on similar approaches moving forward. Some brands do well with a majority UGC, while others do best with an even mix. You won’t know until you try.

And Things Not to Do

There’s one major rule with user-generated content ads: Don’t tell your users what to say.

Remember what we said about authenticity? Your customers will know when this type of content involves a script. Instead, trust your users to use the phrasing and pain points most applicable to your audience. Ultimately, you have the final call in whether or not to use their submission.

Should This Be Your Long-Term Strategy?

Every brand is different. We can’t tell you which ad creative will perform best for your paid social campaigns. You just have to test it.

We recommend every eCommerce brand experiment with user-generated content ads at least once (and preferably several times). Compare your UGC campaign data to the campaign data from your high-production-value content. The answer will often be obvious. If your new ads are performing well and generating a high click-through rate, it’s a good idea to keep going. Over time, this can reduce your cost-per-click.

It can also give you better opportunities to scale your work. Growing your campaigns takes a lot of creative, and churning out high-production-value content to keep up with growth quickly becomes costly. Content from your customers gives you more ad creative options to choose from and, in turn, can make your scaling efforts more cost-effective.

If you’re in a saturated vertical and struggling to compete with your competitors’ deeper pockets, user-generated content campaigns can even the playing field. You don’t have to have a large budget to play the UGC game — just creativity and a willingness to experiment.

All that said, this approach does require strategy, thought, and time. It’s not just a holdover until you can get back to pre-COVID photo and video shoots. If you’re struggling to develop that strategy, bringing on an experienced paid social strategist can help.

Kick Off Your UGC Ads Campaign Now

If you’re still relying on high-production-value photos, videos, and designs for your ad creative, you’re getting left behind — and losing out on a huge opportunity to connect with your customers. Fortunately, user-generated content is an easy and effective way to reach an audience craving relatable, authentic messaging from the brands they follow.

With such a low investment, UGC ad creative is worth the experimentation. Give it a try, and see how it performs against your current content. You may be surprised at the results you see.

Want some experienced hands to get your user-generated content campaigns off the ground? Request a free proposal from our paid social strategists anytime to see what UGC could do for your brand.

A Guide to Facebook Brand Lift Testing for eCommerce & Lead Generation

Wondering what a Facebook Brand Lift Study can do for your eCommerce campaigns? We walk you through how they work, the pros and cons, and more.

Social media has become a big player in the world of PPC advertising. However, when you’re a paid social marketer, it can be challenging to quantify your campaign results into overall business outcomes. 

Unfortunately, an impression (or even a click) is not an assurance of brand awareness. People can click ads or visit the landing page — but forget the brand after they close the window. 

So, how can you quantify the effect advertising is having on how people remember and perceive your brand? Furthermore, how can we, as paid social marketers, communicate to our clients that our ad campaigns are driving brand awareness? 

Facebook gave us an answer: the Facebook Brand Lift Study.

What is a Facebook Brand Lift Study?

Facebook Brand Lift Studies (also known as Brand Lift Tests) allow advertisers to measure brand awareness and favorability with a statistical degree of reliability. By serving up questions to a select audience, a brand lift test shows you exactly how effective your awareness campaigns have been — including whether it’s time to step up your game. 

Facebook’s tests allow paid social marketers to conduct randomized control trials (RCT) to test for incremental lift. Unlike traditional A/B tests (which allow for testing one variable against another), RCT testing allows us to deduce an actual lift in results and the effectiveness of campaigns overall.

Running a Facebook Brand Lift Study can help answer questions your eCommerce business has difficulty quantifying, from “How well does my target audience remember my brand?” to “How do people feel about my brand?” These insights are invaluable not only for paid advertising but also for your company overall. 

No more hoping and guessing — just real numbers and results. It’s a paid social advertiser’s dream (with a few caveats, but more on that later).

How to Measure Your Brand Lift on Facebook

So, how does a Facebook Brand Lift Study work?

If you want to run a brand lift test, the first thing you’ll need to do is contact your Facebook representative. While the test is free to create, there may be campaign budget requirements to get it all started.

Like with any good test methodology, a Facebook Brand Lift Study involves two groups: test and control. Your chosen audience is randomly divided into these two groups to ensure that the results of the test aren’t skewed from outside factors. Ads are delivered to the test group, and then both the test and control groups are served with a short, one-question poll. Each poll consists of a question and a selection of multiple-choice answers. 

You can choose from a variety of questions, depending on what metric you’re most interested in. A few examples:

  1. “Have you seen (your brand)’s new product line?” (Answers: Yes, No) 
  2. “Which of the following brands have you heard of?” (Answers: Competitor 1, your brand, Competitor 2, Competitor 3)
  3. “What is your opinion of (your brand)?” (Answers: “I like it”, “I neither like nor dislike it”, “I dislike it”, or “I am not familiar with this brand”)

Facebook calculates the brand lift percentage by comparing the results of the test and control groups. (You can also choose to measure conversion lift during this test if you’re already tracking conversions through your campaigns.)

Look at the difference in the percentage of people who gave the desired response in the test group and the control group, and you’ll see the direct effect of your campaign. You’ll then want to compare this brand lift to average results within your vertical or industry to ensure the most accurate comparison.

(It’s important to run this test for at least 14 days to give it a sufficient time period to gather insights. After the threshold of 100 responses has been collected, you will begin to see near real-time incrementality reporting in your Facebook Ads Manager.

Using Your Test Results to Optimize Your Campaigns

Once you have the results from your test, use this information to take your digital marketing efforts to the next level. Use your data either as an indicator that your PPC strategy is getting the right results or, if the results aren’t what you hoped for, as a sign that it’s time to course-correct! 

Asking specific brand lift questions can help you investigate exactly which part of your campaign is failing to resonate with your audience. Then, you can test a new strategy, running your test later to see how your levels may have changed.

Here are two examples:

1. Evaluating a Product Rollout

Let’s say your company has just launched a new product line. In an effort to gain brand recognition, you launch a Facebook Reach campaign. 

Ads Manager tells you that your campaign was seen by 200,000 people. However, when your brand lift study asks your audience “Have you seen (your brand)’s new product line?”, there’s no statistically significant difference between your test and control group. 

This is a big red flag — and a sign that it could be time to change your ad creative

Your potential next steps: testing new imagery and ad copy.

2. Reevaluating Your Marketing Funnel

Your company has been running an extensive ad campaign focused on generating transactions. However, when your brand lift study asks “Will you buy from (your brand) the next time you go shopping for (your product)?”, there is no statistically significant difference between your test and control group. 

There are many potential causes to investigate here, but your first step might be to examine the marketing funnel you used for this ad campaign. People from a cold audience (those who are unfamiliar with your brand) are less likely to respond well to lower-funnel calls-to-action, like making transactions. 

Consider creating a full-funnel approach (like Inflow’s “See, Think, Do” strategy). Start with brand awareness and move down the funnel, generating engagement at every step. By the time the customer is presented with the option to buy, they are familiar with your product and more likely to convert.

Pros and Cons of Facebook Brand Lift Studies for eCommerce Sites

While helpful, Facebook Brand Lift Tests aren’t ideal for every business and campaign. Before you start running tests, consider the following pros and cons.

Pros: 

Facebook Brand Lift studies provide statistically significant information on how your paid social campaigns are impacting your business directly. Individual campaign performance is great, but these brand lift studies show how those campaigns are (or aren’t) raising your brand awareness.

You can get answers to specific, big-picture questions — “Do people recognize my brand?” — and tactical questions — “How well do my ads resonate with my customers?” In short, you can understand your digital brand equity in a much clearer and concise way.

Cons: 

There’s one clear disadvantage to running a Facebook Brand Lift Test, and it’s the reason why our strategists hesitate to implement them for our clients.

To run a clean study, all other Facebook campaigns must be turned off during the test duration.

It makes sense: Any other form of paid advertising could be shown to your control group during the test, contaminating your results. But, with Facebook’s recommendations to run the test for at least 14 days, pausing your other campaigns for that long risks a huge loss.

Turning off your current campaigns (especially those that are performing well) creates an opportunity cost, losing any sales that would have been generated during that time period. 

In addition, pausing your campaigns disrupts the Facebook algorithm. When you decide to restart your campaigns, they will reset back to “learning” phase. You likely won’t see the same performance as you did pre-pause, and it may take some time to get back to those levels.

Should You Run a Facebook Brand Lift Study?

Ultimately, you’ll need to evaluate a few things before you decide to run a Facebook Brand Lift Test:

  • Your expertise with Facebook advertising
  • Your current campaigns and their performance
  • The cost ratio of pausing campaigns for brand lift insights

If you’re new to Facebook advertising:

If you or your client are unsure about the effectiveness of Facebook advertising (either because you’ve never used it or have attempted only a few campaigns), give a Facebook Brand Lift Test a shot. It can be a great way to test the waters, and you can use your results as proof of concept to justify the monetary investment of more extensive advertising campaigns.

If you’re currently running Facebook ads, but are unsure of the value of your results:

Not sure you or your client are getting the value needed from Facebook advertising? A brand lift study could give the results you’re looking for.

Remember, the biggest downside here is that you will lose campaign data and potential revenue for the test’s duration. However, the information gained could be quite valuable for both the campaign (Are people responding to your current ad copy and creative?) and your overall marketing strategy (Is there a different marketing platform that would provide you a better return?).

If you’re a seasoned paid social veteran or Facebook guru:

Since you’ve been running campaigns for a while, you probably already know the answer here.

The results of a Facebook Brand Lift Study might not be worth the loss of the campaign data, especially if you have proper UTM tagging and properly set multiple-attribution. You’re likely better off continuing your campaigns as-is and exploring other options for analyzing your brand awareness lift.

Conclusion

We won’t deny the usefulness of Facebook Brand Lift Studies, especially for those who are new to the Facebook advertising space. Such clear evidence of brand awareness lift is difficult to come by. But the potential disadvantages of lost revenue and campaign data can be too risky for many.

In our experience, brand lift tests are just one way to capture and analyze performance data. Depending on your situation, there can be less disruptive methods to gain performance insights, such as:

  • Proper UTM tagging: UTM tags will allow you to see Facebook campaign data and compare it across platforms and sites in Google Analytics. 
  • “Social proof”: Monitor the engagement (likes, shares, comments) on your ads. If people are engaging with your ads, it’s an indication that your audience and creative is properly aligned.
  • CPM and CTR: A low CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) and a high CTR (click-through rate) are both good indicators of ad copy and creative that is engaging to your chosen audience.

If you’re unsure of whether Facebook Brand Lift Studies are right for your campaigns, or you want to improve your paid social campaigns in other ways, our strategists are always happy to chat. Contact our team anytime to request a free, customized proposal for your paid social needs.