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In the past few years, the rapid rise and immense potential of user-generated content (UGC) has been proven indisputable. The rising popularity of UGC on platforms such as TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram has now accelerated as we adapt to the new norms ushered in by the Covid-19 outbreak.

As major events are cancelled, filming and production is shut, creators are increasingly looking forward to UGC as the only authentic and feasible option.

Not just the content creators but multiple brands are also looking for ways to delight and attract customers via UGC.

Recently, Momspresso had created a crowd-sourced UGC video for Unilever, which echoed the sentiment of millions of Indians to thank our real heroes in these times.

The platform with Fevicreate had launched another initiative, 'India Crafting Memories', indulging people in fun craft activities with the #CraftingMemories challenge.

BuzzInContent, in conversation with such platforms, brands and agencies tried to understand how one can create UGC that breaks the clutter without compromising on quality amid the outbreak. Discussing the ROI it can garner, they discuss how organic UGC can create powerful content for brands and platforms.

The latest E&Y report had stated that by 2025, 750 million smartphone screens will increase the demand for regional, UGC and short content, creating a short video ecosystem that can create significant employment. 

Ashish Pherwani, Partner and Media & Entertainment Leader, EY India, said that he sees an increase in UGC with the outbreak where professional and semi-professional UGC is the key. 

In fact, TV shows such as Saregama have already launched online karaoke, where participants are creating their own piece of content.

Experts have suggested that UGC for production houses or brands in general will increase amid Covid-19.

But would they have to compromise on quality as it mostly remains organic? Let’s find out.

Khushboo Benani

“Right now, brands are moving with agility to cater to the consumer in an authentic manner where the contextual content is more important than production quality. Hence, we are seeing a rise of content such as home videos, lnstagram live concerts/ plays, etc., that brands are co-creating with artists, influencers and consumers,” said Khushboo Benani, Content, Influencer Marketing & Brand Advocacy Head, Diageo India.

For Black Dog Easy Evenings, the brand has co-created ‘Paused with Vir Das’, which is an in-home content series.

Gurpreet Singh

“Quality in UGC is overstated. The end objective of a high ‘quality’ production is to drive home the brand messaging, place it in the right context, and give it a base strong for content to travel the distance. UGC can work deceptively against super-premium or luxury brands, where it’s vital to set a larger-than-life context. UGC, no matter what format it is in, can make the brand salient, and precipitate to this core,” said Gurpreet Singh, Head of Marketing at UBL. 

Kingfisher for its recent TikTok campaign of #GoodTimesStep and AR filter campaign Build your own Beat (BYOB) relied purely on UGC and each of the content pieces added up to create a massive impact on brand conversations.

In neither of the situations, Singh said the brand invested an iota of its efforts in weeding out a specific content piece. As fans become its biggest ambassadors, he said all one needs to do is to provide them platforms to voice their love.

Saransh Agarwal

However, Saransh Agarwal, Senior Director, Content Strategy and Business, The Glitch, said the worry about compromised quality only arises if one tries to achieve traditional output using home productions/UGC.

Brands need to be innovative and understand the creator ecosystem. The talent out there is incredible, he said, adding the kind of content that can be created from home with mobile phones is staggering.

Prashant Sinha

“User-generated content resonates with consumers because it doesn’t come from a purely promotional perspective. Rather, UGC reflects the true feelings of relatable individuals who actually use marketed products or services. Especially in these times, a lot of brands are leveraging UGC to drive affinity for the brand,” said Prashant Sinha, Co-Founder and COO, Momspresso.

The platform leverages its AI technology and editorial curation team to sieve out quality and show relevant content to users.

User-generated content exhibits higher source credibility and thereby a stronger influence on intended behaviour, irrespective of the quality, he added.

Not only a cost-saving mechanism but UGC for many brands, including Kingfisher, is a key strategic communication choice suited to the needs of a loved brand. Singh says that it is a strategy that the brand is willing to pay a premium for.

UGC has been proven to improve the performance of marketing efforts in multiple ways. According to a report from Salesforce, when UGC is used in website galleries, visitors spend 90% more time on the webpage. UGC increases engagement in social campaigns by 50%, increases click-through rates by 5x, spikes click through rates in email campaigns by 73%, and lifts conversation rates by 10%.

“UGC campaigns are successful for a number of reasons. They embody creativity at its highest, they help create a bond between the end consumer and the brand, they boost loyalty levels, they create a big buzz and see high engagement rates, etc. In these times, especially, brands are realising that they need to do things differently to stay on top of mind, be relevant to the audience with interesting content and UGC is clearly working for brands,” Sinha said.  

UGC, if leveraged well enough, creates an impact that an average advertising campaign can’t.

As advertising takes new digital formats, users get acquainted in a matter of months, and discover new ways to ‘skip’. There are umpteen tools available today that will allow you to block display ads that pop up on websites.

Several platforms such as Gaana provide a premium subscription option as an alternative to receiving advertising content.

UGC skips each one of these layers, said Singh.

“It identifies itself as content, and seamlessly places itself in real conversations. Being a part of people, being a part of the daily lives, precisely where brands wish to be. With advanced AI algorithms, advertising outcomes are clear and projected well beforehand, while UGC strategy relies heavily on audience reception, which is the fundamental reason for scepticism in investing towards UGC investments,” he said.

Singh added that if brands can’t complement UGC strategies with a strong social listening strategy, they are bound to fail.

“Very few brands in India have an active listening strategy, and this is an immediate fix I’d recommend all marketers to make, before venturing out into the space of seeding UGC,” he recommended.

Benani said that if a piece of content or campaign gets organic UGC response, then marketers know that they have struck the right chord with audiences. Hence, UGC will continue to grow as a key element of brand plans.

Referring to Signature Masterclass, which the brand did last year, she said how it got over 15,000 brilliant stories from across India and now it treats this UGC element as a success benchmark for future campaigns.

 The world of advertising was undergoing a content revolution anyway, and the current situation has fast-tracked that. Brands are being forced to becoming comfortable with this kind of content. What was missing till today was the urgency for agencies and brands to be innovative, said Agarwal.

“But they have no choice now but to adapt. Creator-led marketing will become a much bigger piece of the pie, and creators won’t just be seen as media solutions,” he added.

In the same space, he said that in coming times, brands will increasingly find their ‘purpose’ on social. ‘Branded content’ will be reborn to be truly audience first. Also, audiences won’t be as passive on social, and will start becoming creators themselves because of new formats (such as the augmented reality filters on Instagram). Brands will increasingly move to inspire them to create rather than ‘share’.

With smartphones finding a place in every household, people now share more than ever and look to their peers, family and friends for validation and recognition. Sinha believes that sourcing UGC is not difficult at all.

“By harnessing and showcasing stories via UGC, brands will be able to connect with customers in a more authentic and personalised way — lifting engagement, strengthening consumer trust and ultimately driving sales. The users of various brands create the content anyway, and if brands are not curating it and showcasing their customers, they’re missing out on brand equity,” he added.

UGC is quickly becoming the keystone of any integrated content marketing strategy and according to Karthik Nagarajan, the Chief Content Officer at Wavemaker, UGC is a huge part of the content ecosystem and will always be the most interesting thing about the internet.

With UGC being created on a large scale, breaking the clutter gets important

Brands will move to where conversations are. We have seen a fair amount of offline to online movement over the last decade. Initial conversations were around networks where users interacted with each other (Facebook). New conversations are on platforms where users can create and disseminate content (Instagram, TikTok).

Brands will invariably compete for a slice of the engagement pie, wherever customer conversations are at that point in time. Brands with iconic status will have a head-start but success is not guaranteed.

And the answer to breaking out of the clutter, therefore, lies in being constantly ahead of the curve, said Singh.

Karthik Nagarajan

Nagarajan said that a brand needs to have a very strong pulse of what is working and what is not for the audience while jumping into the space. And with this, the ability of the brands to understand what is happening and its agility to keep it simple will always be the differentiator.

However, he said that the approach to UGC should not be in terms of saving the cost of production. Rather, the idea should inherently be something that can be democratised, to add a unique value. UGC should be in the core of the campaign and not in just the periphery.

Adding to this, Sinha suggested that AI’s powerful programmatic algorithms are able to study consumer behaviour and the content they are looking for. To no one’s surprise, personalised experience is one of the most popular reasons that content platforms turn to AI.

“AI and Machine Learning empower us to track important information about users — information such as content consumption habits, demographics, psychographics, etc. This data helps deliver a targeted, individualised user experience. And if we are offering content which is based on their requirements and content that they want to consume, one is already becoming relevant amid the clutter. The key is discoverability,” he added.

Agarwal said brands need to see themselves as publishers, rather than advertisers. They need to understand the difference between social and digital. The idea on social isn’t to disrupt someone’s experience, but to add to it. If a brand is able to achieve that, it won’t need to break the clutter. It will reach more people with lesser media spends and audiences will look forward to the brand’s content on their feed.

Benani suggested the best way to break the clutter is to participate in cultural conversations that are already happening among users and are relevant to a brand in an unconventional and standout way.