Image Credit: Roy Rachamim
Aimee Millwood
Director of Content at Yotpo
June 29th, 2016

Why Marketing With UGC Works, According to Science

Marketing with user-generated content (UGC) works, and it’s backed up by serious research.

Table Of Contents

Before you begin marketing with UGC, it’s imperative to learn the driving factors that make user-generated content so effective so you can harness these principles to your advantage.

The psychology of social proof: Why we care what others say

Why does word-of-mouth marketing with UGC work? What makes consumers follow the advice, opinions, or actions of other consumers? At its most basic level, user content marketing is based on a psychological response known as social proof.

Social proof explains we are hardwired to learn from others to help us avoid making potentially harmful choices. For example, if we see someone else touch a hot pan and experience pain, we are probably not going to try it for ourselves.

In addition to actions, we are also influenced by others’ opinions.

Even if we have not seen someone get burned first hand, if a parent warns us not to touch the pan, we are likely to trust them and take their advice. Why? If we do not have knowledge about a subject, we are more open to accepting the opinions of others if we believe they know more about a situation.

But we aren’t always influenced by others’ opinions….

If we based all of our decisions on others’ input, we would constantly be stuck trying to choose which way to turn. On a daily basis, we absorb thousands of conflicting point of views over any given subject. Luckily, our brain is one step ahead of us. It selectively chooses which advice to take into account and when.

Just as we aren’t entirely dependent on social proof in life decisions, consumers aren’t entirely reliant on social proof in shopping decisions. Some consumers really love Coke, even though all their friends are Pepsi fans. Likewise, some shoppers will make a purchase even after others encourage them not to.

So what determines how much social proof impacts a decision?

Uncertainty: You don’t always know what you want

Social proof is strongest when consumers have high levels of uncertainty. In other words, it is most effective when consumers are at the top of the funnel.

If a shopper is not sure about which car to buy but colleagues chip in their opinions, the shopper is more likely to be influenced than if a general idea of what they wanted was cemented in their mind. In contrast, if a shopper already wants a Nissan and a friend suggests a Jeep, the shopper will probably still buy the Nissan.

In situations in which consumers are unsure, they assume others have more information about the situation and are better poised to form an opinion.

So, opinionated people are hard to influence in a different direction.

How to apply this to your marketing:

As the consumer decision-making process shows, consumers are most likely to be influenced when they are in the top of the funnel. During this time, they are still forming an opinion about a brand or product but are not really committed or swayed either way.

Know where in the funnel your consumer lies to understand which user content to give them. If they have chosen to make a purchase and are simply going back and worth between brands, customer feedback displayed on product pages can help reinforce their existing belief in the product.

However, first-time visitors to sites or those who have just begun searching for information on a purchase are seeking general information and are highly likely to be influenced. Strategies like shared endorsements on social media or user generated content campaigns that take advantage of the power of numbers and show off groups of people talking about your product can help nudge them in the right direction.

Similarity: Birds of a feather flock together

Another important factor in how much social proof influences consumer decisions is similarity.

Even when a consumer is relatively sure of a purchasing decision, if close friends chime in their opinions, they are much more likely to be influenced than if they simply viewed strangers’ testimonials.

We are more likely to believe people who appear similar to us, because we assume they would make a decision like the one we would make.

How to apply this to your marketing:

Reward social sharing and hashtags to build an established social base for your brand. The likelihood that a friend of a friend will find your product increases when diverse groups of people are chatting, Tweeting, liking, and sharing about you. Hearing about a product or brand from a friend seriously strengthens a consumer’s trust in it, even before they see it for themselves.

Marketing with UGC in action

To measure social proof and just how accurately social chatter could predict consumer decisions, the Marketing Science Institute conducted a study on the relationship between stock prices and consumer chatter.

Their results? Consumer chatter can act as a predictor for a company’s success.

Additionally, in line with these social commerce trends, Lithium Technologies surveyed users and found trust was significantly higher for user content than brand content. What does this mean for you? Leverage user content in your marketing to build customer trust, boost awareness, and increase engagement.


A round-up on the science of marketing with UGC:

  • Marketing with UGC content leverages shoppers’ need for social proof.
  • People look to advice from others to avoid mistakes and make the right choices.
  • Top of the funnel is where uncertainty is highest – and people are most likely to listen to consumer generated media.
  • The best UGC marketing is targeted by peer groups.
  • Social proof is more effective when the target perceives similarity to themselves.
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