Who's Down With UCG?

📸 Yeah You Know Me!

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👋 Hello fellow Ladderers!

This week we’re taking a closer look at how McDonalds made a complete mess of UGC, and how you can not only avoid that but belt out your own community-created wonder hit after wonder hit!

As well as the usual feast of top-self, links, news and tools from around the marketing, strategy and product web.

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Today’s feature

Who’s Down With UCG?

📸 “Yeah You Know Me!”

⏱️ ~ 6 minutes 28 seconds to read

You're scrolling through your favourite social media feed, looking for the latest work memes or maybe a recipe for a three-ingredient dinner that promises to be life-changing. Suddenly, a beautifully crafted 4K animated ad with gorgeous EDM music for a pair of headphones you don't remember searching for scrolls up.

You clock the ‘sponsored’ tag next to the profile and before you’ve even given it a thought, your thumb blazes straight past that designer's magnum opus.

Somewhere in a cubicle in a business park outside a major city, a marketing manager just felt their heart break, just a tiny bit.

This phenomenon is called "banner blindness," and it’s the bane of modern marketers.

A recent study by Infolinks revealed that 86% of consumers suffer from this ad-induced selective sight. People are tuning out, and it’s getting worse and worse.

Parks And Rec Spinning GIF

Consumers and your cleverly targeted ad

The more polished and professional the ad, the quicker it's dismissed. The traditional arsenal of banner ads, pop-ups, and sponsored posts is losing its grip. Even the cleverest jingles and most stunning visuals can’t seem to break through the wall of indifference.

So why the apathy? Trust, or rather the lack of it, plays a huge role. Consumers today are savvy. They know when they're being sold to by their newsfeed or in their inbox, and they've become masters at filtering out the noise.

Research from Nielsen Norman Group shows that users ignore anything that remotely resembles an advertisement, even if it's not. It’s a psychological self-defence mechanism against the bombardment of information. A prioritisation of information that places credibility and trust above relevance.

So if people are getting more and more difficult to engage - what the hell do we do as marketers?

Enter User Generated Content (UGC), the knight in shining armour (or rather trojan horse) of the psychological marketing world.

Unlike traditional advertising, UGC feels authentic because it is.

It’s content created by real people, for real people, without the polish and veneer of corporate brand marketing.

This authenticity makes it incredibly powerful. When done right, UGC not only captures attention but also builds credibility, trust and fosters a sense of identity.

Today, we'll explore how brands typically approach UGC, where they often go wrong, and, most importantly, how you can leverage this powerful marketing tactic to create meaningful connections with your audience.

So let’s get into it and learn how to build our own little army of happy salespeople 🪖


Now there’s no getting around it, putting your brand in the hands of others does have real danger attached to it.

In 2012 McDonald’s launched the #McDStories hashtag campaign on Twitter. The campaign initially launched with the hashtag #meetthefarmers, which received positive reactions (everyone loves a farmer 🧑‍🌾).

But later that day, McDonald's switched to the new hashtag #McDStories to encourage customers to share their McDonald's stories and experiences. And boy did the internet have a few “experiences” to share.

Accounts of finding fingernails, bandages, and other highly inedible objects in McDonald's food. Stories from former employees describing unsanitary food preparation conditions and practices. Allegations of animal abuse and mistreatment at McDonald's suppliers' agricultural facilities. Tales of food poisoning and illness after eating McDonald's meals. Complaints about poor customer service, rude employees, and mishandled orders. Criticisms of McDonald's marketing to children and contributing to obesity and unhealthy eating 🍟😱

onion rings spit in food GIF

It’s a long shift

McDonald's quickly realised the #McDStories hashtag was spinning out of control and after just two hours, changed back to the original #meetthefarmers hashtag - but the damage was done. The twittersphere had a hold of it and was running with it.

A moment of silence for that social media manager 🪦

While moderation and direction are necessary to prevent inappropriate content, excessive control can make the content feel forced and corporate. And therefore invisible #sponsoredfail 🙈

There’s a balance to be struck.

To be honest, most brands get UGC completely wrong; they miss the very trick to its effectiveness. The value of UGC lies in its raw, unfiltered nature. That can include some ‘warts and all’ aspects.

We’ve all met or come into contact with the “Brand Police”. When you start policing UGC execution like an overzealous hall monitor, you strip away its soul. Consumers can smell a paid rat a mile away – they know when a post is too polished to be genuine. Even (and often especially) when it’s from a big creator - but we’ll get into creators in a bit.

Then there’s the paralysis by analysis syndrome. Some brands are so terrified of losing control over their messaging (see above #McDstories) that they avoid UGC altogether.

They fear that negative or off-brand content will slip through the cracks, tarnishing their image. But guess what? By sitting on the sidelines, pretending people aren’t having a conversation about you, you’re missing out on the incredible power of authentic consumer voices and connecting with possible advocates of your brand.

Another classic mistake is offering too many incentives for UGC. Sure, it’s tempting to dangle a carrot to get content flowing, but this often leads to a flood of low-quality, insincere posts. When every other post is a thinly veiled attempt to win a prize, the value of the content diminishes.

snl season 44 GIF by Saturday Night Live

I think they’re onto us

Ultimately, UGC thrives on trust and authenticity. It’s the digital equivalent of a word-of-mouth recommendation – honest, personal, and trustworthy. When brands interfere too much, they erode this trust. Authentic UGC can create a sense of community and belonging among customers, making them feel part of something.

No one likes the salesy “networking” guy at the conference, who’s mentally sizing up your potential annual billings whilst waiting for his next opportunity to pitch, I mean speak. People just want to be able to chat, connect, share stories and feel they can trust each other without being paranoid about a sales agenda.

Don’t be that guy at the conference 🙅 


OK so, you’re ready to pat your tenderly nurtured and protected brand on the head and set it free in the big bad world to go forth and make some beautiful UGC - how do you avoid your own #McDstories or embarrassingly lame “advertorials”? Here’s a little check list for you ✅

Identifying Your UGC Opportunities

Think deeply on the types of UGC that align with your brand and your ideal customer. These can include:

  • Reviews and Testimonials: Authentic stories and feedback from customers that explain why they used the product and what the experience was like.

  • Social: Unboxing, before and after, product in action photos, videos, and stories shared by users on platforms like Instagram, X, Facebook, and TikTok.

  • Blog Posts: Detailed write-ups or experiences shared by users on their blogs or your website.

  • Creative Content: User-generated designs, artwork, and memes that resonate with your brand’s identity.

Identify which type(s) of content your audience is most likely to create and come across. For instance, a beauty brand might benefit more from makeup tutorials and reviews on TikTok or IG Reels, while an adventure gear company could leverage product review videos shared by customers on YouTube.

Encourage Authentic Content

For customers to share genuine content, you need to make it easy and rewarding. Here’s how:

  • Know your CX: Don’t just jump in and ask people to share how they generally feel about your product if you know there are people out there who have nightmares or dissatisfaction to share. Be really thoughtful, and honest with yourself about where the potential bear-traps we could step into here.

  • Conceptualise a Narrow Campaign: Launch campaigns that invite users to share their experiences, but not wide and vague - give them some moment, aspect or feature you’d like them to zero in on. For example, a hashtag challenge on Instagram about the feeling they get when they unbox your product. This sounds old fashioned but it works, because you're still asking for real feedback and you're not gating/ approving/ paying an influencer.

  • Contests and Giveaways: While incentives should be used sparingly, a well-timed contest can boost participation. Make sure the contest rules are simple and the prize is relevant to your audience, ideally a year’s supply of your product for the most creative post (not most positive).

  • Ask for Feedback: Simply asking your customers to share their stories can go a long way. Send follow-up emails after a purchase, inviting them to leave a review or share a photo.

  • Work with Creators Thoughtfully: Partner with creators who genuinely align with your brand values. Avoid overly strict guidelines and giant influencers who might not resonate with your target audience. Instead, focus on micro-influencers who have a dedicated and engaged following. Give them a simple framework to work with:

    • An attention grabbing hook

    • Teasing or agitating the problem 

    • Introducing the product as a solution

  • Legal Aspects: Always obtain proper permissions before using UGC. This can be as simple as a comment on their post asking for permission to share. Respect privacy and be clear about how you intend to use their content.

Showcase Your UGC Effectively

Highlighting real customer experiences and stories can significantly boost your brand’s credibility. Here’s how to showcase UGC effectively:

  • Curate the Best Content: Select the most engaging and authentic content. Look for posts that have high engagement and tell a compelling story.

  • Display on Various Platforms: Feature UGC on your website, social media channels, email newsletters, and even in-store displays. For example, create a dedicated section on your website for customer stories or feature UGC in your Instagram Stories highlights. Don’t forget, a good clean sentence from a testimonial can be the sweetest ad copy you’ve never had to pay for 😉

  • Credit the Creators: Always give credit to the original creators. Tag them in social media posts and mention them in your newsletters. This not only shows appreciation but also encourages others to share their content.

Finally, Measuring UGC’s Engagement And Impact

To ensure your UGC campaigns are effective, you need to track their performance. Here are some key metrics and tools to measure success:

  • UGC Management Tools: Platforms like TINT, Stackla, and Yotpo can help you curate, manage, and analyze UGC effectively.

  • Engagement and Conversion Rates: Monitor likes, comments, shares, and overall interaction with UGC. High engagement rates indicate that the content resonates with your audience - but be careful, it doesn’t necessarily mean sales. If your UGC is about raising awareness of your brand or the category entry points, yes get stuck into engagement and sentiment (see below) - but if it’s direct sales you’re looking to drive you’re going to want to look to either:

    • Clicks and direct response to carts and online sales.

    • Correlated sales data that aligns with locale, timing etc. with your UGC activity (hard).

  • Sentiment Analysis: Use tools to analyse the sentiment of the UGC and associated public conversation and comments. Both positive and negative sentiment are helpful, and can highlight areas for improvement or themes ripe for further creative investigation.

There’s quite a bit in there - if that’s all a bit too much for now no matter if you’re B2B or B2C, here’s your one thing to do today

Ask yourself what channel are my users consuming content on, and what is the moment of truth for them when using your product?

The answers to those two questions will have you started on your own UGC adventure.

That’s it for this week. If you enjoyed this edition, please forward it to a friend who’s looking to level-up their content and marketing game - they’ll love you for it (and I will too) ⏭️ 💌


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