Believing in the UGC hype

Participation is arguably the defining quality of social media (Hinton and Hjorth 2013). It is the opportunity to speak, contribute, publish and be heard that makes social media so engaging and compelling for it millions of users. The proliferation of user-generated-content (UGC) is evidence of this ‘participation’ concept in action.

Hinton and Hjorth define UGC as the process by which ‘users forward content made by others’ (Hinton and Hjorth 2013 p.55). Alternatively it can be observed as ‘media content created by members of the general public’ (Daugherty, Eastin, & Bright, 2008 as cited in Kim and Johnson 2016 p.98). Goh et al. define UGC by what it’s not, ‘UGC is the alternative to marketer generated content’ (Goh et al as cited in Ding et al 2014 p.1785).


What has contributed to the rise of UGC on social media? What elements of Web 2.0 and the networks contained therein lend themselves to UGC? I propose that the proliferation of UGC can be explained, in part, by two phenomenon. Firstly, the basic principals found in traditional word-of-mouth (WOM) communications theory help explain why UGC is so relevant and effective today. UGC and social media are not entirely new concepts and many of the operating mechanisms of social media can be observed in traditional communications theory. Secondly, the nature of networked publics contribute to the increased use of UGC because they promote connection and social capital which are central to UGC.

There is a vast range of UGC, everything from a 12-yr old making a video and posting it online to Wikipedia and citizen journalism. This article will look at UGC as used by brands in the promotion of their product. So what does communication theory have to say about what might motivate people to create content to be used by brands? Dichter’s WOM communications theory identifies four inter-related motivators of consumer involvement in WOM communication: product involvement, message involvement, self involvement and other involvement (Dichter as cited in Ding et al 2014). Whilst this is a long-standing communications theory, originally used to explain physical word-of-mouth, these motivators can be seen in the production of UGC today.

Product involvement drives consumers to share what they know or feel about a product. Message involvement is when a consumers’ discussion of a product is stimulated by messages created by the organisation or other consumers. Self involvement suggests that consumers participate in content creation to enhance their image. Other involvement concerns users’ genuine desire to help others (Dichter as cited in Ding et al 2014).

The most authentic UGC is often created when two or more of these motivators combine. For example when a user is genuinely passionate about a product but also concerned with promoting their own image. Or when a user is influenced by what others are saying and wants to help assist future customers.

In my own social media campaign I learnt that I never had two factors working together. At best I only had one and this meant that UGC wasn’t being created and subsequently couldn’t be used by the brand for promotion. At the beginning I thought that self-involvement would be enough for guests to produce UGC. I was relying on the fact that audiences already post and share content about travel so this wouldn’t be an entirely new practice for my guests. ‘Travel’ ranked second on the ‘top 10 live events people shared most frequently on Facebook’ (Zeman 2014).


Zeman gives evidence about the habitual nature of sharing travel on social media
(Zeman 2014).


Posting images and content about travel is already an accepted practice. Image used with permission by author.

However over the course of my campaign, and through my research, I discovered that UGC production relies on users being passionate about the product and either driven by what others are saying or interested in building their own image. It would be interesting to run a UGC campaign for a product that already had engaged, passionate advocates.

Empirical examples of brands that have engaged with these motivators to produce exciting UGC results include Poler Stuff and Tourism Australia. Poler Stuff contributors are motivated by message involvement and self involvement. They are listening to the message from the brand to ‘go on hiking adventures’ and are budding photographers. In a similar way, Tourism Australia’s contributors are semi professional photographers looking to build their own personal brand and they are passionate about Australia as a travel destination.


Poler Stuff’s #Campvibes campaign asked fans to participate with amazing camping and hiking photography, not requiring them to feature Poler gear in the photos. It is about the lifestyle, not any specific product. Poler then curates and shares the best photos and videos on their website and in store to inspire visitors to go on their own camping adventures.


Here the contributor @dsimages has had their photo re-posted by Tourism Australia. The photo went from 70 likes to nearly 30,000 likes. This is exposure for @dsimages wouldn’t have been possible without the re-post.

The second phenomena that explains the proliferation of UGC is, the nature of networked publics that use social capital to expand their reach. UGC doesn’t sit in isolation, its success often relies on the networks it is embedded in. danah boyd (styled lowercase) identifies networked publics as both space constructed by networked technologies (how it exists) and the imagined collective which emerges from a common set of beliefs interest or practices (why they exist). These networks are essential to how UGC behaves on social platforms (boyd as cited in Hinton and Hjorth 2013).

One of the key factors in establishing and maintaining these networks is the social capital of some users (Bourdieu as cited in Hinton and Hjorth 2013). It is these users that can make or break a social network. The social networks rely on these people because of who they know not what they know (Hinton and Hjorth 2013). An empirical example of a brand doing this well is GoPro who have partnered with a number of elite athletes (including the surfer Kelly Slater). GoPro gives the athletes GoPro cameras and then uses the content they produce on the GoPro social media channels. It is the networks that these athletes have which makes their UGC valuable and useful. It is less about quantity of content and more about quality of the networks.

It was an interesting journey as I aimed to integrate content from key influences into my campaign. In a real-life situation the integration of social capital UGC could work well for a luxury lodge which would potentially attract cliental with networks aligned to those the entity was trying to engage with.

The content that I posted from an accommodation blogger performed well at the time because it was an authentic voice advocating the product. However the network implications of using UGC from users with social capital is hard to measure. It is difficult to know exactly how much impact these influences have and this would have to be observed over the long term.

It’s not just social capital that makes UCG successful its authenticity. UGC shared via social media has more influence than other sources because it is transmitted by a trustworthy information source embedded in a consumer’s personal network (Chu & Kim, 2011; Corrigan, 2013 as cited in Kim and Johnson 2016).


UGC inspires more trust than other types of media (Feldkamp 2015).

This is confirmed by Dichter who suggests that WOM communications by highly involved consumers are more contagious, in that they are likely to be deemed more convincing by the audiences (Dichter as cited in Ding et al 2014). This implies that UGC by highly involved users are likely to be influential in attracting people to join a brand community. Tourism Australia have seen the benefit of only featuring UGC and now receive close to 1200 photos a day (Dejardins 2014) from passionate fans. Their strategy ‘the world biggest social media team’ comes to life when they ignite a ‘whole army of advocates’ and use the networks these fans have.

In my work I look forward to playing an active role in social media campaign development. The key learnings around UGC creation and the power of networks will help me to identify potential pitfalls and also strategies for greater audience engagement particularly in the production of UGC.



Arvidsson, A., and Colleoni, E., (2012) Value in informational capitalism and on the Internet. The Information Society 28(3) p. 135–50

Chung, N., Han, H., and Koo, C., (2015) Adoption of travel information in user-generated content on social media: the moderating effect of social presence, Behaviour & Information Technology, 34(9) p. 902-919

Dejardins, J., (2014) Mark Schaefer interviews Jesse Dejardins, manager behind “the world’s largest social media team” Accessed at 16 April https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBFkLBE4_nA

de Vries, L., (2015) Impact of Social Media on Consumers and Firms, University of Groningen, Groningen: Amsterdam

Dennhardt, S., (2012) User-Generated Content and its Impact on Branding Dissertation, University of Innsbruck: Innsbruck.

Ding, Y., Phang, C. W., Lu, X., Tan, C., & Sutanto, J. (2014). The role of marketer- and user-generated content in sustaining the growth of a social media brand community. Paper presented at the 2014 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Science.

Feldkamp, J., (2015) Travel UGC: A goldmine hiding in plain sight Accessed 19 April 2016

Hinton, S., and Hjorth, L., (2013) Understanding Social Media, Sage, London.

Kim, A., and Johnson, K., (2016) Power of consumers using social media: Examining the influences of brand-related user-generated content on Facebook, Computers in Human Behavior, 58 p. 98 – 108

Lee, E., Lee, J., Moon, J., and Sung, Y., (2015) Pictures Speak Louder than Words: Motivations for Using Instagram, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking, 18 (9)

Soriano, J., (2016) Making Waves In Digital Marketing With Visual User Generated Content. Accessed at 19 April 2016.

Spencer, M., (2016) Why UGC Marketing is the Ultimate Trend as published on LinkedIn Content Manager at Thirdshelf 26 February 2016. Accessed at 16 April.

Zajc, M., (2015) The Social Media Dispositive and Monetization of User Generated Content, The Information Society, 31(1) p. 61-67

Zeman, C., (2014) ‘What people share of social networks’ Accessed 10 April 2016 http://www.go-gulf.ae/blog/what-people-share-on-social-networks


One thought on “Believing in the UGC hype

  1. Hey! I think this is a great article and definitely some good research in there too 🙂 I think the general flow of this article and the way you have explained UGC is really quite engaging.

    Regarding your statement on UGC and social media not being entirely new concepts and being observed amongst traditional communication is something I think I had realised but was so refreshing to hear.

    I think relating the topic to your campaign and being able to see and understand what you mean with the visual examples was quite informative. It was interesting to learn about how the passion and excitement and commitment of the person or company posting comes through to the users and does actually have a large impact on the outcome of the content posted online.

    In addition, I also found it interesting that UGC can instill more trust than other forms of media, considering how much we as individuals used to rely on traditional media (news on the TV).

    Just to finish off, I learnt a lot about UGC and the real connections and impacts it can have on social media users, and in particular businesses in this space.

    Great work! 🙂


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