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Why College-aged Consumers Prefer User-Generated Content

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Say goodbye to professional marketing photos in the studio, and hello to fans with iPhones.

Today’s college-age Millennial and Gen Z consumers prefer user-generated content (UGC) that looks like they captured it themselves, research shows, and that’s changing how marketers reach them.

Authenticity is Key

Young consumers prefer UGC because they find it more authentic. In an era where anything can be Photoshopped and manipulated, young consumers crave things that feel real.

  • 97% of consumers age 18-29 feel UGC has “extreme influence,” notes Chain Store Age
  • 63% feel that it is more authentic, notes Chain Store Age
  • Millennials trust user-generated content 50% more than other media, reports Mashable

UGC originates primarily from social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, but also from user reviews, forum posts, and personal blogs. It most commonly takes the form of images and videos, though it frequently includes text. Brands usually discover this content because users tag the brands when they share it.

(Image: A user-generated photo tagged with the brand #lululemon.)

These images and videos are typically shot with users’ phones and are of low production quality. They can include selfies, photos taken with products, and video reviews. According to The Content Marketing Institute, virtually anything that users create and share publicly can fall into the UGC category.

For New York’s tourism board, this might be photos of the Empire State Building might count, whereas for Target, videos of student customers reacting to their college acceptance letters were deemed valuable — and one compilation uploaded to YouTube was viewed over 24,000 times. Urban Outfitters, for example, reportedly achieved a 15% increase in conversions by replacing studio-shot photos with UGC, according to Adweek.

Brands can build serious trust with students by using student-generated content and letting them contribute to the brand identity. Images drawn from a particular college are highly likely to resonate with students of that same college, especially if they feature the university logo, landmarks, and of course, students, for example. Marketers may also find that crowd-sourcing content allows them to pick up on trends quickly. On-trend images become available as fast as they’re created.

Brands that adopt UGC also may reduce their cost of content creation. According to Sprinklr, a social media software, marketers can collect one hundred images from social media for the same cost of one photo from a creative agency photo shoot.

UGC offers another advantage: there is a lot of it. Ninety-five million images are shared daily on Instagram alone, the company says. Brands can tailor their content based on audience interest, product usage, and demographics. To organize these images, many brands turn to UGC platforms.

The software Olapic, for example, scans social media and uses an algorithm to identify, store, and display high-quality photos. “Adopting a technology to help you manage this wealth of user-generated content can help marketing teams save time and optimize their performance,” says Bill Connolly, director of marketing at Olapic.

Brands who embrace the UGC trend to market to college students will amass more authentic content and provide college-age consumers with precisely the kind of social proof that they’re looking for: content that looks like they captured it themselves.

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