Thousands of articles have been written on the subject of user-generated content, enthusiastically extolling the praises of UGC.

“UGC is authentic.” – Forbes Magazine

“UGC is real.” – Kiss Metrics

“UGC drives sales.” – Apparel Week

“UGC is the holy grail of marketing.” – Retail Wire (seriously!)

“UGC is the future of marketing.” – AdNews

“User-generated content is 76% more trustworthy than branded advertising” –

And it’s all true. UGC is the authentic and real, captivating and engaging. UGC can drive engagement, increase click-through rates, conversions and more.

UGC is indeed the holy grail of marketing.

Time to start a UGC campaign!

So how do brands react to this UGC drumbeat? Brands run photo contests, hashtag campaigns, influencer campaigns and more. And they run their contents and campaigns with all the usual suspects – Instagram, Facebook, even Pinterest, encouraging their best fans and customers to create and share their #hashtagged and branded-UGC.

And when fans and customers respond by submitting their photos to contests and campaigns (both the good and the not-so-good), we as an industry call it “earned UGC.”

What is Earned UGC?

Even though there are just as many definitions of “earned UGC” as there are articles on the subject, the true definition of earned UGC is authentic content created by individuals that are shared socially on the Internet. Earned UGC can be in the form of a user-review, photo, blog post, video, or audio file. The content can be positive or negative. The key to it, however, is that it is authentic.

Let’s collect and curate earned UGC.

Dozens of platforms have sprouted up in the past few years attempting to help brands benefit from UGC, most of them providing brands/clients with an automated UGC collection dashboard by simply tracking hashtag feeds. As UGC is hashtagged and shared on the various social networks, the platforms collect, “curate” and save the best content for their client brands.

There are also platforms that go beyond simply collecting or curating content, offering solutions allowing brands to harvest branded-UGC, then requesting permission of the content creator to reuse content – typically using some form of an #iApprove hashtag solution.

Asking permission of the content creator to reuse earned UGC via #iApprove or similar #hashtag is a good first step to securing implied permission, however, as many brands are beginning to discover, implied isn’t enough.

Implied consent doesn’t solve the fundamental problems around usage. Because without explicit copyright clearance, model release, COPPA considerations (for UGC that includes children under the age of 14), etc., brands put themselves at considerable risk of a lawsuit – just like Anheuser-Busch experienced earlier this year.

Earned UGC is fundamentally flawed.

When content-creating customers share their UGC on the social networks, it’s the social networks that own the content and not the brands.

What does this mean? It means it’s the social networks actually own and control the branded UGC, and they control the customer metadata. They know everything about the content creator including first/last name, email, date, time, location and more. Data that brands should own.

Brands can’t win.

Imagine all of the work and effort involved in creating UGC campaigns, campaign promotion, tracking activity, content curation, and more… then giving the content away to the social networks hosting your earned UGC campaign.

That would be like running a marathon and giving up 10 feet before the finish line.

That’s like investing in a kitchen remodel on a home you just rent.

Running an earned UGC campaign requires a significant investment of budget, time, and energy, but ultimately yields very little return for brands.

It’s time to rethink the UGC game.

The UGC space is beyond heating up. It’s white-hot and here to stay.

Since UGC is here to stay, it’s time for brands to finally rethink their UGC game. The way the game is played today requires brands to continue to spend more on user-generated content that is ultimately owned by the social networks hosting their UGC.

And that’s no way to win.

Originally published at on October 21, 2017.