As consumers become increasingly immune to brand-produced content, skipping sponsored articles and blocking digital ads, marketers are turning to a more organic approach in the battle for customer attention: user-generated content (UGC).

Not only do 76% of consumers trust the content of fellow consumers more than they do branded content, but 92% trust consumer recommendations, even those from strangers, over brand messaging. Given this clear desire for authenticity, brands are increasingly making user-generated content an essential part of their marketing strategy. Nearly 90% of companies across wide-ranging industries report implementing user-generated content in some fashion.

The trend toward engaging users follows a natural evolution of the Internet from a largely consumption-based platform to one that thrives on contribution. More than 3.8 billion people worldwide upload 44 gigabytes of data every day, including 95 million images on Instagram alone. Every 60 seconds, there are 174,000 people scrolling Instagram: that’s 174,000 potential customers waiting to be engaged, which is why influencers – experts in reaching audiences on this platform – now become vital for brands looking to inspire conversion. With 200 million Instagrammers visiting the profile of a business every day, having a social-first presence is vital for any modern brand.

With so many users sharing tips, inspiration, and personal stories, brands have more opportunities than ever to incorporate their products and values into these conversations. From our own data, having facilitated hundreds of collaborations between brands and bloggers, we can see that consumers are turning to influencers for advice and inspiration — and we’re finding that many of them are ready to make a purchase directly from platforms such as Instagram Stories. As brands see the impact of user-generated content, many are looking to expand their efforts by collaborating with a greater variety of content creators.

Our data from brands of all sizes, ranging from emerging designers to international retailers, suggests that not only is influencer content more cost-effective than brand-produced content, but it is also what shoppers prefer. In a social media landscape where users are inundated with marketer-produced native advertising, the imperfect, yet authentic content produced by fellow consumers is what converts. Here’s how to make it work for your brand.

1. Authentic Storytelling

User-generated content works because audiences relate to it on a peer-to-peer level. Your customers recognize that brand images and taglines don’t always reflect reality. User-generated content allows you to showcase your products or services in real-life situations. Notably, we have found that when influencers disclose that their post is sponsored (something they should always do), their followers still recognize the content as authentic and react to it with the same level of engagement and attention that they give organic content. To get the most out of user-created content, let your creators drive the story. When influencers are allowed to create content that resonates with their own life experience, they’re more likely to inspire their followers to act.

HelloFresh is a great example of a brand that has succeeded by giving its creators the freedom to tell their own stories. When Laura Timpson, the Australian blogger behind Stories of a Mum (@storiesofamum), collaborated with the grocery delivery service to demonstrate how it can help families, the Instagram post of her young daughter, delighted by the grocery box, did not feel like an advertisement. Instead, it felt like any other snapshot into the life of a busy mom for whom a simple trip to the store really is an adventure. Laura is a believable user of HelloFresh, and her enthusiasm, shown in her post comment, feels genuine. These are the kinds of collaborations that make user-generated content so effective.

With Blair away four weeks at a time, the last thing I want to do is put both girls in the car on my own and go to the grocery store whilst praying there will be no meltdowns. I also struggle to plan meals for the week (that will have a 50% success rate of being eaten – let's be real!) & find time to cook them with a baby crying at my feet and a toddler turning the house upside down while I'm in the kitchen. Truthfully, ain't no mum got time for that! I was so excited to give the @hellofreshau family box a try. Helloooo, no meal planning & grocery trips! @hellofreshau is farm fresh ingredients & recipes delivered to your door. A lifesaver for families, couples, and anyone who's looking to simplify their life and try some new recipes. We received 4 meals for a family of 4, and let me tell you, even with me cooking them they were DELICIOUS, and surprisingly easy to cook! I liked them, sophie liked them, they were easy, tasty and affordable. If you'd like to give @hellofreshau a go yourself, feel free to use my code CJHELLO35 for $35 off your first box. The link is in my bio #shoppinglinks #ad

A post shared by Laura – Mum Life In Perth (@storiesofamum) on

2. Stronger Customer Relationships

Cultivating influencers as brand ambassadors can also strengthen customer loyalty. Brands have long used celebrities and other influential figures as the “face” of their products or services, and influencers allow brands to accomplish that same feeling of recognition and trust, only on a micro level. This can become a boon to brands looking to capitalize on the influence that niche bloggers have on their audiences. Influencers with 1,000 or fewer followers generate 8x the engagement of influencers with more than 1 million followers, and smaller influencers are proven to inspire more sales.

To strengthen customer loyalty through influencer-generated content, a long-term mindset is key. Telling an authentic story inspires trust, but it’s seeing the brand relationship grow over time that instills a feeling of loyalty. Shoppers looking to emulate influencer’s style are likely to adopt their favorite brands. This makes long-term brand ambassadorships particularly powerful.

3. Online Buzz

User-generated content also allows you to spark multiple conversations about your brand by engaging creators at scale. The more voices you have weighing in on your products and services, the more traction you will gain. Influencers allow you to increase the number of mentions you receive, which can boost your organic search ranking. When 10 different bloggers are talking about you all at once, it’s hard not to take notice. Collaborating with influencers at scale is a great way to accomplish this. We recently introduced a Product Seeding option that allows brands to gift 10 or 50 influencers at once with a single collaboration for just this purpose.

Swimwear brand Bondi Bather is a great example of a brand that has employed user-generated content to spark multiple conversations about its brand at once. Several influencers, from Jennifer Chong (@jennifer_chong), above, to Milly Bannister (@_millybannister), below, posted about the brand over the Australian summer, keeping Bondi Bather top-of-mind — and in conversation — all season long. The ability to leverage many niche influencers at once, each reaching a specific target market, makes product seeding a particularly powerful tool.

4. More Conversions

User-generated content also improves conversions from internal marketing campaigns like EDMs. Leveraging influencer content is an effective way to create content that resonates with users, driving them to convert.

A leading international retail brand recently demonstrated the ability of influencers to convert through A/B tests of blogger-generated content against branded content. In every test, the blogger content performed better than brand content, demonstrating higher click-through rates, click-to-order rates and revenues. The brand saw a 21.6% uptick in click-through rates and a 34% uplift in click-to-order rates. More revealingly, revenues were 21% higher with blogger content.

The brand was also able to track a definitive spike in online sales for a product that was featured by a prominent influencer on Instagram Stories. Traffic to the eCommerce page for that product remained elevated for several days afterward the post.

These results confirm what we understand about how consumers relate to brands. For decades, brands have used surreal settings and ethereal campaigns to sell everything from apparel to consumer goods; now, many are finding that what consumers really desire is a genuine, relatable interaction.

5. Stronger SEO

Finally, user-generated content allows you to quickly and cost-effectively secure high-quality inbound links from influencers with strong domain authorities. Few brands have the budget or bandwidth to create sponsored content across multiple sites, but the end result — multiple inbound links to your website — is exactly what you can achieve with user-generated content, your team doesn’t need to create the content! Better yet, when you contract influencers for a paid collaboration through Shopping Links, you have exclusive access to the collaboration imagery for three months and ongoing digital usage. Shopping Links’ blogger profiles also show the Google Analytics of many influencers, allowing you to easily identify bloggers with high domain authorities.

The great impact that user-generated content can have on boosting your organic search ranking makes SEO-focused collaborations through blog content and social media one of the most impactful ways that you can utilize this strategy.

In a recent collaboration with multiple influencers, beauty brand Kate Somerville focused on high-quality blog posts by multiple influencers, including an article on Kate Loves Makeup that was shared 98 times across Pinterest and Facebook. Her post on Instagram received more than 300 likes.

The brand also collaborated with blogger Sharon Litz to create blog and Instagram content, earning more than 500 likes on Instagram and nearly 30 comments.

One of the great advantages of this approach is that you can improve your SEO even if the links are nofollow (as they should be in accordance with disclosure rules). Here’s why this is so: while it’s true that Google’s “spiders” – which crawl the web for inbound links – do not count “nofollow” links, Google does follow every click made by an actual person. The means every time a reader clicks on a sponsored link, you receive SEO credit.

These are just a few of the ways that you can make user-generated content work for your brand, no matter your budget or industry. Additionally, influencers provide invaluable feedback from a customer’s perspective, which can make the relationships you build while collaborating to create influencer content equally important. All of these reasons improve your influencer marketing ROI, making user-generated content one of the most powerful tools that you can utilize.

A version of this article first appeared on the Shopping Links blog.