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What's the difference between influencers and user-generated content (UGC)?

There's still a lot of confusion in the marketing industry about the difference between influencer content and UGC. Both are produced outside the direct control of a brand and its creative agencies – so what's really the difference? It boils down to authenticity.


UGC creators

User-generated content (UGC) is typically produced by the real customers of the brand; the people who buy the brand, use the brand, and love the brand. If they are true fans of the brand, they more or less spontaneously take pictures and videos including the brand and post the content on their social media. They see the brand as an extension of themselves. Think of somebody who loves a certain watch brand, an electric car model, or some cool sporting gear. Or a certain hotel, a travel destination, a swimwear brand, or an organic tea variety. Brand fans love to produce content around it – and be part of the brand's story.


UGC may be posted in the customers' own channels, or be shared with the brand so that the brand can include the content in their channels. A brand that works with UGC at scale – by actively inviting customers to share content – would typically use a platform like Reeler to streamline their work processes.


Influencer or micro-influencer

Influencer content on the other hand is produced by somebody with a big following in social media. Influencers get paid for their services, which include both producing the content and posting the content in their channels; it includes a media buy. The influencer may or may not actually be a customer of the brand.


The fact that influencers get paid for their services, means end-users may trust influencer content less than UGC, which is perceived as more authentic. Studies show that UGC is 5–10 times more impactful than influencer content.


Somewhere in between UGC and influencers is what is called micro-influencers. These creators are influencers, but with a smaller following. Their followers may be more dedicated and feel more attached to them, as parts of a smaller circle. However, the essential difference vs. UGC remains: micro-influencers get paid to produce content and post it on their channels; it's still a media buy for the brand.


Let's summarize the main differences between UGC, micro-influencer content, and influencer content:

​UGC

Micro-influencer content

Influencer content

​Real customers?

Yes

Usually no

No

Get paid?

Usually not

Yes

Yes

Creators post on their channels?

Sometimes, for free

Yes, paid

Yes, paid

Brand posts on their channels?

Yes

Usually no

Usually no

There are cases when the boundaries between UGC and influencer content blur. An influencer could in fact happen to be a real customer and a fan of a brand. He or she can then truly recommend the brand, and put all their heart into recommending it to others. He or she will however most likely still charge for content production and for media placement. On the downside, consumers may still not feel sure if the recommendation is genuine or not.


There's also the case where a regular customer produces UGC – and then the brand realizes that he or she actually has a social media following of some size. It turns out to be UGC produced by a micro-influencer. The brand may then sometimes consider starting to pay this brand fan for their UGC. So, a brand that works broadly with its brand community, sourcing real UGC that is authentic and engaging, may this way also find micro-influencers – creators who can deliver the best of both worlds: authentic UGC plus a following.





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