Almost half of high-performing marketing leaders employ user-generated content as part of their ongoing strategy, according to Salesforce research. That’s because it taps into marketing psychology and therefore delivers.

Eighty-five percent of people find user-generated content to be more authentic and more influential than content made by brands, and it’s five times more likely to convert compared with brand-created content.

Let’s take a look at the psychology behind why user-generated content marketing works so well for brands.

It taps into social proof

Social proof is the idea that when we’re trying to make a decision, we tend to take into account the decisions that those around us have made.

When we’re uncertain, we assume that other people know more than we do. If you’re interested in purchasing a mountain bike, but you don’t know much about bikes, you may read blogs, comb through user reviews, ask a trusted friend for a recommendation, or look at which bikes your favorite influencers endorse. In other words, you rely on the opinions of others to aid in your decision.

In fact, when researching products, a third of millennials look to consumer opinions shared on social networks.

UGC is especially effective at influencing purchasing decisions, which is why apparel brand Tuckernuck features photos of real customers wearing its products both on social media and on an onsite gallery. Here, consumers can find inspiration and easily shop the looks created by others.

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And research shows that people view social content with more shares as being more credible and trustworthy, so UGC is even more powerful when a post amasses a lot of likes and shares.

The power of social proof is also evident when you look at marketing that effectively instills FOMO — or the fear of missing out — in its followers.

Why? Because when we see people we relate to or want to emulate enjoying or benefiting from a product (through a photo, video, testimonial, etc.), we want to be part of it.

“People are more likely to change their mind or behaviors when the result will make them feel better about themselves, and oftentimes that means being part of a larger group,” says Chris Graves, founder of the Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science.

And that group may simply be the wealth of happy customers visible on your brand’s website and social media.

It fulfills our need for attention

Our desire for attention is actually a basic human need — one that’s often ignored, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Robert J. Maurer.

Our desire to flaunt is instinctive, and nothing exemplifies this more than the popularity of the selfie on social media. We’ve all experienced the need to show our followers that we’re experiencing something awesome, which is why people are twice as likely to share something if they want a friend to see it. In fact, gaining recognition is one of the main reasons we use social media.

Take advantage of this by tapping into the consumers’ need for attention and shining the spotlight on them by sharing user-generated content.

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Having our creations shared by a brand we love — such as in the example from Soko Glam above — is also validating. And validation is a powerful motivator.

When a brand shares a customer’s content, it increases the customer’s affinity for the brand, as well as the likelihood that the customer will create and share more content in the future. In other words, sharing UGC incentivizes consumers to create more UGC.

It’s reciprocal

It’s human nature to want to return a favor. It’s known as reciprocity, and it’s a powerful marketing tool.

We can easily see reciprocity in action when we feel inclined to give a present to someone who’s gifted something to us. And this happens with brands all the time. For example, a brand may offer consumers a free product or trial before suggesting they make a purchase. And, more often than not, we feel obligated to make one.

This phenomenon is especially common in the travel industry. In fact, a survey found that the biggest motivator for a person to write a travel review was a “need to reciprocate great experiences provided by travel and tourism companies.”

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We can see this play out on social media as well. For example, it’s not uncommon for giveaway winners to share photos of their prizes as a way of saying thanks.

In the post above, the micro-influencer who won Wild Slumber’s recent giveaway shared this adorable picture of her child modeling the new pajamas. Now, not only is the brand’s product potentially reaching thousands of prospective new customers, but it’s also another great photo to use in its user-generated content marketing efforts.

It provides a sense of ownership

It’s in our nature to place a greater value on items we own. This is a cognitive bias known as the endowment effect.

Customers already attribute a higher value to a product simply because they own it. So brands that share UGC reinforce this sense of ownership post-purchase, making customers even more satisfied with their buy.


Take a look at this example from Peloton above. Its high-end bikes aren’t the most affordable piece of exercise equipment, but the brand helps its customers feel good about their purchases by sharing UGC. So it’s only natural that the consumers who see their own content on the brand’s social profile will feel more connected to the brand — and even better about their purchase.

It’s positive

Brands share user-generated content that evokes positive emotions and makes them look good. This increases the likelihood that users will respond positively to the content and share it, as studies show that positive content inherently gets more shares.

What’s behind this? Emotional contagion, the marketing psychology phenomenon of having one person’s emotions trigger similar emotions in others as a way of building connectedness.

Emotional content, as in the example from Glossier below, activates the automatic nervous system, which increases the likelihood that we’ll share the content that’s stimulated us.

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We can also see this emotional contagion play out with the popularity of emojis. The same parts of the brain that are activated during face-to-face conversations are also activated upon viewing an emoji, according to the journal of Social Neuroscience.
Emotional contagion also explains why scientists at the University of Cambridge found that “individuals who use emoticons often (and positive emoticons in particular) tend to be popular or influential.”

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