Content Marketing: Why UGC Won’t Fill Your Hole

User Generated Content Case Study

Can user generated content fill your editorial holes Does your content marketing plan include “free” content in the form of user-generated content (aka UGC)?

How’s that working for you?

If you’re like most marketers, regardless of size or budget, you’re always looking for new ways to fill the holes in your editorial calendar. To this end, user-generated content looks like a great options since it’s “free”, and whose budget couldn’t use some free stuff?

The problem with this approach is that most of your prospects, customers and the public are passive consumers of your content. This is a nice way of saying they lurk. They read your information, take what they need from it and move on.

This behavior is well documented. It’s not just your site or social media entities. In general, people act in the following ratio:

  • 90% lurk
  • 9% do something small requiring little effort
  • 1% do something that involves time.

User Generated Content Targets 1 percent of lurkers Bottom line: UGC targets the 1%. Therefore to get a sizable amount of content, you need to contact a LOT of people. (Another alternative is to reduce content marketing costs.)

User-generated content case study

As an experiment, I offered my full house Content Marketing World session attendees the opportunity to be published and promoted in a round up post. To put this in perspective, this type of post performs well on Actionable Marketing Guide.

My request specifically stated that only a paragraph or two was needed. Additionally, I gave them permission to share the request with 3 other people to help colleagues get published even if they didn’t participate themselves.

Since Actionable Marketing Guide doesn’t accept guest blog posts, I thought of this as a special offer to an audience of content marketers. Ask a flood of people who regularly send guest blog post requests.

User-generated content goals

  • Offer a special publishing opportunity to an engaged group of content marketers.
  • Create an amazing piece of content.
  • Save content creation time.

User-generated content offer

  • Emailed session attendees based on badge scans, business cards and people who emailed me post-session. To only email people once, I did this by hand.
  • Set a short deadline of 1 week to encourage fast turn around.
  • Followed up with about 10 to 20 people I knew. Not wanting to be viewed as spamming the list, I didn’t send a second email to nudge them to action.

Initial user-generated content results

Two responses submitted. Yes, you read that correctly.

Based on the 90%/9%/1% ratio, this shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Do over

Remember when you were small and needed a “do over” to get an activity right?

Well I gave myself a “Do over” opportunity since 2 answers weren’t enough input with which to create a post.

A month later, I tried again with these changes:

  • Allowed recipients more time to respond, specifically 2 weeks.
  • Emailed a bigger list. I used the compiled list from Content Marketing World, my newsletter file and a few content marketing friends.

Second round user-generated content results

Six responses, mainly from my newsletter file. These are my raving fans.

For another point of view, Here’s what Andy Crestodina, a top content marketing blogger and author of Content Chemistry, responded when I asked him contribute:

“I can’t believe people wouldn’t participate in this! The instructions looked a bit complicated, but it’s actually pretty easy, right? Fun idea, Heidi!”  (BTW–For an amazing example of UGC, check out Andy’s “My CW Yearbook” from the event.)

User generated content post

The UGC experiment resulted in a blog post, “Why Use Content Marketing – 7 Reasons” subtitled: “Marketers Respond to Why They Use Content Marketing”. The article attracted above average traffic but less than most of the round up posts.

From a metrics perspective, my UGC experiment fell short of my initial goals. Regardless who you ask, it’s difficult to get people to create and contribute content, even if they’re content creators.

I realize that, even as a blogger who writes and produces 5 posts per week and other work, I don’t always respond to requests for input. For me, it’s not about the writing, but rather it’s often about my time. The easier the request is to answer before I move onto the next email, the more likely it will get answered.

What’s your experience with and perspective on user generated content?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen


Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies. You can find Heidi on , Facebook and .

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  • http://www.lawolfe.com/ Lahle Wolfe

    Great article. UCG sites are often seen as “vanity” publishing sites or places to post to try and gain inbound links — a practice I recommend against. Opening your site to allow others to contribute is not a bad idea necessarily, but sites that are predominantly UCG tend to be low quality.

    I do sometimes publish guest articles that are on topic, are of interest to my readers (versus just “something” to increase the size of my site), and are well-written but the few times I have put out invitations for readers to share stories I am always surprised by the number of PR companies that respond asking me to publish off-topic articles and press releases that have already been published on other sites.