If you’re on TikTok, you may have noticed a number of creators talking about UGC (user-generated content) and the money they’re making from it.
“I’ve made a little over $2,000 in my first month as a UGC creator,” one shares. “This is how I make $7-10k a month, all from home,” another UGC creator tells her viewers. Many are posting videos about UGC examples that have landed them paid deals, and tutorials on how to build a UGC portfolio. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Ahead, we break down what you need to know about the rise of UGC creators, how you can become one, and if it’s really the gravy train some TikTokers are claiming it to be.
What is a UGC creator?
UGC creators specialize in creating organic-looking content that appears like user-generated content for brands — and they’re paid for it. Much like your average content creator, UGC creators typically focus on one or a few niches, whether it be travel, beauty, fashion, or wellness.
You might be wondering, “What is the difference between influencers and UGC creators?” While the two might seem similar, the way they fit in a brand’s marketing strategy is quite different.
When a brand works withs an influencer, it’s usually paying for access to their followers. Essentially, brands partner with influencers because they could help increase sales of a product just by casually mentioning it to their audience.
However, when a brand pays for UGC, it’s looking for authentic-feeling content that it can use to promote its business. That means when a UGC creator works with a brand, the content created is meant to live on the brand’s own social media platforms rather than the creator’s profile. It’s relatable, personal-feeling content that brands are after, not a creator’s reach or huge follower count.
For example, if a beauty brand wants to promote its new lipstick, it may commission a UGC creator to make a try-on video that highlights the product. Instead of being posted on the creator’s own account, the video content would be published as marketing material on the brand’s official channels.
Why are brands paying UGC creators?
Historically, UGC refers to content created organically by social media users that’s shared on their own social media accounts. From there, a brand might reach out and ask for a user’s permission to feature their content on its channels — maybe even paying them a small amount as compensation.
Over the last couple of years, however, many brands have started paying content creators to produce custom-made user-generated content for them. This trend has led to the rise of a new breed of content creators, namely UGC creators.
So, why do brands hire UGC creators to create content for them?
UGC content is cheaper than influencer campaigns.
When a brand works with an influencer, it’s paying for access to that creator’s audience, rather than high-quality content. After all, even if a tiny fraction of the creator’s 2,000,000 followers makes a purchase after seeing their sponsored post, it could translate to a lot of sales. Influencers know that, and many of them charge top dollar for sponsored content.
With UGC creators, brands are only paying for the content created, not access to their audiences. And since UGC creators are practically content specialists, working with them could also mean getting better quality content for marketing purposes than with some influencers.
It means brands don’t have to create similar content in-house.
With mass layoffs across industries, many brands have probably lost social media specialists and content marketers who’d otherwise create their social media content. With reduced head count and resources, a brand’s best option might be to outsource some of its content creation.
UGC content feels authentic.
Authenticity is key to UGC content — yes, even when it’s paid for. UGC creators are masters of promoting a product or service while honing in on what a brand’s target audience values most.
Take this video from Airbnb’s TikTok account as an example. This UGC creator knows exactly what travelers want: delicious food, friendly hosts, and breathtaking sights. High-quality UGC content like this is much more impactful when compared to bland, generic ads you’d often see on social media platforms.
UGC is classic marketing updated for the influencer age.
Brands have always used customer testimonials, case studies, and reviews to drive sales. How many times have you seen a car ad that uses actors posing as average people giving honest reactions to the newest model?
Think of UGC creators as the latest version of this kind of advertising. Organic-looking UGC could give brands social proof, which is a powerful way to boost sales.
How to become a UGC creator
One advantage of being a UGC creator — as opposed to a traditional influencer — is that you don’t need a huge following to start making money. Since the content you create is getting published on a brand’s channels instead of your own, it’s more about the quality of the content than the size of your following.
So, in order to start your UGC creator journey, you need to start building your content creation skills. Remember that just because UGC is lo-fi, that doesn’t mean it should look unprofessional. Here are six steps to become a UGC creator.
Step 1: Do your research
Start by looking up brands you’d like to work with. What kind of UGC do they promote? Are there similarities between each piece of content? Is there a niche you think you’d be particularly strong in?
You should also be going out of your way to find and consume UGC content. Don’t just scroll through, but actually evaluate what you’re consuming. What makes good UGC content stand out? How can you create your own quickly and easily?
Step 2: Invest in filming equipment and build your setup
Sure, you can start creating UGC content with just your phone and a cheap ring light. However, if you want to make this a viable side hustle or career, your setup needs to level up alongside your ambitions. Here are some equipment you might want to invest in:
A good camera
Some smartphones have great cameras, and might often beat entry-level digital cameras. So you’ll want to get either one of those phones or a professional camera.
A ring light is a good start, but it’s not always the best solution for great lighting. Research how filmmakers light up their sets, and figure out what lighting equipment you’ll need for UGC content creation.
A reliable microphone
The crisper your visuals, the more bad audio will stand out. This is where your phone probably won’t be able to cut it. Having a separate microphone will improve the audio quality of your UGC content.
If the background in your videos is too distracting, cover it up. You don’t necessarily need a blank sheet here — you can be creative by using fabrics or other materials as your backdrop.
Depending your niche and the type of UGC content you create, props could be very important. For example, #BookTok videos just don’t look right without piles of books in the shot. Gather a few props that’ll help you look like you’re living the ideal lifestyle of your niche.
Step 3: Practice making UGC content
The first piece of content you create probably won’t be your best. Look at the content that you researched and try to recreate it. If you want to focus on photos, start learning the basics of photography, including how to properly light a shot and how to pose. If video is more your style, you’ll need to work on reading, memorizing, and delivering scripts. You’ll also need to study camera angles, transitions, and multimedia effects such as overlaid text and audio tracks.
Step 4: Build your UGC portfolio
After creating all that content as you practice, it’s time to build your UGC portfolio. Brands are unlikely to work with a UGC creator who can’t show them any examples of their previous work. With that in mind, creating a portfolio should be one of your priorities after you’ve done your research and upgraded your setup.
It’s the old catch-22: You can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. But in the case of becoming a UGC creator, you can — literally and figuratively — create your own job experience.
Once you’ve understood the basics of UGC, start creating samples. Focus on creating user-generated content about niches you’d like to work in, and make it your best work.
You can share your portfolio on your social media accounts, but you should also make it accessible online — either storing it in a Google Drive or displaying it on your website — so you can easily share it with brands when they request for it.
Step 5: Pitch yourself to brands
Once you’ve built your portfolio, start looking for brands to work with. When you’re just starting out as a UGC creator, brands aren’t going to come knocking on your door. Instead, you need to be proactive about reaching out to them.
Start by creating a list of brands you’re interested in working with, ideally keeping them in a spreadsheet. From there, you can sort them using a few qualifiers, like how likely they are to work with you, and how much you’d love to work with them. Find contact information for marketers or social media managers at those companies, and add it to your spreadsheet.
Once that’s done, work on an email template for pitching yourself to brands. Introduce yourself, include a link to your portfolio, and mention why you want to work with them. Customize your message to different brands by using that template, send out a bunch of emails, and use your spreadsheet to track who you’ve reached out to and who’s responded.
You can absolutely send all your emails at once, but sending out batches of 10-20 emails at a time are more manageable.
Step 6: Find opportunities on UGC creator platforms
Cold outreaches are tough. They don’t always have a high success rate, and seeing a bunch of your emails get ignored can be demoralizing. Luckily, there are platforms that are built specifically for creators looking for UGC opportunities. Here are some of the best ones:
Trend is a marketplace where UGC creators can find gigs from brands and monetize their passion. It’s 100% free, and creators don’t need to have a huge following to start working with Trend. In fact, you can even join the platform with a brand new Instagram account.
Influee is a platform that gives brands access to on-demand UGC and a way to manage a growing content library. It’s a network that has paid out more than $16 million for creators.
UGC Shop is part agency, part creator collective. One of the biggest draws of this platform is its focus on ethics. It promise to not only deliver UGC from creators who are genuinely passionate about testing and reviewing products, but also to only work with ethical brands.
Insense gives brands the ability to quickly create and dispatch briefs for UGC, making it a solid choice for the eager social marketer. Creators can find a plethora of brands to collaborate with through the platform, without sourcing the deals themselves.
TRIBE boasts big-time clients like Lego, McDonald’s, and Olay, making it a solid option for content creators looking to specialize in UGC. The only requirement for creators seems to be having at least 3,000 followers.
How much do UGC creators make?
So, how much do UGC creators get paid? It really depends. Not all UGC creators are at the same stage of their careers, meaning that they don’t all make the same kind of money. But with a little bit of research, you can find many UGC content creators on TikTok and other social media platforms sharing how much they’re making from UGC.
Some creators are making enough on a monthly basis to replace a full-time job:
While others are getting offered a ton of money for a single video:
Other creators are sharing numbers that are a bit smaller for each video:
Like any other content creation niche, UGC creation might not pay a lot when you’re just starting out. But if you stick with it and show brands that you have the skills to create high-converting content, you could potentially make some serious bank.
How much should I charge as a UGC creator?
Unfortunately, no two UGC creators are the same. That means there are no hard-and-fast rules you can use to determine how much you should charge a brand for giving them UGC services. If you’ve already created sponsored posts for brands in the past, you can adapt your prices for UGC — usually going a bit lower.
If you have no idea what to charge, you’ll need to experiment. When you receive replies from brands, spend some time negotiating rates with them. If they ask you how much you charge, it’s a good idea to name a price that’s higher than what you think you can get.
Creators have a tendency to undervalue themselves, so ask for what you believe you deserve. The worst that can happen is that the brand will say no, and that’s information you can use to set your rates in the future.
If brands offer you a price, try to negotiate on it. If they won’t budge, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth creating content at that price — and you can use this rate as a baseline to negotiate from in the future. Try bumping that price up the next time you speak with a brand.
Is UGC creation a sustainable career?
Yes and no. While many TikTokers are claiming they’ve made thousands of dollars in just their first month creating UGC, this doesn’t guarantee that you will.
Remember that — assuming everyone’s being honest — you’re just seeing UGC creators who made that much money. How many others do you think haven’t made nearly as much, but aren’t advertising their lack of success as liberally? And do you think the TikTok algorithm would pick up their videos if they did? This is called survivorship bias, meaning there’s more focus on the people who made it past a certain selection process (in this case, making money as a UGC creator) than those who didn’t.
Some sources suggest brands will pay at least $250 for 60-second videos. However, a quick search on Upwork reveals that some pay as little as $5 per video. If you’re trying to make a full-time living as a UGC creator, how much content will you have to make to afford rent, food, and other necessities?
That’s not to say there isn’t money in making UGC. There absolutely is. And if you’re an established content creator, you can and should take advantage of the current demand for UGC. If you’re just starting out, take on UGC jobs as a source of side income, but don’t think you can go all-in on this type of content and immediately replace the income from your 9-5.
At the end of the day, if you choose to become a UGC creator, your income will be dependent on brand deals. While demand for UGC is high now, a decrease in that demand could leave you struggling to make any income.
So if you want to be a well-paid content creator, don’t focus entirely on UGC. Build up your content creation and editing skills, find your niche, and build your personal brand. Treat UGC as a way to bring in extra money, instead of the be-all and end-all of your content creator career.
Start making money online!
Many creators who specialize in user-generated content got started in much the same way as other content creators. They worked on honing their skills, learned from their mistakes, and kept chasing opportunities. And while being a UGC creator may not be the big-shot career some TikTokers are making it out to be, it’s still a great way to bring in revenue — and to acquire skills that’ll serve you well no matter what the future holds.
Want to start getting paid as a creator? Download The Leap’s free guide on 12 Ways To Make Your First $100 Online.