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. “I’m making more than $10,000 this month from UGC, and you can do it too,” another 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 user-generated content, how you can create your own, and if it’s really the gravy train some TikTokers are claiming it to be.
What is UGC?
Simply put, UGC is original content created by a brand’s customers that are published on social media or other online channels.
While you might have come across the UGC trend on TikTok, short-form video isn’t the only type of user-generated content you’ll find out there. Brands are constantly on the lookout for all sorts of content created by their customers, and that content can take different shapes. Here are a few common types of UGC:
Many content creators specialize in filming product review videos. These videos are not sponsored posts or ads, but they are authentic reviews from real users.
Organic social media content
These aren’t the TikToks and Reels that brands hire content creators to create. Instead, they’re the type of content you might make yourself when you’re really happy with a specific product or experience — from raving about a new makeup brush, to talking about that trip to Fiji. Brands will usually repost this type of UGC on their social media feeds.
Reviews and testimonials
It turns out those five-star reviews on Yelp qualify as UGC. Brands often scout for these positive reviews on different platforms, and feature them on their own website.
Even if you’re more of a writer than an on-screen performer, you can still create UGC. Many blogs publish reviews, how-to guides, and other types of content about the offerings of different brands.
In the context of UGC creators, however, UGC means something slightly different. While user-generated content is traditionally known as content created organically by a brand’s real customers, the content that UGC creators specialize in isn’t technically 100% organic. It’s important to note that these creators are getting paid by brands to produce content that’s inspired by the authentic look and feel of UGC. (We know, the term “UGC creator” itself is actually quite confusing. We’ll get to it in the next part.)
What is a UGC creator?
A UGC creator is a content creator who specializes in creating UGC-like content for brands, whether that’s static images or videos. Most of the UGC creators you’ve seen trending on TikTok do it for the money. They make content for brands that looks similar to something you’ll see on an influencer’s social media page, but with one big difference: where that content lives.
When brands work with influencers, they’re paying for access to that influencer’s community. That’s because when the influencer recommends a product, their community is more likely to purchase it.
UGC creators, on the other hand, don’t usually post the content they’re paid to create on their own profiles. They may have their own following, sure, and they may even be an influencer in their own right. But when a brand pays for UGC, they want content they can post on their channels. It’s authentic-feeling content that the brands are after, not the reach of a creator’s channels.
Why is UGC trending?
You’ve probably seen a slew of TikTokers and other creators promoting UGC as a great way to quickly make money through content creation. So what’s behind it all? Like any TikTok trend, it’s hard to say exactly why UGC is trending, but we can make some educated guesses.
Rachel Karten, social media consultant and writer for the Link in Bio newsletter, shared her theory with the writers from Embedded: “TikTok and Instagram are prioritizing more personality-based, lo-fi videos so brands are now scrambling to get more ‘real’ content for their social feeds.”
Should have known it was an algorithm thing. It seems like two of the most popular social media platforms are shifting away from more traditional influencer content, which in turn is making brands value UGC more. And as TikTokers are starting to make money producing this kind of content, they’re excited to share their success with their followers. We wouldn’t call it a vicious cycle per se, but it’s definitely a cycle.
Examples of brands working with UGC creators
This TikTok video shows what content that straddles the line between authenticity and advertising can look like. The creator in the video really did travel to Bali and had a good time, but when you think about the video’s actual purpose, it really is to sell Airbnb as a solution to make this kind of amazing trip happen. Notice that the video lives on Airbnb’s own TikTok page, and there’s no mention of the original creator.
In addition to increasing brand awareness, hashtag campaigns can help generate organic social media content that a brand can use for weeks — or even months. Resembling authentic UGC, the above Reel is likely commissioned by NIVEA to encourage its followers to post content with its branded hashtag. If the hashtag catches on, the brand could potentially tap into organic content created by real customers.
What makes this video a strong piece of “authentic” content? It looks indistinguishable from other YouTube Shorts on your feed, and it doesn’t come across as an ad. It’s only when you look at the channel it’s coming from that you realize it’s essentially an advertisement for Walmart. Successful UGC creators are masters at making content for brands that feels organic.
How you can become a UGC creator
One of the advantages of being a UGC creator — as opposed to a traditional influencer — is that you don’t need a huge following to get started. 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.
Learn what makes good content
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 content stand out? How can you create your own quickly and easily?
Practice making 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.
Start hunting for opportunities
Brands aren’t going to come knocking just because you’ve gotten really good at making content. When you start out, you need to be proactive to secure your first deals. Even if you’re already an experienced content creator looking to branch out into the UGC creator world, you’ll need to find those first few brands yourself. You may find opportunities through general freelancing services like Upwork or dedicated platforms like Influee.
Remember that being a UGC creator, just like any other kind of content creator, takes time and effort. You will make mistakes, but you’ll learn from them and become better at it.
Best platforms for UGC creators
The UGC world is very brand-centric. Most of the tools dedicated to this kind of marketing are focused on helping brands source organic content from multiple platforms. That said, there are still platforms that UGC creators can use to find opportunities to flex their skills. Here are just a few:
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.
For brands, Influee is a platform that gives access to on-demand UGC and a way to manage a growing content library. For creators, it’s a network that has paid out more than $14 million for creating UGC.
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.
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 the TikTokers 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 TikToks 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 on those who didn’t.
Some sources say 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 deals 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 be a UGC creator, your income will be dependent on brand deals. While demand for UGC is high now, a decrease in that demand can potentially leave you struggling to make any income. So if you want to be a full-time content creator, don’t focus entirely on UGC. Build up your content creation skills, find your niche, and build your brand. Treat UGC as a way to bring in extra money, instead of the be-all and end-all of your content creator career.
Creators who specialize in user-generated content got started much the same way as any content creators did. They started honing their skills, learned from their mistakes, and kept chasing opportunities until one of them stuck. 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.