Jari Lähdevuori, Creative Director & Partner at Kurio explains why an old tactic is at the heart of new developments in social media.

User-generated content (UGC) is taking social media marketing by storm.

Yet again.

This resurgence is evident from the recent “Social Media Marketing Trends 2024” report by thenetworkone and Kurio. I had the honor of compiling the report and interviewing 33 social media experts from leading independent agencies all over the world. The paper summarizes their collective wisdom into ten trends, two of which relate to user-generated content.

We saw a glimpse of this already at Cannes Lions 2023. Some 19% of the social media winners at Cannes Lions utilized UGC in their campaigns. It is almost double the amount compared to the two previous years: 11% in 2022 and 12% in 20/21.

Before we dive into how UGC can impact your marketing in 2024, let’s pause and see why you should be interested in the first place. Social media is huge – and ever growing. Global figures from Statista show that social media has surpassed television in media spending in 2023, and the gap is growing even wider in 2024. WARC states that social media will be the fastest-growing medium in 2024, with spend rising to a total of $227.2bn – a fifth (21.8%) of total spend.

With that in mind, let’s see how to make most of social – with the help of users.

UGC strikes back 

User-generated content has been a buzzword before. Those of us who were in the business when the term social media was coined look at this Google Trends graph and remember it like yesterday. The promise of UGC! Thanks to democratized publishing tools and channels, everyone could have their say – and marketers could tap into that.

UGC and its promise hasn’t gone anywhere over the years, even though the hype faded away. We all kept creating – and marketers kept finding innovative and inspiring ways to use what had been created. But as can be seen from the graph, there is now a new-found interest towards it.

“What we’ll see more of is paid UGC, a rising phenomenon where customers – not influencers or professional creators – will be incentivized by brands to talk about a product, in exchange for monetary rewards, free products, discounts, or exclusive content.” Francesca Trevisan, Strategist, Different (taken from our Social Media Marketing Trends 2024 report)

Why is UGC becoming a thing once more? Why now? One of the main reasons, cited by the interviewees in our report, is the fact that influencer marketing has grown too big. The macro influencers have grown too far from their roots. Authenticity is a mere memory.

“With influencer content reaching saturation, our feeds across platforms are becoming increasingly dominated with #paid content and affiliate marketing links. While influencers were once trusted and reliable sources of information, consumers are tired of seeing a sea of sponsored content and are turning elsewhere. In fact, nearly 90% of consumers no longer trust influencers and are turning to UGC instead.” Sarah Yim, Strategy Director, Zulu Alpha Kilo (Social Media Marketing Trends 2024)

Not only is there a demand, but also a supply. Thirty percent of 18- to 24-year-olds consider themselves content creators, states a Hubspot survey. The number is even higher for 25- 34-year-olds: 40%. And we all know that the remaining 60% is also posting, snapping and X-ing every so often.

“UGC like this is a goldmine for brands – it’s authentic, it resonates with audiences, and it provides real insights into consumer experiences. A strategy that not only enhances brand credibility but also fosters a deeper connection with the audience.” – Daiana Khaidargaliyeva, Account Manager, Osaka Labs (Social Media Marketing Trends 2024)

The emergence of UAIGC

If the users have been creating content on their own for the past 20 years, what happens if they get their very own personal assistants to help them? Available 24/7, mostly for free, ready to modify, finalize or create from scratch anything you may need. Recipes, poems, illustrations, animations, you name it. It would be huge. It will be huge.

Thanks to generative-AI tools, in 2024 we’ll see UGC super-charged. For our report, we dubbed this phenomenon UAIGC – User AI-Generated Content.

“As generative AI continues to advance and become more democratized, 2024 will see brands, consumers, and marketers use these tools to level up their creativity and even act as co-pilots in the creative process. What we really should be watching out for is brands and creators who use AI to help deepen conversations with fans by giving them the tools to experiment and drive new lanes of storytelling. Grime’s invitation to let fans use AI to create music using her likeness is an example of this.” – Deshé M. Gully, Associate Strategist, Day One Agency

ChatGPTs, Midjourneys, and DALL-Es are becoming familiar to more and more people. A UK study found that 31% of the adult population used gen-AI tools. But here’s the real catch. When it comes to 16- to 24-year-olds, the figure jumps to 74%. What’s more, these figures are from last summer.

"I believe that this [gen-AI] technology will generate transformations in social media, not for brands, but for ordinary users and content creators, who will be able to level the playing field through these tools. For this reason, brands that are not willing to make themselves available to their users – in the way they choose – face a difficult landscape as a result of this transformation.” – Pedro Rojas, Social Media Manager, Inbrax

In order to embrace UAIGC to the fullest, brands need to loosen their reins. Their brand isn’t what they codified in the brand book. It isn’t (only) what they laid down in 2024 strategy. It is (also) fans going creative with it using generative AI.

A case in point, what we might see more in 2024, comes from Nike and Tiffany. Their collaboration was met with disappointment in early 2023. What might have been only negative comments on social in 2022, turned into a creative outlet, a competition even. With the help of the just-emerging image-generation tools, customers showed what it could’ve been. What it should’ve been.

If this is what UAIGC looks like from a negative point-of-view, think of what it could be if it was in favor of your brand.

Then get ready for it.