In the digital era, user-generated content (UGC) has become a ubiquitous marketing tool for organizations looking to build brand loyalty. By actively engaging customers in the organization’s story, businesses of all types have tapped UGC to increase the credibility and authenticity of their messaging, and to deepen connections with their target audience. UGC also saves marketers time – a resource that is regularly in short supply as they scramble to consistently produce enough quality content to fill myriad digital channels. According to State of Social & User-Generated Content, a new report from community marketing software provider Tint, 61 percent of marketers say they don’t have enough resources in-house to generate the amount of content they need. The same report found that consumers are actively looking for content from real customers; 80 percent say they look at ratings and reviews before making a purchase, yet over 93 percent of marketers self-report they’re not “fully maximizing the power of user generated content.”


You’re probably thinking, “Sure, this is probably true for companies that are selling soda or clothes, or makeup, but I work for an association, this doesn’t affect me.” That’s where you’re wrong.


For trade and professional associations, which at their core are built on relationships with their members, leveraging user generated content to showcase authentic experiences can offer significant advantages. In this blog post, we explore the benefits of UGC and offer a few specific ways that trade associations and small nonprofits can incorporate this tactic into their outreach and engagement efforts.


What’s in a Name?

First and foremost, we should define what we mean by UGC. User-Generated Content involves leveraging content that’s created by your audience, such as members, sponsors, advocates, and subject matter experts to name a few. This can include reviews, testimonials, photos, videos, guest blogs, social media posts, guest speaking engagements, and more. UGC puts the spotlight on your member community’s authentic expertise, experiences, and perspectives, to build trust and credibility. It’s a way to showcase real-world interactions and encourage others to engage with your brand. Effectively curated UGC is a powerful – and cost-effective – way to demonstrate members’ and sponsors’ real-world experiences with your association’s services and programming. In turn, you add legitimacy to your marketing messages by humanizing your value proposition. UGC differs from Participatory Content, which focuses on actively involving your audience in shaping the strategic direction of your marketing efforts through interactive tactics such surveys, polls, social media groups, and virtual events. [We take a deep dive into the how and why of participatory marketing in this article on our LinkedIn page].


Why Consider UGC for Your Marketing Toolkit?

Trade and professional associations are uniquely positioned to level up their engagement game with User Generated Content. Before we delve into the ‘how’ of infusing this strategy into your membership growth game plan, let’s take a look at the reasons ‘why’ you should consider adding UGC to your marketing mix:


1. Builds Trust and Credibility: With rising skepticism toward traditional forms of advertising, user-generated content is becoming increasingly important as a form of social proof for brands. When customers see real people using and endorsing your products or services, it builds trust and credibility with your brand. This is especially crucial for small nonprofits or professional associations with limited marketing budgets, as user-generated content can be an affordable and effective way to build awareness and trust within your target community.


2. Increases Engagement and Interactivity: User-generated content creates a sense of community and belonging for your members and encourages them to engage with your organization. When members share honest feedback about their experiences with your programming, it encourages other members to do the same, creating a snowball effect of engagement. For trade associations and professional associations, user-generated content can be a powerful tool to engage with members and foster a sense of community within the organization.


3. Increases Reach and Virality: User-generated content is highly shareable and has the potential to reach a wider audience than traditional brand messaging. When members share their experiences with your brand with their social media network, for instance, it expands the reach of your brand and enables you to tap into new networks and audiences you’d otherwise be unlikely to reach. For trade associations and professional associations, publishing user-generated content from notable industry experts or thought leaders such as guest posts on your blog or articles on your organization’s LinkedIn page, can increase the credibility of your messaging and reach a wider audience of followers who are familiar with the experts, but not with your association.


4. Generates Valuable Insights and Analytics: User-generated content provides valuable insights into customer behavior and preferences, which can inform future marketing strategies. For example, analyzing the hashtags and themes associated with member-generated content can reveal what topics and issues are most relevant to your target audience, which can inform content creation and communications.


How Association-Centric UGC Can Drive Results

Membership-based organizations are better positioned to leverage UGC than the typical b-to-c business that’s selling a product to a wide audience. As an association, you already have a built-in audience of advocates who demonstrate their appreciation for the product you deliver – a community of like-minded professionals – every time they renew their membership.


Consider featuring UGC on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook to increase engagement rates and drive brand awareness. Invite your Board Chair to host an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session on Facebook Live. Ask long-time expo exhibitors to take over your Twitter X feed to share their reasons for coming back to the show year after year. Followers are more likely to engage with posts featuring relatable content that was created by their peers. Integrating hashtags into UGC posts also increases the reach of the post by being seen by those who follow the specific hashtag. Highlighting and responding to members’ posts also shows a commitment to the community.


Another way UGC can be leveraged is through the creation of targeted campaigns that encourage members to create and share content. These campaigns could be launched before a significant annual event such as a convention or a new product launch, empowering members to be a part of the conversation in promoting the event and stirring up excitement. Incentivizing the best UGC contributors can also promote organic sharing, through gamification, rewards or other programs that foster creativity and participation.


UGC provides a cost-effective way to develop quality content that appeals to members and ignites conversations within the community. Featuring user-generated testimonials on your website or highlighting member feedback on your blog demonstrates your organization’s commitment to listening and responding to member needs while encouraging other members to join the conversation. Take it a step further by publishing member-written content in your e-mail newsletters, blogs, or print publications. This is an easy way to reduce the cost of content development and to increase readership and engagement (everyone loves seeing their name in a byline or their picture in a magazine!).


Lastly, incorporating UGC – like testimonials, member photos, and first-hand articles about issues your organization has solved for a member – in your marketing campaigns offers a more engaging alternative to the traditional one-way communication through mass emails or direct mailings. With the rise of digital communication, consumers expect companies to foster more authentic and personal relationships with them. This is even more true for membership organizations.


Level Up Your Marketing

UGC is an effective marketing tactic for trade and professional association marketers to add to their toolbox. By taking advantage of the available resources (read: your members’ expertise) to inform your UGC campaigns, you can create content that speaks to your audience. A message by-members and for-members that touts your organization’s value proposition lends credibility to your campaign and increases the likelihood that your wider audience will engage with your content.


Remember, in a crowded digital landscape, it’s genuine connections that stand out. Don’t think of UGC as just content; think of it as your gateway to building vibrant communities, sharing authentic experiences, and boosting brand visibility. Make it part of your strategic marketing blueprint.


Join the Conversation
Have you experimented with User Generated Content as part of your marketing strategy? We’d love to hear your insights and experiences. To see more stories like this, sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about association industry marketing trends, insights, expert advice, and more.