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How I Built a Six-Figure Side Hustle Making User-Generated Content



How I Built a Six-Figure Side Hustle Making User-Generated Content

  • Kelly Rocklein has been a creative director and user-generated-content creator for over nine years.
  • Working 10 to 15 hours a week, she made more than $100,000 in 2022 creating UGC for clients.
  • She’s now also a UGC coach on TikTok, and she offers coaching, a newsletter, and other resources.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Kelly Rocklein, a 28-year-old user-generated-content creator in Bend, Oregon. Insider has verified her income with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I’m a creative director with a part-time gig as a user-generated-content, or UGC, creator. UGC is sort of a misnomer in digital marketing because it’s actually user-generated content paired with creative strategy that performs for clients. There are two types of UGC: organic, which is posted to a brand’s feed to grow its following; and paid media, which is a concept that’s launched as an ad to create sales. I specialize in paid media.

I dropped out of college in 2015 to pursue UGC, video editing, and creative strategy. I’m entirely self-taught, and over the past nine years, I’ve worked with more than 500 brands in fashion, skincare, makeup, health, tech, and consumer-packaged goods.

I charge between $500 and $2,000 per concept because my concepts lead directly to sales — my top-two UGC ads for one of my clients made them more than $10 million in revenue. In 2022, while working 10 to 15 hours a week and taking more than six weeks off throughout the year, my UGC side hustle brought in more than $100,000. I can work so few hours because I’ve built my business to a point where I no longer have to do cold outreach — all of my current clients are from referrals.

I started doing UGC and video editing for fun in 2014

woman recording herself making content

Rocklein making content.

Miranda Kelton Photography

At the time, I didn’t know the term UGC and just referred to it as content creation. I didn’t have the understanding of this term until I went corporate and became familiar with the creative strategy I’d been doing all along. In September 2015, I took a gap year with the hope of being able to turn my then hobby into my career. I told myself if it didn’t work out by the annual marker, I’d go back to school.

Between then and May 2016, I worked part time, lived at home, and built my UGC portfolio. I figured the only way I’d get hired was if I had a portfolio that was attractive to the brands I wanted to work with. I created example concepts with products I already had in my house and loved using.

In less than eight months, I secured my first client and was able to afford to move out. In summer 2016, I moved to LA to build my career as a creative-marketing professional.

In fall 2018, after working as a creative contractor up to that point, I started working full time for a digital-marketing agency as a senior direct-response video editor. I started at a new agency in summer 2020, and in fall 2021, I became the creative director for a direct-to-consumer brand while still building my UGC business on the side.

I make my UGC ads feel natural

Although my UGC concepts are launched as ads, I make them feel like your friend posted it. Most best practices revolve around the direct-response formula: a captivating hook in the first three seconds, both visually and audibly.

I communicate a problem the viewer may have faced and follow up by explaining how this product is the solution. I feature the value proposition, or what I like to refer to as “unique selling points” that set the product apart from the rest of its competitors. For example, if there are already a million lotions on the market, what makes this lotion unique?

I also sprinkle in additional social proof. For example, if the product has more than 100,000 verified five-star ratings, I would say: “Not to mention, they’ve received over 100,000 verified five-star reviews — that many people can’t be wrong!”

I always end with a call to action, or CTA. Something as simple as “Get yours today for only $x!” or “Click the link for a special offer” works.

I either incorporate these elements into script reads or by taking a native trend on TikTok, like a “get ready with me” video, and filling it with marketing best practices to enhance the likelihood of more conversions. My other services include scriptwriting for $100 a script, which takes me roughly 15 minutes, and allowlisting, which is where I charge $500 a month for my clients to run ads on my Facebook and Instagram.

When I started, there were almost no useful resources

YouTube was really the only free resource, and back then it was like searching for a needle in a haystack for a suitable tutorial. I troubleshot my way through Adobe’s PremierePro for years, and it was painstaking at first. The more I practiced, the better I got.

Before I ever reached out to a brand, I researched their current running ads, who their competitors were, and what they were doing better or worse than those competitors. Contractors are meant to be a solution to an internal problem the brand might be facing, so I made sure to strategically position myself as the solution to a problem I uncovered during my brand-market analysis. It really wasn’t until 2020 that I started to see some of my hard work pay off. I cleared just shy of $20,000 that year. In 2021, I doubled that and made nearly $40,000 before breaking six figures in 2022.

Working full time at reputable digital-marketing agencies helped speed up my learning curve and make me a stronger marketer because I got so much exposure to brands in such a short period of time. Now, as a full-time creative director for just one brand, freelancing on the side as a UGC creator keeps me sharp.

I kept seeing blatant misinformation being spread about UGC on TikTok, so in June 2022 I made an account to help reset expectations and share industry best practices. People kept asking questions, and that quickly grew into people asking for additional resources, such as one-on-one coaching, writing a newsletter, and portfolio audits, which I started offering in August 2022.

You don’t need a college degree to be successful

Something I’ve learned is that it isn’t about where you went to college or even if you have a degree — it’s all about your portfolio and case studies. Brands are going to hire the person who shows that their work offers a return on investment — in marketing, brands want to see case studies featuring return on ad spend.

As a UGC creator, you have to be aware of the latest social trends and nuances in marketing. When you start this, you’re becoming an entrepreneur, and it’s not for the weak. Founder’s depression is real. Rejection hurts. Not having your ads always perform sucks. That’s business. What you choose to do after these gut punches is what separates the UGC creator who gave up after two weeks from the creator who makes four or five figures a month.

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Marketing Briefing: U.S. marketers prepare contingency plans amid potential TikTok ban



Marketing Briefing: U.S. marketers prepare contingency plans amid potential TikTok ban

With the possibility of a TikTok ban in the U.S. once again gaining traction, some marketers and agency execs say they’re readying contingency plans. Others, meanwhile, say that the uncertainty of a potential ban makes it difficult to forecast where spend would be moved.

“We’ve seen so many platforms have their peaks and valleys with their growth journeys that having multiple contingency plans for everything that could happen is part of what we do,” said Han Wen, L’Oreal chief marketing and digital officer, when asked about the potential ban. “As one of the largest advertisers in the U.S., we have to be extremely practical when we think about the directions our investment can take, so having contingency plans is part of everything we do for every media partner we have.”

While there is a renewed sense of uncertainty when it comes to TikTok in the U.S., especially after President Biden’s demand last week that TikTok’s Chinese owners Bytedance sell off their shares or deal with a U.S. ban of the app, marketers and agency execs have already dealt with previous rounds of uncertainty with the app, particularly former President Trump’s same demand that Bytedance sell off TikTok. Given that the likelihood of a ban is still up in the air, marketers and agency execs are choosing between making contingency plans and waiting for a firm answer.

“We also know enough to know we are not in a place to read the tea leaves with what may or may not happen,” said Wen. “All we can do is make sure we have plans in place, which we do. And we have plans in place for all of the various scenarios.”

Marketers and agency execs say the conversation around contingency plans tends to focus on other short-form video apps like Instagram’s Reels, YouTube’s Shorts and Snapchat.

“The impact on potential spending is likely to be diffuse — we don’t see brands necessarily planning to move their entire TikTok spend to one other platform,” said Liz Cole, executive director, U.S. head of social at VMLY&R. “From a creative perspective, we can expect the content itself to adapt to a number of other short-form video platforms including Instagram, Snap or YouTube. And for brands further upstream in the creative process, they might choose to tell their story across a variety of other formats.”

Of course, should TikTok be banned, determining where to focus creative efforts or move media dollars wouldn’t be the only consideration for marketers. “If TikTok was banned, other than stopping media on the platform, the other immediate priority for advertisers and publishers would be for brands to remove any TikTok tracking pixel,” said UM global chief media officer, Joshua Lowcock.

At the same time, the potential ripple effects of a possible ban for TikTok don’t stop at TikTok.

 “I think it’s a misnomer to call it a TikTok ban,” said Lowcock. “If you look at the proposed legislation, it’s really about foreign government ownership and control, this could play out as a challenge for other companies that are Chinese-owned, controlled, or have China as a substantial investor.”

The ban could also make advertisers, already a risk averse bunch, even more so now. 

“If TikTok were to become a non-viable channel for advertisers so soon after its entrance to the mainstream, it could increase hesitance among brands to try new social platforms,” said Cole. “Not every advertiser had the confidence to leap onto TikTok when its popularity first surged, and I could see some of the slower movers viewing this as confirmation that a more cautious, less experimental stance is warranted.” 

The uncertainty of the longevity of a social platform — whether in popularity or availability — has also been made clearer this year overall. “We can’t take the longevity of any social platform for granted, no matter how popular or established it seems,” said Cole. “That doesn’t mean brands should hold back from trying any new things — but they need to have a strategy that is grounded in the brand itself and the behaviors of consumers, not just the features of specific channels.” 

3 Questions with OAAA’s President and CEO Anna Bager

OAAA recently partnered with Morning Consult to take a look at the current out-of-home advertising marketplace. Tell us about that.

We wanted to understand how consumers move around. But we also wanted to understand, specifically, how some audiences that are hard to reach with other media formats, from underserved [or] under underprivileged and underdeveloped audiences that are in areas where you may not have access to other forms of media, how they are exposed to our ads, both from an advertising perspective but also just a health and public service messaging. We see that consumers are out and about more often. 88% of these consumers notice out of home ads and 78% recently engaged in some way, which really demonstrates the influence of our medium.

What does this mean for the advertising industry?

With OOH ads, it doesn’t really interrupt your media consumption. It’s sort of just there. It’s often seen as a service and it’s being noticed. You can’t skip it, you can’t block it. So it’s a great way of connecting with consumers. Then, we’re a one to many medium. Ads can be perceived as for you only and there are certain environments where it’s very close to that. But for the most part, it’s seen by many, which means that we don’t have the privacy challenges that you have online. That is a plus in today’s environment where regulation is getting increasingly hard when it comes to how you use data and then also how you can do to target consumers.

The OAAA has their annual OOH Media Conference coming up at the end of March. What can attendees expect?

The theme of the conference is breakthrough. We don’t really want to talk about the pandemic anymore. But it’s not a secret exactly that we were down in the pandemic. And now we’re back, so it’s about our industry breaking through. It’s also about the tech coming back. We’re now the fastest growing ad medium of all. We had a great 2022 and it looks like 2023 that as well. It’s also about [how] our industry has gone through and continued to go through massive technological change. –– Kimeko McCoy

By the numbers

People expect more from the brands they shop with nowadays. In response, advertisers have spent at least the last year ramping up more full-funnel marketing strategies, which include brand building and direct response marketing. Expect more of the same this year, according to new research released by Reach3 Insights and The Keller Advisory Group, which reports that shoppers more often prefer brand experiences over traditional advertising. Find more details from the report below:

  • Consumers prefer brand experiences such as social media content, creator content, metaverse happenings and live events over traditional advertising by 69% to 48%.
  • The research shows 80% of consumers have engaged or are interested in engaging with brand experiences, with 43% saying engaging with brand experiences would make them more apt to want to try a brand as compared to just 21% who said so about traditional advertising.
  • once consumers engage with brand experiences, they find them to be more relevant than traditional advertising, with 51% saying so compared to 25% who feel traditional advertising is more relevant. — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“When there’s mass layoffs, there will be two or three weeks where we as publishers get very frustrated because we don’t get a response.”

— said Phil Ranta, COO of We Are Verified, when asked about the impact of Meta, Snapchat and Twitter layoffs on agency relationships.

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Musk Vows to Open Source Twitter’s Algorithm Next Week



As Twitter Continues to Break, Musk Seeks Answers About Declining Engagement on His Tweets

It’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out, and the flow-on effects of this approach:

As Elon Musk has been pledging for some time, Twitter will soon publish the details of how its tweet recommendation algorithm/s work, which will provide new insight into which tweets gain traction, how to maximize tweet reach through engagement, and which specific elements Twitter’s system’s looking to incentivize in the app.

Which may show the specific weightings that replies, retweets and likes are allocated within Twitter’s system, and how they then equate to a metric score for each user, similar to how Facebook’s feed algorithm works.

But Meta has never published the full details of its algorithm, neither has Google for Search, or any other platform – because the concern is that by giving people an in-depth overview of how ranking is applied, that will open the door for spammers and scammers to cheat the process, by having a better working knowledge of what they should be aiming for with their posts.

If retweets get a higher share score, scammers will come up with new methods to game that, the same with likes. And if Twitter does indeed open up the whole algorithm, as Musk has implied, that could spark a new flood of spam tweets, based on the specific types of engagement that Twitter’s optimizing for.

And that’s likely now even easier to do. If you know that Twitter is aiming to highlight certain elements, you can take examples of tweets with the highest levels of engagement on those metrics, then enter them into ChatGPT, and have it pump out similar tweets.

With this in mind, this does seem like a risky approach, but Elon is convinced that transparency, in as many aspects as possible, is key to winning user trust, and making Twitter the source of truth, and a more viable, valuable platform for all users.

And actually, Twitter doesn’t even know how its algorithm works anyway:

Though others have seemingly worked out some of the key elements, with the new Twitter approach to content amplification, via the main ‘For You’ feed, looking to highlight content on specific topics, which have already resonated with users.

As explained by Ryan Broderick:

The algorithm seems to prioritize tweets that are talking about already-viral content, as in quote tweets or tweets that can easily fit within trending topics. This would explain, partially, why users are reporting seeing quote tweets about the same posts over and over and over again.

That same approach is quite effective on TikTok, because it enables it to highlight the best-performing content, but the problem on Twitter is that the platform is based on timeliness, and highlighting real-time trends as they unfold. That makes it a little more difficult for Twitter to maintain its real-time relevance within this process, as it also needs to factor engagement signals, which can only accumulate over time, while its topic sorting is more simplistic than TikTok, which can infer a wide range of interests based on each clip.

But that, at least in part, seems to be where Twitter is headed, and it’ll be interesting to note what types of details Twitter can detect in each tweet, and use for ranking, once the information is published.

Also, I wonder if the rumored Elon rule, which ranks his tweets above all others, will be noted in the code samples.

I suspect that it’ll be absent, but it will be interesting to glean more insight into why you’re seeing what you’re seeing in your main tweet feed, and get an understanding of how Twitter’s going about improving relevance, and showing you tweets.

And then, the spam will flow. Maybe. We’ll have to wait and see what comes next.

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Op-Ed: Publicity stunt? Trump is not under any official arrest warrant, as far as anyone knows



YouTube has joined social networking giant Meta in reinstating Donald Trump's account

YouTube has joined social networking giant Meta in reinstating Donald Trump’s account – Copyright AFP Amos Gumulira

For a guy who had to do NFT token images of himself to get any publicity recently, it makes sense to try to get some more. As far as I can see, the Manhattan grand jury hasn’t even delivered a verdict yet. Therefore, no order for arrest can be made.

Twitter predictably went nuts as usual. Elon Musk says if he’s arrested Trump will win in 2024 by a landslide. Somebody called Kari Lake tacked herself on to Trump as a patriot. Anything and everything came out of the woodwork supporting Trump.

…On the basis of not one single solid fact.

If it is a publicity stunt, it’s not a good one. Videos of Trump being cheered attending a half-empty auditorium in Tulsa during a wrestling meeting are a case in point. So what?

The other, less obvious, point is Trump’s “everything is a court case” approach. He’s long since been known to be directly involved in an incredible number of legal issues and lawsuits.

Redrawing attention to various other accusations against Trump might not be such a great idea.

For example:

The questions here are who’s paying -or not paying- for all this and why so many claimants? We’ve now moved from self-proclaimed victimization to practical hard cash considerations and alleged liabilities over many years. There’s a big, expensive, difference.

This is where image meets reality. Any fool can stick his face in front of a camera and say he’s on your side.

That’s irrelevant to the legal issues.

It’s not actually political.

It’s about getting money and Trump seems to make a habit of being a big target.

We’re now talking huge money and huge liabilities. Whatever Trump’s worth, this menagerie of legal carnivores could be worth more. That $1.3 billion is no small bite. Even if settled, a lot of money is involved.

That means in a worst case scenario that even Trump’s money in trust could be obligated under some circumstances. You can’t settle and then not pay. (Note: There’s no indication at all that Trump’s trust money is currently in jeopardy, but big bills and legal obligations don’t come cheap.)

Which leaves us with a question or two:

  • Why take the most expensive possible path, running for president again when the political situation is so fragmented and untrustworthy?
  • The legal situation is horrendously dangerous; why not at least reduce the damage and get out of Dodge?

The Republicans know what will happen if he returns; revenge against anyone who spoke out against him. That’s a lot of Republicans. They won’t be jumping for joy and nor will the other 2024 candidates. Trump is more useful to them out of the way, personal following or not.

So far from a publicity stunt, this looks more like advertising his weaknesses. A lot of people are moving in for the kill. It’ll take more than this to keep the wolves away.


The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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