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Lessons from UGC in 2020 – and How it Can Help You in 2021



As consumers battled to get used to the “new normal” in 2020, brands were also faced with finding new ways to stay connected with their audience.

Not only that, but the last twelve months have completely destroyed the concept behind big advertising campaigns. Social distancing meant camera crews weren’t able to gather, while many brands faced content production limitations. 

But there was one type of content that was particularly pandemic-friendly: user-generated content (UGC). 

In 2020, we saw a dramatic surge in customer-created photos and videos, across all different industries. Brands were able to collect and share content under tight budgets, with short deadlines, and without going all out on production. 

More importantly, they were able to share content that tapped into a growing need for human connection – which will remain a key element to consider in your 2021 approach.

Why UGC Connected Consumers Around the World in 2020

‘Connection’ was the buzzword of 2020. 

People were forced to stay home under strict lockdowns, as part of the COVID-19 mitigation effort. We were separated from family and friends, and the whole ordeal left a lot of people searching for connection anywhere they could find it. 

The pandemic has brought a sense of “we’re all in this together” with it and brands, are able to use this to maximize their own connection. 

Take Michigan Medicine, for example. They encouraged people to share drawings, photos, and words that recognized the sacrifices that medical workers have made. 

Understandably, people didn’t want to feel alone, and the internet brought comfort in the form of UGC. It brought people together, and created communities around brands, while also giving people hope and uplifting stories to focus on. 

The Power of UGC – Why It Was the Most Needed Form of Content in 2020

UGC wasn’t just the easiest type of content to create in 2020 – it was needed. 

Here’s why: It facilitated a surge in ‘globally-focused’ content

Brands that attracted a local audience pre-pandemic found their doors blown wide open to a global customer base. As stay-at-home orders forced people to, well, stay at home, large numbers turned to online shopping. This enabled brands to focus on optimizing their online stores, and serving customers that weren’t just in the local vicinity of their brick-and-mortar store. 

UGC helped bring all of this together, enabling brands to connect with customers wherever they were in the world. 

Essentially, UGC fostered human connection – and that connection is more important than ever during a global crisis.

As humans, we want to feel a part of something, and a pandemic is a scary time for everyone. UGC helps bring like-minded people together, inject a sense of community, and create more “human” campaigns instead of polished, branded offerings. 

Mastercard’s “Apart, but united” campaign is a great example of a brand doing this well – they pieced together real footage from customers into a short, docu-style video that was emotional and connective. 

Consumers were actively seeking inspiring, uplifting, and relatable content during the pandemic. In fact, one study showed that 70% of people wanted brands to share positive content.

They especially sought content that acknowledged the turbulent situation we were all in, but that did so in a sensitive way.

UGC bridges the gap between brands and buyers and increases the sense of belonging.

Oreo’s #stayhomestayplayful cross-platform campaign shows this in action. It reminded their audience that happiness can still be found, even in the hardest of times. 

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen at any time. No one expected last year to turn out the way it did, and it shows that being able to successfully pivot is a must-have for brands. 

The fast-paced nature of UGC, and the rawness of content from real people, means that brands are able to be far more flexible. This was vital when the state of the world was changing so fast – the last thing brands wanted was to spend two months working on a campaign, only to find it completely out-of-date after a couple of weeks. 

UGC enables brands to gather and share content quickly, and create in-the-moment campaigns based on current needs and trends. 

Jack Daniel’s did this through their “With Love, Jack” campaign. Using real footage from their audience, they edited together a short video showing people at home.

It increased trust at a particularly untrustworthy time 

People were hurt, confused, and skeptical in 2020. Many people had their livelihoods destroyed, millions lost their jobs, and even more had sick family members. There was a lot of bad news all round. 

As such, trust was absolutely crucial for brands wanting to attract and maintain their customer base during the pandemic, and UGC is key to building trust. In fact, 70% of consumers trust UGC more than branded content, while 75% think UGC makes content more authentic. 

What This Means for the Future

I think we can be pretty confident that many of the trends in 2020 will carry over to 2021, including the surge of UGC. Instead of waiting for the “new normal”, we should accept that we’re already experiencing it, and in this new normal, trust, community, and connection are absolutely crucial. 

Brands are now serving a much wider audience, and that audience is often sprinkled all over the world. To maintain these new customer bases, businesses will need to continue building trust, and cementing customer relationships. UGC is the perfect way to do this through social proof and community building. 

What UGC Will Look Like in 2021

The State of UGC Report states that UGC will still be huge in 2021. The effects of the pandemic continue to ripple throughout the world. That won’t change anytime soon.

However, we can expect brands’ use of UGC to develop and evolve as they settle into this new groove of customer-focused marketing. 

In 2021, brands will:

Use UGC to provide deeper social proof

Instead of sharing UGC as and when it becomes available, it will become an integral part of every marketing campaign. Positive customer reviews will be critical for brand success, and social proof will expand to include real-life customer stories told through different content formats. 

Encourage employee content creation

Employees have been stuck at home too. In 2021, more brands will loop their staff members into content creation to bring together dispersed teams.

Personalize UGC campaigns

Most consumers today expect personalized campaigns. In fact, they’re happy to hand over their data in exchange for personalized product recommendations and individual journeys based on their needs. 

Tap into nostalgia

According to one study, nostalgic feelings make customers more willing to spend their money. As people strive for “things to go back to normal”, we’ll see more brands tapping into the past. 

Weave UGC into other marketing campaigns

UGC has proven to be an integral part of marketing in 2020. Next year, we’ll see it popping up in other types of campaigns, too.

Take White Plains’ ‘Virtual Oktoberfest’ event, for example. The main campaign is a virtual event, but the organizers turned to UGC to generate increased buzz around it. 

Share more live-streams

Live-streams were incredibly popular during 2020 – which is not surprising really, given consumers were stuck at home and craving connection. 

2021 is likely to propel video-based UGC campaigns into the limelight. Sephora started to increase their IGTV output during quarantine, and it looks like they’ll be doubling down on that over the next few months. 

Integrate UGC into Your 2021 Marketing Plans

At this point, you’ve probably mapped out your marketing plans for the next few months, maybe even the next year if you’re particularly organized. But have you included enough UGC in the mix? 

We can’t predict what will happen in 2021 (and we wouldn’t want to, if 2020 is anything to go by), but we can learn from things that worked in the past. And UGC was definitely one thing that worked well in 2020. 

In fact, it was the perfect marketing tactic during the pandemic. It brought people together, instilled a sense of “we’re all in this”, and helped brands cement trust with an increasingly skeptical consumer base.

So, if you haven’t already, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll inject a hearty dose of UGC into your marketing campaigns.


Twitter Applies for US Licenses to Facilitate In-App Payments



Twitter Applies for US Licenses to Facilitate In-App Payments

Twitter has taken its next steps towards facilitating payments in the app, with The Financial Times reporting that the company has begun applying for regulatory licenses in US states, the next legal requirement for providing payment services in the app.

Payments, which Elon Musk has a long history in, could be another way for Twitter to generate revenue, by enabling transactions between users, from which it would then take a small percentage. Musk has repeatedly flagged his vision for payments as part of his broader push to make Twitter into an ‘everything app’, which would provide more functionality and usage benefits.  

As reported by FT:

In November, Twitter registered with the US Treasury as a payments processor, according to a regulatory filing. It has now also begun to apply for some of the state licenses it would need in order to launch, these people said. The remainder would be filed shortly, in the hope that US licensing was completed within a year, one of the people said.”

From there, Twitter would also look to establish agreements with international regulators to enable payments in all regions.

As noted, payments are a part of Elon’s broader plans for a more functional app, which would replicate the utility of China’s WeChat, which is used by Chinese citizens for everything from ordering groceries, to buying public transport tickets, to paying bills, etc. WeChat has become such a crucial connective element, that it formed a key part of China’s COVID response, with authorities using the app as a means to manage COVID positive citizens and restrict their movement.

Musk isn’t ideally looking to use Twitter as a control device (I don’t think), but the broader concept is to add in more and more functionality, in order to both generate more income for the company, and make the app a more critical element in the interactive landscape.

Twitter’s already exploring several options on this front.

Several app researchers have uncovered mock-ups for Twitter Coins in the back-end of the app.

Via Twitter coins, users would be able to make donations to creators in the app, through on-profile tipping, but beyond that, Twitter’s also exploring options like unlockable tweets, paywalled video, and more, as it seeks to embed broader usage and adoption of in-app payments.

A big opportunity also exists to facilitate remittance, or sending money to family and friends, which is a key use case in many regions. Remittance payment services often charge processing fees, and various social apps have been trying to find new ways to facilitate such without the same costs, with the idea being that once people are moving their money in-app, they’ll then be more likely to spend it in the same place.

Thus far, social platforms that do offer payments haven’t been able to embed this as a use case – but maybe, with Musk’s experience, knowledge and connections, he might be able to make this work in tweets.

Elon, of course, got his start in payments, with his first company, an online bank called, being bought out by PayPal in 1999, his first big business win. And while his focus has since shifted to electric cars and rockets, Musk has keen understanding of the digital payments space, and how it can be adapted for varied usage.

According to reports, Musk told Twitter investors in May last year, that his aim was to see Twitter bring in about $1.3 billion in payment revenues by 2028.

That would give the company a sorely needed boost. After Musk’s cost-cutting efforts, which have resulted in the reduction of around 70% of Twitter staff, the company could be on track to potentially break even this year, or close, but a lot has to go right to get the platform back on track. And with advertisers continuing to back away from Twitter spend, it’s not looking good, while subscriptions to Twitter Blue are unlikely to provide much relief, at least at this stage.

As such, the shift into payments can’t come fast enough, though it’ll still be some time before we see the possibility of in-app payments.

Also, while Musk has made it clear fiat currency will be the main focus of this push in its initial phase, cryptocurrencies could also, eventually, be included. The price of Dogecoin, Musk’s favorite crypto offering, rose to a 24-hour high after news broke of Elon’s expanded payments plan.

Will payments be the answer to Twitter’s revenue woes? Maybe, if Elon’s vision for billions in payments revenue comes to fruition – and with his previous track record, you can’t dismiss the notion entirely.

But it’ll take time, many approvals, and many more steps before we reach the next stage.

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Social Responsibility And Ethics In Influencer Marketing



Social Responsibility And Ethics In Influencer Marketing

Chief Growth Officer (CGO) at HypeFactory, a global influencer marketing agency.

It’s no secret that influencer marketing popularity has skyrocketed over the past couple of years, and partnering with influencers isn’t a new concept. Just over the past year, the industry was valued at $16.4 billion and still keeps growing, with a whopping revenue forecast of $143.10 billion in 2030.

Since the beginning of influencer marketing, people have talked about how influencers and social responsibility fit together. It stands to reason that influential people would use their large fan bases to help others. However, when influencers and businesses collaborate, they each have specific responsibilities to the communities in which they operate.

Sponsorship Transparency And Gender Stereotypes

One of the most critical skills for an influencer is honesty. Influencers base their marketing strategy on being genuine and sharing personal tales and thoughts with their target audience. They are not celebrities living in a bubble of fame that very few of their followers will ever reach; instead, they live lifestyles that are reachable and use items that their viewers would find helpful. This approach has significantly contributed to their immense level of success.

However, many influencers don’t play by the rules, especially when it comes to impressing brands they’ve made deals with, even though transparency is essential to the sustainability of an influencer’s career. Because of this, many people would think that the most important ethical issue in influencer marketing is sponsorship disclosure.

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the United Kingdom have all put out rules about how influencers should be honest in their posts and about their relationships with brands. If you disobey the regulations, you risk facing penalties, fines and legal bills. You also risk losing the trust of your customers for good.

Moreover, when doing influencer marketing, it’s essential to consider gender stereotypes and how people usually think men and women will act in different situations. The Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) has said that since June 2019, marketing materials could no longer show men and women in ways that are based on stereotypes. These rules state that ads “must not use gender stereotypes that are likely to hurt or offend a large number of people.” Great campaigns, like Nike’s “Dream Crazier,” have challenged gender preconceptions.

Improving Influencer Marketing’s Reliability And Authenticity

Authenticity is essential in influencer marketing. People listen to influencers who are honest and relatable. In addition to the moral problems I mentioned above, brands and influencers must also follow FTC rules, community guidelines and terms of service on social media platforms.

Based on my experience as a chief growth officer at a global influencer marketing agency, here are some things brands must consider for influencer partnerships that are authentic and reliable.

Outline—and stick to—the ethical principles that your brand stands for.

Before you can begin your search for the ideal influencers, you must first understand the core principles of representing your business. Most businesses start by determining their values and ethics early on. They then use these to build their brand identity. It’s up to each company’s brand to decide where they will draw the line and how they will show their core values on social media.

However, consumers place a high value on consistent honesty. Customers are likely to call out your company for being hypocritical if it says it wants to fight racism but then partners with an influencer who has a history of making small slights against people of color. Or if your company promotes equal pay yet pays female influencers less than it does male influencers, contributing to the continuation of the pay gap between male and female influencers.

As a result, you will likely lose the trust of these customers.

Collaborate with real influencers.

One of the most effective ways to stick to influencer marketing principles is by collaborating with real-life influencers. Choosing the right influencers is crucial for building consumer confidence in your product.

Determine which influencers are authentic and have credibility with your intended audience. Specifically, it would be best to look at how many people engage with their content and how good it is. Even though engagement numbers are essential, they only tell part of the story about an influencer’s reliability. Please pay close attention to their writing style, the brands they’ve worked with, the accuracy of their reviews, etc.

Develop a long-term partnership.

When you’ve found a group of genuine, influential people with whom you can collaborate successfully, it’s crucial to keep in touch with them over time. Even if they are paid to review a product, genuine influencers always give honest opinions. Because they follow all the rules, the spectator can have more faith in them.

Consequently, after a shortlist of influencers has been compiled, you should perform authenticity checks. Check their content feed for branded articles. Make sure that any disclaimers you find adhere to the first point’s disclosure guidelines. Consistently partnering with the same influencers demonstrates to customers that you value their brand’s success just as much as they do, which can increase consumer confidence in your business.


Authenticity serves as the cornerstone of the influencer marketing strategy. Influencers earn the trust of their followers and become successful when they always provide high-quality, authentic, relatable content.

In addition to the concerns over the morality of influencer marketing, brands and influencers must follow the criteria established by the FTC and the community guidelines and terms of service based on social media platforms. You can shield your brand from potential ethical and legal difficulties and still enjoy success with influencer marketing if you are aware of the expectations and follow certain best practices.

Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?

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Key Notes on Building Your Brand via Your Social Profile Visuals [Infographic]



Key Notes on Building Your Brand via Your Social Profile Visuals [Infographic]

Looking to give your social profiles a visual refresh for the new year?

This could help – the team from Giraffe Social Media recently put together an overview of the whys and hows of building your brand via your social profile visuals.

There are some good notes here – a key consideration is consistency, which ensures that you’re building your brand with every post and update.

Check out the full infographic below.

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