People find user-generated content more authentic to tell the story

a guide to user-generated content

“Video circulating on social media shows a massive explosion rocking central Beirut,”  reads the beginning of the Guardian’s description of this shocking video footage taken by citizens. The video fragment is a piece of history.

Social media and technologies are opening the whole new vista for news, with its unprecedented speed of reaction to breaking events.

User-generated content is also called “citizen journalism” and it changes the very way newsrooms operate: publishers must adapt quickly. With lockdown limitations, news now can’t always report as rapidly as before. At the same time, people’s hunger for evidence is higher than ever.

In this article, we give a brief overview of how UGC can help news outlets and publishers increase engagement and brand loyalty.

General demand for a “greater context”

So many factors go into shaping our response to stories. A lot of average news reporters don’t produce enough of a response to hold attention, and enable the brand’s name to live long in memory.

When you omit context in reporting, you assume that people are already familiar with the background of your story. But readers usually have very shallow knowledge of political, economic, historical, and social environments that make a story’s background.

As in movies, context or setting can identify a mood of a situation quickly, which is particularly important in short stories to be seen among the informational noise.

Context is what gives “flavor” to the story.  It provides a fuller picture that is, among others, a determiner of a story’s credibility. “Holistic” approach to news reporting, which includes providing more depth in the subject matter, is the strategy that goes a long way in returning the loss of trust in mainstream journalism.

User-generated content is an affordable way to enrich a story’s context:

  • It acts as a third-party fact-checker, giving more trust to an article and influencing its CTR
  • It lets you achieve the same goals in engagement without as heavy an investment
  • It grants eyewitness-access to breaking events/crisis

The “Authenticity” feeling

This is not new.

“Natural, ethical, simple, honest, sustainable, human and rooted” — are all definitions that encompass authenticity.

In marketing, product reviews, unpacking videos and non-filtered Instagram photos are used to promote products, playing on downgrading commercial motives and a more widened narrative. They have long been parts of marketing strategies that many international brands implemented.

In the media, companies actively share UGC on social media platforms. Using an authentic voice from the first person along the way makes a huge difference.

user generated content in news

Twitter is one of the biggest news distribution services. To enhance their connections with audiences, brands can become an active part of the Twitter community rather than just giving links to tweets.

how to benefit from user-generated content

The freedom of self-expression

The call for authenticity goes hand-in-hand with the new means of self-expression enabled by social media.

Countless users post their content on social media, use blogs, video-sharing platforms, date matching sites to make their ideas visible to the world. Users are not just consumers anymore, they’re active participants in creating trends. These are all authentic content that brands simply cannot manufacture.

Resurrecting the broken trust

2020 revealed that people are becoming distrustful of news, mainly because of the election disinformation campaigns and publishers’ losing with Covid-related facts. UGC is considered 2,4 times more authentic by readers than branded content.

It’s not hard to see why user-generated content has more impact: it doesn’t come from news, editors, journalists, marketers, and other  ‘advertisers.’ It is created by someone like your best college friend or your aunt who scolds every political party in your country — in other words, by someone who doesn’t intend to sell you stuff.

Since people trust people more than they do brands, seeing UGC on any platform creates an impression of a brand “talking with its audience rather than at their audience.” It inspires brand loyalty.

When a story is circled by UGC, you have a more telling picture — providing details that lend more clarity to things that otherwise would be considered pretty mundane, unspecific, and therefore, uninteresting.

Buzzfeed user-generated content

Main benefits of user-generated content

UGC, as a journalist tool, has two main benefits:

  • Authenticity — bringing a story to life, giving its more context
  • Marketing discourse  — strengthening brands’ ‘human’ connections
  1. Authenticity

Every content or storytelling post needs filmmakers’ creativity. Even a news story. User-generated content is the way to show the real course of events, making reporting more interesting to watch.

  1. Marketing discourse

The greatest thing about user-generated content is that it typically sparks engagement. It connects readers, produces threats, and contributes much to community building.

Taking materials from social media: what news outlets should know

Is it legal for journalists to use information from private social media accounts?

There has been a lot of talk around this issue. As a rule, publishers stick to what IPSO, Independent Press Standards Organisation states. It clearly indicates that if a person posts images or videos on a public social media page, it’s legal for media to use them in reporting since the information gets into the public domain.

There are limitations to what information from private accounts cannot be posted:


Special protection for children

The rules state that journalists should be very careful when publishing information about children. They must justify the public value of a story to outweigh the child’s interests.

How to deal with user-generated content in a smart way

Although user-generated content can become a real bomb that will boost CTR of an article or video, it should be harnessed and managed in an ethical manner to avoid landing your brand in court.

  1. Give credits
Retweeting user content

Asking permission for using UGC is never superfluous. When reposting a post from Twitter, include the line to tag the person who originally created the content.

Even if the author mentioned your brand in the post, send a DM asking for permission before making a repost.

  1. Take screenshots
can news take photos from personal Instagram accounts?

When posting a screenshot, make sure the author’s profile is visible.

  1. Explore social media group and channels

In this interview, a senior story producer of the News York Times explained that they explored and joined several Telegram channels to find information about Ukrainian plane crash in Iran. They published a 20-second video clip of the explosion the next day after the tragedy after thorough inspecting of the video and its verifying.