When Alison Roman, author of Dining In, told Grub Street about her Salted Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies in October 2017, she likely did not realise that they were about to go viral. They did, and they are still a regular feature on Alison's Instagram Stories. This is an example of User Generated Content (UGC) in action. Home bakers (including here in Recipe Guru) embraced the recipe and tagged Alison in photos of their attempts at mastering it. By sharing these images with her followers, praising each one and offering extra tips, Alison is (intentionally or not) encouraging others to jump on board with this viral recipe. On social media, food reigns supreme, and users love to be recognised for their efforts. This use of UGC resulted in Dining In selling out on Amazon more than once, and other recipes (such as Slow-Roasted Citrus Salmon) have taken the internet, or at least Alison's significant corner of it, by storm.
There are many reasons why UGC resonates with consumers. For internet users who are bombarded with ads, both organic and sponsored, almost constantly UGC represents a more authentic, trustworthy source of information. In fact, 76% of consumers think that content created by the average person is more honest than advertising from brands. Perfectly styled food images are still a huge draw for consumers and a vital part of any food content marketing strategy, but giving home cooks a glimpse of what to expect in their own kitchens adds to the authenticity of the recipe. Not only that, but user-created images add longevity to the social media life of a recipe. Sharing the same gorgeous image several times in the space of a couple of weeks is not an effective strategy. UGC helps shake things up a bit and enables brands to share the same recipe without repetition.
One of the most important benefits of UGC is that it has the power to increase your reach. By featuring user-created content on social media platforms and websites, brands are encouraging these users to share with friends and family. People are already posting images of their food on social media in their droves - at time of writing, #food features 269,023,415 Instagram posts. The key for brands is to encourage consumers to share images of branded food and recipes. Meal kit companies such as Plated and Home Chef do this well. For example, using #PlatedPics, Plated selects UGC to share on its website. This is the sort of thing that matters to digitally native foodies - recognition for a job well done.
The power of User Generated Content extends beyond grocery and into the smart kitchen space. In a recent conversation with The Spoon, CNET's Ashlee Clark Thompson spoke about the Instant Pot community, and what it adds to the Instant Pot experience. A quick search on Facebook illustrates the size of this community - one Facebook group has almost 1.4 million members. For smart appliance manufacturers, particularly in the countertop space, building a community of happy users is a differentiator. Guided cooking systems are relatively new to consumers, and their main benefit is that their recipes provide a consistent experience. What the Instant Pot community has done is add to the experience of using a connected device by offering tips, recipe reviews and even additional user-created recipes. For smart appliance manufacturers, this UGC endorses the versatility and reliability of the device, while informing ongoing in-app recipe curation.
Regardless of a brand's size, User Generated Content is not simply going to flow in organically. As with any aspect of marketing, engagement is key. It's not enough to share a recipe on social media and let the users do the rest. Engage with them. Encourage them to try it out. Incentivise users to post their pictures through competitions, discounts or simply by regularly sharing UGC on social media. In a world of perfectly curated social media accounts, User Generated Content could just give you the edge.