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Content strategy for the effective use of user-generated content

Content strategy for the effective use of user-generated content

Content strategy for the effective use of user-generated content

Content strategy for the effective use of user-generated content

Anusha Jha

Content Strategist

The internet is full of pages and content populated by the opinions of subject matter experts, editors, and writers; opinions that we trust, that we debate over, learn from and absorb. Their opinions, however excellent, are shaped by their experiences. It is their perspective, backed by research of course, but the world as they see it, possibly coloured by their conscious or subconscious biases. Plus, it is often difficult to differentiate honest opinion from sponsored content. User-generated content (UGC) – content produced by one's own cohort – elicits trust more easily.

I don't want to hear from everybody – just from someone quite like me

Have you ever visited a UGC driven platform such as Amazon or Tripadvisor, browsed through the reviews, felt better informed but also overwhelmed, and come away undecided? I have. Often.

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Customer reviews help increase trust. But they do not always help the user easily decide if the product or service is meant for them.

This is because the factors chosen by review based sites for describing an experience are broad when compared with the aspirations and limitations of an individual with regard to that experience. For food ordering platforms, for instance, the filters typically available are cuisine, ambience, budget, etc. User reviews only provide an aggregated rating. Everybody's opinion averages out to 'okay'. They don't reveal if the restaurant is 'exactly what I want at this point in time'.

Likewise, for shopping platforms such as Amazon, or travel platforms such as Tripadvisor, making sense of the tons of reviews available is both tedious and time-consuming. Different individuals might have different expectations from products and services on offer. Reviews, in that sense, might help or even hinder the search.

A section of a travel booking website showing traveller ratings and a filter for refining user-generated reviews such as by traveller type, time of year and language.
A section of a travel booking website showing traveller ratings and a filter for refining user-generated reviews such as by traveller type, time of year and language.

In the above example, it's impossible to comprehend approximately 8000 reviews, or even the 97 that rate this destination as 'Terrible' on Tripadvisor. For example, was the destination terrible, or the hotel experience, or the beach? Do the reviews apply to me? UGC presented in this manner fails to inspire or help as much as it could.

That's where word-of-mouth recommendations score. You ask your friends for suggestions not just because you trust their judgment, but also because you have similar likes and dislikes. A recommendation from 'someone like you' would rank higher than a bunch of user reviews from random individuals. Likewise, recommendations for 'someone a lot like you' would rank higher still on trust, relevance, and usefulness.

Not just trust, but personalisation too, and at scale

The framework for simplifying the consumption of user-generated content and providing greater value to users can be summed in the following steps:

  1. identifying the axes of experience with respect to the business
  2. eliciting UGC aligned with the axes of experience
  3. leveraging technology to analyse UGC for quality
  4. structuring UGC for reuse
  5. developing content modules to inspire users at various stages of the user journey
  6. setting up a system that would automatically channel the most relevant content module to the user based on pull (not push) behaviour


Such a system, based on the premise of 'like inspires like', would enable users to receive content from individuals like them, at scale. Let's take a look at each of these steps in detail.

Identifying the axes of experience

Break up the experience of the product, service or solution on offer into axes that the user cares about. For instance, for a food delivery platform, in addition to the commonly used cuisine, budget, and ambience axes, the following values would provide a more granular view into the experience:

  • with a toddler
  • with partner
  • allergic to
  • waiting time
  • spice level

Similarly, for a travel platform, the following axes of experience could be useful  in matching content consumers with content producers:

  • travelling for (weekend, vacation, or special occasion)
  • travelling with (solo/ couple/ family/ friends)
  • travelling in (Month)


The objective should be to cover as many axes of experience as are needed by content consumers to be able to make a decision. Next, each axis of experience is to be populated with values. In one of the examples shared above, 'travelling with' is an axis while solo, couple, family and friends can be its values.

Generating user-generated content – what it takes

Set up a system that reaches out to a customer at an appropriate time after they've completed a transaction. For example, connect with a traveller a week after they've completed their trip. They would have recovered from jet lag and would be eager to share their experiences. For restaurant reviews, it might be better to reach out within a day of the experience since dining out is a much more frequent activity than travel.

Next, set up a questionnaire that elicits the aspirations and constraints of the user in line with the axes of experience. In travel, for instance, it will be useful to ask the user if they took the trip alone or as a family, if it was a weekend getaway or a trip to mark a special occasion, and which attraction did they find most attractive. The objective should be to capture the thought process behind the user's choices and their experience, to inspire and inform someone else with a similar thought process – but who is yet to have the same experience.

Preparing user-generated content for use – what it takes

For marketing at scale, UGC needs metadata for the system to understand what it means. In a questionnaire, multiple-choice questions are an easy way to allot this metadata. For instance, when the user selects the value 'solo' under the 'travelled with' axis, the review is associated with that of a solo traveller. The reason to travel – weekend, vacation, birthday, or New Year – adds another dimension to the review making it intelligible to the system. So, a particular review could have a meta such as solo-weekend-beach. Read more about three misconceptions content strategists have about metadata.

However, all aspects of an experience cannot be registered through multiple choice. Aspects such as Experience Type need to be extracted from the review through language analysis. Keyword and phrase extraction in association with NLP techniques such as sentiment analysis help at this point.

These techniques also help filter UGC for usability by excluding reviews containing profanity, nudity, or other content deemed unsuitable for consumption. A content strategist can help list these rules that the technical team can implement through code. However, manual intervention may also be needed to ensure that automation is performing as expected. Such an approach helps treat large volumes of UGC at scale, helping keep the flow of content fresh and relevant.

Developing content modules to inspire users at various stages of the user journey

Once the UGC is prepared for use, it can be curated into various types of content items to meet user needs at various points in the user journey.

A user journey visualised showing the different linear stages of inspiration, interest, intent and planning.

When the user is seeking inspiration, it may make sense to feature a variety of subjects in the content item to stir interest. For a travel platform, that would mean featuring multiple destinations in a single content item, but using UGC from a particular traveller type. For a food ordering platform, that may mean showcasing multiple cuisines available in a city, but featuring UGC from a specific kind of restaurant-goer. Read more about how to validate user needs.

However, when the user is seeking specific information, the content module should evolve to showcase UGC to address that need. In the above example, if the user chooses to explore Asian cuisine by clicking on associated calls to action, the content module to follow next should feature UGC for Asian cuisine alone – with provision to change one's mind, of course. Customisation of content at each stage of the user journey is a common practice. But doing so with UGC by modularising it for reuse, minimises investment of time and effort over the long run. Check out GatherContent's free user journey template.

For this model to work, it is necessary to register the user interaction at each stage. The occurrence or absence of each click reveals a little more about the user's inclinations and helps the system channel increasingly relevant content with iteration.

Content strategy for a content product – what it takes

Content strategists are used to being the glue across teams and functions, ensuring coherence of content for both business and users. In a content product, the additional dimension is helping build the product itself. Some skills that a content strategist might be expected to possess or develop include:

  • ability to analyse data – Befriend Excel and Google sheets!
  • studying the mechanics of content – Brush up on grammar
  • ability to translate ideas & feelings into rules – Spot patterns in chaos
  • getting comfortable with tech and product jargon – Be the intermediary between content and product teams

The takeaway – Prepare to design experiences with user-generated content

Attention is the new currency. Businesses are keen to provide their users with relevant content – inspiring, reliable, actionable. But doing it at scale and at comparable or low cost is a challenge that is yet to be tackled. Employing user-generated content can help address many of these challenges. The nature of UGC ensures higher trust and hence actionability. That, combined with technology that filters, sorts, and channels relevant UGC to content consumers, can simplify several marketing challenges, the biggest being relationship building through meaningful engagement.

The internet is full of pages and content populated by the opinions of subject matter experts, editors, and writers; opinions that we trust, that we debate over, learn from and absorb. Their opinions, however excellent, are shaped by their experiences. It is their perspective, backed by research of course, but the world as they see it, possibly coloured by their conscious or subconscious biases. Plus, it is often difficult to differentiate honest opinion from sponsored content. User-generated content (UGC) – content produced by one's own cohort – elicits trust more easily.

I don't want to hear from everybody – just from someone quite like me

Have you ever visited a UGC driven platform such as Amazon or Tripadvisor, browsed through the reviews, felt better informed but also overwhelmed, and come away undecided? I have. Often.

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Customer reviews help increase trust. But they do not always help the user easily decide if the product or service is meant for them.

This is because the factors chosen by review based sites for describing an experience are broad when compared with the aspirations and limitations of an individual with regard to that experience. For food ordering platforms, for instance, the filters typically available are cuisine, ambience, budget, etc. User reviews only provide an aggregated rating. Everybody's opinion averages out to 'okay'. They don't reveal if the restaurant is 'exactly what I want at this point in time'.

Likewise, for shopping platforms such as Amazon, or travel platforms such as Tripadvisor, making sense of the tons of reviews available is both tedious and time-consuming. Different individuals might have different expectations from products and services on offer. Reviews, in that sense, might help or even hinder the search.

A section of a travel booking website showing traveller ratings and a filter for refining user-generated reviews such as by traveller type, time of year and language.
A section of a travel booking website showing traveller ratings and a filter for refining user-generated reviews such as by traveller type, time of year and language.

In the above example, it's impossible to comprehend approximately 8000 reviews, or even the 97 that rate this destination as 'Terrible' on Tripadvisor. For example, was the destination terrible, or the hotel experience, or the beach? Do the reviews apply to me? UGC presented in this manner fails to inspire or help as much as it could.

That's where word-of-mouth recommendations score. You ask your friends for suggestions not just because you trust their judgment, but also because you have similar likes and dislikes. A recommendation from 'someone like you' would rank higher than a bunch of user reviews from random individuals. Likewise, recommendations for 'someone a lot like you' would rank higher still on trust, relevance, and usefulness.

Not just trust, but personalisation too, and at scale

The framework for simplifying the consumption of user-generated content and providing greater value to users can be summed in the following steps:

  1. identifying the axes of experience with respect to the business
  2. eliciting UGC aligned with the axes of experience
  3. leveraging technology to analyse UGC for quality
  4. structuring UGC for reuse
  5. developing content modules to inspire users at various stages of the user journey
  6. setting up a system that would automatically channel the most relevant content module to the user based on pull (not push) behaviour


Such a system, based on the premise of 'like inspires like', would enable users to receive content from individuals like them, at scale. Let's take a look at each of these steps in detail.

Identifying the axes of experience

Break up the experience of the product, service or solution on offer into axes that the user cares about. For instance, for a food delivery platform, in addition to the commonly used cuisine, budget, and ambience axes, the following values would provide a more granular view into the experience:

  • with a toddler
  • with partner
  • allergic to
  • waiting time
  • spice level

Similarly, for a travel platform, the following axes of experience could be useful  in matching content consumers with content producers:

  • travelling for (weekend, vacation, or special occasion)
  • travelling with (solo/ couple/ family/ friends)
  • travelling in (Month)


The objective should be to cover as many axes of experience as are needed by content consumers to be able to make a decision. Next, each axis of experience is to be populated with values. In one of the examples shared above, 'travelling with' is an axis while solo, couple, family and friends can be its values.

Generating user-generated content – what it takes

Set up a system that reaches out to a customer at an appropriate time after they've completed a transaction. For example, connect with a traveller a week after they've completed their trip. They would have recovered from jet lag and would be eager to share their experiences. For restaurant reviews, it might be better to reach out within a day of the experience since dining out is a much more frequent activity than travel.

Next, set up a questionnaire that elicits the aspirations and constraints of the user in line with the axes of experience. In travel, for instance, it will be useful to ask the user if they took the trip alone or as a family, if it was a weekend getaway or a trip to mark a special occasion, and which attraction did they find most attractive. The objective should be to capture the thought process behind the user's choices and their experience, to inspire and inform someone else with a similar thought process – but who is yet to have the same experience.

Preparing user-generated content for use – what it takes

For marketing at scale, UGC needs metadata for the system to understand what it means. In a questionnaire, multiple-choice questions are an easy way to allot this metadata. For instance, when the user selects the value 'solo' under the 'travelled with' axis, the review is associated with that of a solo traveller. The reason to travel – weekend, vacation, birthday, or New Year – adds another dimension to the review making it intelligible to the system. So, a particular review could have a meta such as solo-weekend-beach. Read more about three misconceptions content strategists have about metadata.

However, all aspects of an experience cannot be registered through multiple choice. Aspects such as Experience Type need to be extracted from the review through language analysis. Keyword and phrase extraction in association with NLP techniques such as sentiment analysis help at this point.

These techniques also help filter UGC for usability by excluding reviews containing profanity, nudity, or other content deemed unsuitable for consumption. A content strategist can help list these rules that the technical team can implement through code. However, manual intervention may also be needed to ensure that automation is performing as expected. Such an approach helps treat large volumes of UGC at scale, helping keep the flow of content fresh and relevant.

Developing content modules to inspire users at various stages of the user journey

Once the UGC is prepared for use, it can be curated into various types of content items to meet user needs at various points in the user journey.

A user journey visualised showing the different linear stages of inspiration, interest, intent and planning.

When the user is seeking inspiration, it may make sense to feature a variety of subjects in the content item to stir interest. For a travel platform, that would mean featuring multiple destinations in a single content item, but using UGC from a particular traveller type. For a food ordering platform, that may mean showcasing multiple cuisines available in a city, but featuring UGC from a specific kind of restaurant-goer. Read more about how to validate user needs.

However, when the user is seeking specific information, the content module should evolve to showcase UGC to address that need. In the above example, if the user chooses to explore Asian cuisine by clicking on associated calls to action, the content module to follow next should feature UGC for Asian cuisine alone – with provision to change one's mind, of course. Customisation of content at each stage of the user journey is a common practice. But doing so with UGC by modularising it for reuse, minimises investment of time and effort over the long run. Check out GatherContent's free user journey template.

For this model to work, it is necessary to register the user interaction at each stage. The occurrence or absence of each click reveals a little more about the user's inclinations and helps the system channel increasingly relevant content with iteration.

Content strategy for a content product – what it takes

Content strategists are used to being the glue across teams and functions, ensuring coherence of content for both business and users. In a content product, the additional dimension is helping build the product itself. Some skills that a content strategist might be expected to possess or develop include:

  • ability to analyse data – Befriend Excel and Google sheets!
  • studying the mechanics of content – Brush up on grammar
  • ability to translate ideas & feelings into rules – Spot patterns in chaos
  • getting comfortable with tech and product jargon – Be the intermediary between content and product teams

The takeaway – Prepare to design experiences with user-generated content

Attention is the new currency. Businesses are keen to provide their users with relevant content – inspiring, reliable, actionable. But doing it at scale and at comparable or low cost is a challenge that is yet to be tackled. Employing user-generated content can help address many of these challenges. The nature of UGC ensures higher trust and hence actionability. That, combined with technology that filters, sorts, and channels relevant UGC to content consumers, can simplify several marketing challenges, the biggest being relationship building through meaningful engagement.

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About the author

Anusha Jha

Anusha is a content strategist deeply interested in user experience and product development. She describes herself as a child of the international content community that nurtured and raised her on a steady diet of content about content. In her last stint, she was helping build a content-product at lastminute.com to inspire users at scale using user-generated content.  She blogs intermittently, tweets a little more regularly, and is currently seeking her next passion project.

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