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Why user-generated content (UGC) is effective in higher ed

Why user-generated content (UGC) is effective in higher ed

6 minute read

Why user-generated content (UGC) is effective in higher ed

6 minute read

Why user-generated content (UGC) is effective in higher ed

Paige Toomes

Copywriter and Digital Marketer

There are lots of things impacting content and higher ed at the moment— the coronavirus, students as consumers and “prosumers” (producer-consumers), and plummeting attention spans and trust.

All of this means colleges and universities need to find new ways to attract, engage and recruit students. I wrote three articles recently about how content strategy in higher ed:

These all mention user-generated content (UGC). As it is a growing topic, this article will go into more depth about UGC.

The impact of user-generated content on higher education marketing and content strategy is huge. It’s an interesting topic that is only going to get more important — content professionals, marketing, and recruitment all need to be aware of and utilising it.

In this article, I’ll cover:

  • What is user-generated content?
  • Statistics on user-generated content
  • Why it is so important and effective for universities and colleges
  • How universities can integrate UGC into their marketing plan (with some examples)

What is user-generated content (UGC)?

Usually online, user-generated content is content that is voluntarily created by users. This can be anything from Amazon and Trip Advisor reviews, to social media posts, videos, photos and selfies about a product or brand.  This is raw content that essentially promotes authenticity.

Although it can have the same effects as paid influencer marketing, it is essentially the opposite of this because it is voluntary and free. It is earned media rather than bought or owned. People crave authenticity in content today, and user-generated content delivers.

User-generated content is often instigated entirely by consumers. Of course, this means there are some things that you can’t control, and occasionally it can cause negative branding. That said, generally it is a cost-effective and efficient way for brands to increase trust and credibility in a brand.

It’s also important to remember that marketers and content creators can actively encourage collaboration, co-creation and storytelling through hashtags and other strategic initiatives. This helps steer the direction and attention to positive UGC that aligns with your brand (more on this later).

Statistics on user-generated content

There is lots of research into UGC online, so I have pulled together some interesting statistics on the topic:

  • 92% of consumers trust online content from peers more than any other form of brand messaging

  • Consumers find UGC 9.8x more impactful than influencer content when making a purchasing decision

  • 70% of consumers trust online peer reviews and recommendations more than professional content and copy

  • 45% of people will unfollow a brand if they do too much self-promotion

  • 52% of marketing professionals believe that content created by customers can help humanise their marketing

As you can see, user-generated content is definitely something that is worth investing in.

Why is UGC so important and effective in higher ed?

Higher education is a key industry that is ripe for user-generated content. Finding ways to allow your audience to become a part of the conversation is one of the most powerful and successful forms of marketing for student recruitment in universities today. Here are some ways it is effective:

Builds authenticity with Millennials and Generation Z  

Millennials and Gen Z are of course a key audience for higher education. Because they are ‘digital natives’ they are active on social media, and are a group that account for some of the world’s biggest spending power in 2020.

Yet they are two of the most challenging generations for marketers. Tired and worn out by professionally created content, students and young people value authenticity and are naturally skeptical about traditional advertising.

So user-generated content is a great way for universities to be more human-centered and engage better with key audiences. In fact:

Real student stories

Every university provides a unique student experience. And sharing this creatively through student stories can set you apart from competitors. Authentic user-generated content allows universities to tell stories that would be hard – or even impossible – for a marketing team to produce.

Only 4% of people trust paid and celebrity influencers online. But through user-generated content, you are getting organic stories. Over time, people can become  “micro-influencers” and brand ambassadors. And it doesn’t cost you a thing!

Two-way conversations and community building

Not only does UGC open up communication lines between universities and students, but it also encourages student-to-student communication. It enables you to build a community and emphasise co-creation. All of this encourages sharing on social media, positive word of mouth and social proof to attract future students.

Social listening opportunities

The content generated by young people, students and prospective students online is a valuable resource for understanding your audience’s motives and pain points. This is where ‘social listening’ comes in.

You should be monitoring your social media channels frequently. There might be questions about the university process, direct mentions of your brand, or certain keywords people are using. Dig into the data and use it to inform your content strategy.

How universities can integrate user-generated content into their marketing plan (and some examples)

Higher ed marketers are leveraging user-generated content to attract prospective students and to create enthusiasm and excitement around the college for current students and alumni.

Unique perspectives and storytelling are key when creating user-generated content. So tap into this, get some student and alumni ambassadors for your website and social media, and create a living brand for your university or college.

You want to think about different channels — like Instagram, Snapchat etc — and which are right for your institution. Where do students hang out? You should also find potential events and themes to share content about, and generate hashtags to get people involved. Also, provide guidelines and a style guide to keep people on-brand.

Based on what we’ve covered up until this point, I’ll now go through four examples of user-generated content approaches used by different universities. You can use these for inspiration when adding UGC to your own content marketing strategy:

1. Newcastle University

Student blog page on the Newcastle University website.

Newcastle University has an excellent microsite for a student blog, called ‘On Course to NCL’ designed to help prospective students plan their journey to university and navigate student life. Sections include things like applying, accommodation,  social life and graduating.

Newcastle also has user-generated content posted on Unibuddy, an app connecting current and prospective students. Unibuddy spoke to the marketing team at Newcastle, who reported great results with user-generated content.

Valentina Terrinoni, Marketing and Student Recruitment Officer, said: “We really wanted relevant information we can use to support prospective students from shortlisting to making their final choice.”

The blog posts received 12,000 unique views and also high conversion from reading a blog to starting a chat. After viewing the blogs page, students were 3x more likely to start a Unibuddy chat than those who hadn’t viewed the blogs page.

2. Imperial College London

Instagram profile for Imperial College London.

Instagram is arguably one of the biggest platforms for student-generated content. Imperial College London's Instagram page posts to over 75K followers daily, using the hashtag #OurImperial to encourage students to post and create content around their experiences. The example below shows a video of a students talking about her experience:

Example of an Instagram post from Imperial College London. The post is a video from an international student talking about scientific research.

During the coronavirus pandemic, building and maintaining a strong remote sense of commumity and shared culture is extra important. We can see from the image below that Imperial College London have done just that with episodes of "The Corona Diaries" from students:

Example of an Instagram post from Imperial College London. This post is a Corona diary episode by a student.


3. University of Northampton

The University of Northampton have taken advantage of the rise in student-generated content, by having an annual 'Student Takeover' period on their social media channels.

Students are selected from the Marketing degree courses to have the opportunity to practice their social media marketing skills, and gain feedback from the university marketing team.

This is a great way to empower students and get their voices heard. We can see this in action on their Instagram page which makes use of hashtags:

An instagram post from the University of Northampton which shows a photo of a group of students.
An Instagram post from the University of Northampton which shows a video of a student as part pf the student takeover project at the marketing department.



4. University of Melbourne

The University of Melbourne have made use of hashtags to encourage students to post photos about university life, which they can then repost to the university's social media account. This is a great way of increasing engagement.

The Instagram profile for the University of Melbourne.


We can see they also have 'Student Profile' videos from students on different courses to attract prospective students, which are then used to promote open days.

An Instagram post by a medical student at the University of Melbourne.

UGC is a key part of the future of content marketing in higher ed

User-generated content is here to stay, and is definitely something institutions need to be integrating into their content marketing strategy. User-generated content is great because it:

  • Gives your current students a voice and a platform to be heard.
  • Increases your exposure online and builds your institution's SEO rankings and credibility.
  • Means your brand becomes more trustworthy. Students listen to other students.
  • Is unique and cannot be replicated by competing institutions.

Students and young people enjoy creating it, and being involved, and it's free advertising for universities. Win-Win.

How GatherContent can help you create and manage user-generated content

To find out how GatherContent can help you create, manage and collaborate on content, check out our higher education industry page. Embed style guides into the editing environment, to make it easy for students and contributors to follow guidelines, and discuss projects all in one place.

If you've enjoyed this article, you might want to sign up to our higher education weekly newsletter especially for higher education too! 🗞️

There are lots of things impacting content and higher ed at the moment— the coronavirus, students as consumers and “prosumers” (producer-consumers), and plummeting attention spans and trust.

All of this means colleges and universities need to find new ways to attract, engage and recruit students. I wrote three articles recently about how content strategy in higher ed:

These all mention user-generated content (UGC). As it is a growing topic, this article will go into more depth about UGC.

The impact of user-generated content on higher education marketing and content strategy is huge. It’s an interesting topic that is only going to get more important — content professionals, marketing, and recruitment all need to be aware of and utilising it.

In this article, I’ll cover:

  • What is user-generated content?
  • Statistics on user-generated content
  • Why it is so important and effective for universities and colleges
  • How universities can integrate UGC into their marketing plan (with some examples)

What is user-generated content (UGC)?

Usually online, user-generated content is content that is voluntarily created by users. This can be anything from Amazon and Trip Advisor reviews, to social media posts, videos, photos and selfies about a product or brand.  This is raw content that essentially promotes authenticity.

Although it can have the same effects as paid influencer marketing, it is essentially the opposite of this because it is voluntary and free. It is earned media rather than bought or owned. People crave authenticity in content today, and user-generated content delivers.

User-generated content is often instigated entirely by consumers. Of course, this means there are some things that you can’t control, and occasionally it can cause negative branding. That said, generally it is a cost-effective and efficient way for brands to increase trust and credibility in a brand.

It’s also important to remember that marketers and content creators can actively encourage collaboration, co-creation and storytelling through hashtags and other strategic initiatives. This helps steer the direction and attention to positive UGC that aligns with your brand (more on this later).

Statistics on user-generated content

There is lots of research into UGC online, so I have pulled together some interesting statistics on the topic:

  • 92% of consumers trust online content from peers more than any other form of brand messaging

  • Consumers find UGC 9.8x more impactful than influencer content when making a purchasing decision

  • 70% of consumers trust online peer reviews and recommendations more than professional content and copy

  • 45% of people will unfollow a brand if they do too much self-promotion

  • 52% of marketing professionals believe that content created by customers can help humanise their marketing

As you can see, user-generated content is definitely something that is worth investing in.

Why is UGC so important and effective in higher ed?

Higher education is a key industry that is ripe for user-generated content. Finding ways to allow your audience to become a part of the conversation is one of the most powerful and successful forms of marketing for student recruitment in universities today. Here are some ways it is effective:

Builds authenticity with Millennials and Generation Z  

Millennials and Gen Z are of course a key audience for higher education. Because they are ‘digital natives’ they are active on social media, and are a group that account for some of the world’s biggest spending power in 2020.

Yet they are two of the most challenging generations for marketers. Tired and worn out by professionally created content, students and young people value authenticity and are naturally skeptical about traditional advertising.

So user-generated content is a great way for universities to be more human-centered and engage better with key audiences. In fact:

Real student stories

Every university provides a unique student experience. And sharing this creatively through student stories can set you apart from competitors. Authentic user-generated content allows universities to tell stories that would be hard – or even impossible – for a marketing team to produce.

Only 4% of people trust paid and celebrity influencers online. But through user-generated content, you are getting organic stories. Over time, people can become  “micro-influencers” and brand ambassadors. And it doesn’t cost you a thing!

Two-way conversations and community building

Not only does UGC open up communication lines between universities and students, but it also encourages student-to-student communication. It enables you to build a community and emphasise co-creation. All of this encourages sharing on social media, positive word of mouth and social proof to attract future students.

Social listening opportunities

The content generated by young people, students and prospective students online is a valuable resource for understanding your audience’s motives and pain points. This is where ‘social listening’ comes in.

You should be monitoring your social media channels frequently. There might be questions about the university process, direct mentions of your brand, or certain keywords people are using. Dig into the data and use it to inform your content strategy.

How universities can integrate user-generated content into their marketing plan (and some examples)

Higher ed marketers are leveraging user-generated content to attract prospective students and to create enthusiasm and excitement around the college for current students and alumni.

Unique perspectives and storytelling are key when creating user-generated content. So tap into this, get some student and alumni ambassadors for your website and social media, and create a living brand for your university or college.

You want to think about different channels — like Instagram, Snapchat etc — and which are right for your institution. Where do students hang out? You should also find potential events and themes to share content about, and generate hashtags to get people involved. Also, provide guidelines and a style guide to keep people on-brand.

Based on what we’ve covered up until this point, I’ll now go through four examples of user-generated content approaches used by different universities. You can use these for inspiration when adding UGC to your own content marketing strategy:

1. Newcastle University

Student blog page on the Newcastle University website.

Newcastle University has an excellent microsite for a student blog, called ‘On Course to NCL’ designed to help prospective students plan their journey to university and navigate student life. Sections include things like applying, accommodation,  social life and graduating.

Newcastle also has user-generated content posted on Unibuddy, an app connecting current and prospective students. Unibuddy spoke to the marketing team at Newcastle, who reported great results with user-generated content.

Valentina Terrinoni, Marketing and Student Recruitment Officer, said: “We really wanted relevant information we can use to support prospective students from shortlisting to making their final choice.”

The blog posts received 12,000 unique views and also high conversion from reading a blog to starting a chat. After viewing the blogs page, students were 3x more likely to start a Unibuddy chat than those who hadn’t viewed the blogs page.

2. Imperial College London

Instagram profile for Imperial College London.

Instagram is arguably one of the biggest platforms for student-generated content. Imperial College London's Instagram page posts to over 75K followers daily, using the hashtag #OurImperial to encourage students to post and create content around their experiences. The example below shows a video of a students talking about her experience:

Example of an Instagram post from Imperial College London. The post is a video from an international student talking about scientific research.

During the coronavirus pandemic, building and maintaining a strong remote sense of commumity and shared culture is extra important. We can see from the image below that Imperial College London have done just that with episodes of "The Corona Diaries" from students:

Example of an Instagram post from Imperial College London. This post is a Corona diary episode by a student.


3. University of Northampton

The University of Northampton have taken advantage of the rise in student-generated content, by having an annual 'Student Takeover' period on their social media channels.

Students are selected from the Marketing degree courses to have the opportunity to practice their social media marketing skills, and gain feedback from the university marketing team.

This is a great way to empower students and get their voices heard. We can see this in action on their Instagram page which makes use of hashtags:

An instagram post from the University of Northampton which shows a photo of a group of students.
An Instagram post from the University of Northampton which shows a video of a student as part pf the student takeover project at the marketing department.



4. University of Melbourne

The University of Melbourne have made use of hashtags to encourage students to post photos about university life, which they can then repost to the university's social media account. This is a great way of increasing engagement.

The Instagram profile for the University of Melbourne.


We can see they also have 'Student Profile' videos from students on different courses to attract prospective students, which are then used to promote open days.

An Instagram post by a medical student at the University of Melbourne.

UGC is a key part of the future of content marketing in higher ed

User-generated content is here to stay, and is definitely something institutions need to be integrating into their content marketing strategy. User-generated content is great because it:

  • Gives your current students a voice and a platform to be heard.
  • Increases your exposure online and builds your institution's SEO rankings and credibility.
  • Means your brand becomes more trustworthy. Students listen to other students.
  • Is unique and cannot be replicated by competing institutions.

Students and young people enjoy creating it, and being involved, and it's free advertising for universities. Win-Win.

How GatherContent can help you create and manage user-generated content

To find out how GatherContent can help you create, manage and collaborate on content, check out our higher education industry page. Embed style guides into the editing environment, to make it easy for students and contributors to follow guidelines, and discuss projects all in one place.

If you've enjoyed this article, you might want to sign up to our higher education weekly newsletter especially for higher education too! 🗞️

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About the author

Paige Toomes

Paige is an English Literature and Media graduate from Newcastle University, and over the last three years has built up a career in SEO-driven copywriting for tech companies. She has written for Microsoft, Symantec and LinkedIn, as well as other SaaS companies and IT consulting firms. With an audience-focused approach to content, Paige handles the lifecycle from creation through to measurement, supporting businesses with their content operations.

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