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Reasons to Use User-Generated Content Instead of Stock Photos


Let’s face it, stock photography is boring.

As consumers become inundated with marketing content, they increasingly resist anything that looks and feels inauthentic, which unfortunately describes much of traditional marketing and advertising. In fact, 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional marketing and 92% of consumers trust user-generated content more than advertising.

Although there has been a growing resistance to traditional advertising, audiences are still willing to engage with brands that deliver a positive experience.

Satisfied customers are increasingly taking to social media to write, talk or post about products and brand experiences they love, and those social engagements are key for marketers. In fact, 66% of users rely heavily on such content when making a purchasing decision, according to a recent study, and 65% trust online word-of-mouth more than traditional advertising.

Even as the resistance to traditional marketing is growing, so is the availability of authentic and unfiltered content, including images, from social media. And that presents an opportunity.

Here are six reasons why it’s time to ditch stock photos in exchange for user-generated content.

1. We can’t all look like models

It’s hard to get a sense of a real-life product or experience when images of those products and experiences are too good to be true. After all, you can’t really picture yourself in a new piece of clothing if every image of that outfit features someone who looks nothing like you.

Consumers know that models can look good in just about anything, which is why it’s important to demonstrate how that same item looks on a range of body sizes, styles, ages, ethnicities, and shapes. Unfortunately, traditional marketing doesn’t easily lend itself to that sort of variety, but user-generated content does.

2. People are creating better imagery

The quality of user-generated content has increased significantly in recent years, with regular people now able to take brand-worthy photos. Part of the reason for the improvement is the gradually increasing quality of smartphone cameras, which now use sophisticated software to help users get the perfect shot every time.

Apple has built an entire campaign around images that are “shot on an iPhone” to demonstrate the shrinking margin between professional photography equipment and those pocket-sized devices.

Furthermore, those with even a casual interest in improving their photography skills have a wide range of affordable or even free resources to help them up their game. Local educational programs, online platforms like Skillshare and Masterclass, and video tutorials are spreading best-practices around and enabling more amateurs to capture higher-quality content.

3. The numbers don’t lie

Brands in various industries achieve success with user-generated content every day, and sometimes the numbers are truly staggering. Upon replacing its Facebook advertisements with videos stitched together from user-generated content, for example, Visit Indy’s clickthrough rates increased three-fold.

We’ve seen similar results across other channels—from websites to microsites to display ads—increase engagement, reduce bounce rates, and improve recall.

4. User-generated content lets you turn up the volume

Though stock photography libraries can seem infinite, those who have spent time digging through them for the perfect shot know that it can be painfully difficult to find exactly what they’re looking for—especially if they’re looking for something that looks authentic.

By contrast, user-generated content offers an even greater and constantly expanding pool of content to choose from. Furthermore, it’s a lot easier to find real people demonstrating real emotions—like joy, fear, surprise—on social media than it is to find models and actors with the chops to nail those expressions in a stock photography pool.

That additional volume also helps marketers cover more territory. For example, even a large brand like Patagonia could never purchase stock photography that captures all the use cases of its products in an authentic, unstaged way. With user-generated content, however, it’s able to collect images and videos from far and wide, with a volume and perspective unmatched by anything stock photography libraries can offer.

5. People will help spread the word about your brand when you feature their content

Marketing is all about spreading the word, and user-generated content often adds one more authentic voice to the conversation; the creator’s. People whose work is used don’t merely provide high-quality content for free; after being invited to take part in a campaign, they tend to also often become its biggest cheerleader. Featuring someone’s content encourages its creator to spread the word on his or her own networks. We see it as “Word of Mouth 2.0,” powered by social media.

6. It’s never been easier

Many marketers know that audiences respond better to user-generated content, yet many are intimidated by the task of sourcing images—for example, securing rights to use them, and tagging or cataloging all the shots they collect.

Fortunately, however, tools are available that make it easier than ever to source, secure, and store engaging, authentic, vibrant images from everyday consumers who are active on social media. Marketers can search for the specific content needed (going beyond hashtags and locations), and the process of securing rights to use that content is streamlined.

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User-generated content has never been more accessible, effective or of higher quality than it is today. So why would anyone continue using stock images?

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