Give the Creators Some Credit
This week I stumbled on a TikTok video that identified a major tension in the marketing industry, and once I saw it, I started to see the same same thing popping up everywhere I looked.
The video has a massive headline that read “UGC Scam” and tells the story of how an agency offered creator Anthony Gugliotta $200 for a product video to be used in their ads. Over the course of three videos, Anthony goes on to describe the amount of time and resources that go into a single piece of content, and how $200 should never be accepted by any self-respecting creator — and he’s right, of course.
@blameanthony Replying to @itssamueltan How much should you charge for UGC content creation. Here’s a basic breakdown of hours that would go into a single piece of video content, and how you can start to understand what to charge. @Anthony Gugliotta To clarify, I don’t endorse charging by the hour, there are a lot of other factors to account for including your experience and personal brand value. I’m simply breaking it down at a base level to explain how $200 is a gross underestimate of what you’re worth as a creator. This video is just a BASE fee and does not include usage rights, whitelisting, blacklisting, providing video files etc. If you are a creator looking to monetize, or understand your value, consider signing up for one of my mentorship sessions. #UGCcreator #workwithbrands #brandcollabhelp #influencermanager #contentcreator #UGC #influencer101 #videocreator ♬ original sound – Anthony Gugliotta
At the same time, his use of the term UGC in the title caught my attention, because what he’s describing is very different from what comes to mind when I think of User-Generated Content. The more I dug into why that is, and the difference between our definitions, the more I came to realize how much we can learn from that single point of tension.
Let’s start with the classic definition of UGC: In the early days of the Internet, marketers identified a phenomenon where posts about their product or service would magically appear online, created without any prompting from the brand itself. We needed a way to define those posts, and distinguish them from professionally created brand content, so someone (probably in a boardroom somewhere) came up with “UGC,” and it stuck – more or less unchanged to this day.
Once we defined the phenomenon, we were able to create magical moments like the one where a well-timed steak delivery resulted in millions of dollars of free earned media for a restaurant, and where Doritos literally outsourced it’s Super Bowl ad to an Internet full of creative people eager to contribute, and the resulting videos got more attention than the game itself.
Today, UGC shows up everywhere: It’s on stadium scoreboards when the home team grabs fans’ posts to show how people are celebrating the game; It’s how companies gather feedback about their products when they see real people’s impressions of what they’ve created; and it’s an opportunity for a brand to say thank you, to make a connection with a real human who has shown a bit of love.
At the same time, there is a whole new type of content created by a generation of people who are filming, posting, editing, and sharing, who were never in those early boardrooms.
This new group of creators grew up with a fully-formed Internet, complete with social media, branded content, and sponsored posts. They learned to shoot, edit, and share in new and creative ways that the older generation — those who are in the boardrooms of today — now want to tap into. Those creators are capitalizing, as any good entrepreneur should, by packaging and selling their creativity.
They are taking briefs from agencies and brands alike and producing pieces that the companies can then use in their own channels and ad campaigns. The resulting posts look much different from your typically glossy brand shoot — they’re fun, funny, and often raw. They have a distinctively different vibe to them, and so, again, we needed to come up with a name that would define them. However, until this moment, we’ve just recycled the same old phrase, and the result is this tension between how the two generations define UGC.
The wonderful thing about language is that we get to make it up as we go, and so rather than shake our fists at the change that we see, all marketers will be better off understanding what’s going on, and how we can get on board. So here’s where we are today:
- Millions of talented independent creators have been posting and sharing, building both audiences and skills
- Brands are willing to pay for access to those audiences, and access to their skills, but not always both at the same time
- Because the practice is so new, it is poorly defined, which is bound to create misunderstanding, mistakes, and some people will try to take advantage
As I dug deeper into exactly what’s going on here, I found an article by Shannon Miller in AdWeek that helped to define the shift even further:
“…the creator economy is not interchangeable with influencer or affiliate marketing. Rather, it is an ecosystem that allows creators to make significant revenue through myriad tools and creative offerings, such as long-standing brand partnerships, sponsored content and tipping”
That made me think: Does this all just boil down to semantics? Would we all work together more effectively if we were better able to understand what each other is, and isn’t, talking about? Content expert Taylor Loren shared in a recent IG Reel that we “older marketers” need to embrace the changing definition and simply understand that UGC is no longer limited to public posts, but also refers to content that’s contracted from an independent creator. She’s 100% right (check out her video below for the full story), but does that mean that it’s a form of UGC when we hire an independent filmmaker to shoot a TV commercial? Or when a freelance writer crafts a blog post for our company?
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It seems to me that a more accurate phrase that respects the relationship between brands and the creator economy, while distinguishing those works from unsolicited social posts, is Creator-Generated Content, or CGC.
CGC elevates the role of the creator from being just another user to its unique role in the current marketing space, and it gives those creators a solid footing that they can use to negotiate and deal with their clients. CGC will also help marketers to distinguish for ourselves the continued importance of nurturing and appreciating the communities who post UGC, while leaning into the creative, collaborative opportunities to work with professional creators.
Now, will everyone (or anyone) take my advice and immediately add this new phrase to their marketing vocabulary? Of course not. We live and operate in a world that, for now, is going to continue to use UGC to refer to two very different things. So, when we recognize that there is a fundamental difference between enthusiastic posts from happy customers, and creative work that we contract from creators, we will become both partners to our communities, and more respectful buyers of creative work, all while opening up creative pathways that we may not have seen otherwise.