Storytellers and creators (and brands) use all kinds of tricks of the trade to make videos and films that don’t just hold viewers’ attention; they captivate them and keep them on the edge of their seats. One of the current ways that creators do this is by making authentic stories that incite a powerful reaction from the viewer. And what’s more authentic than something that feels real, shot in the moment, and completely unscripted? I’m talking, of course, about UGC or User Generated (Video) Content.
First Off, What is User-Generated Video Content?*
UGC can take many forms, but let’s narrow it down to how it works in video production. In a nutshell, UGC is (typically) something that someone other than the person telling the story creates. The storyteller, who could be a brand, filmmaker, YouTuber, etc., then uses this content to elicit a more organic and emotional response from the audience. Think of Squarespace getting vloggers (and pretty much every creator ever) to talk about Squarespace in their videos.
UGC is usually shot handheld with a mobile device, action camera, DSLR, or another non-cinematic camera. It’s intentionally less “polished” and has a more raw feel. It’s also usually unscripted, but it can be “staged.” Lastly, it is often for “editorial use only,” although that is a whole different topic. Read more about editorial usage here.
*Technically speaking, nearly everything on Pond5 and other stock marketplaces is “UGC” since it’s all created and submitted by the users. For the sake of this blog, however, we’re referring more to the style and subject matter. See our User Generated Content Shoot Brief for more information on creating this type of content to sell on Pond5.
Secondly, Why Use UGC?
All the previously mentioned points define why UGC is vital for creators who want to give their projects a natural look and feel. Modern audiences value authenticity and UGC delivers in spades. It can also be less expensive and easier to make and use, both from a production and post-production standpoint. Instead of paying a crew to go out and shoot footage, you can source content from the users that’s “ready-to-go.” And instead of getting a giant, heavy cinema camera with a dolly or jib, matte boxes, etc., you can just put a GoPro or smartphone on a selfie stick and be just as effective.
Thirdly, Is UGC “Low-Quality”?
The answer here is “not necessarily.” While UGC can be low-quality, improvised, and handheld, that doesn’t mean it is all of those things. Sometimes it’s footage of a protest or a viral video that was truly a one-time experience, and sometimes it’s a full production with lights and tripods, and the seemingly impromptu shot is staged.
Since the project, the audience, the publishing/social media platform, and the person or company making the video vary wildly, all production levels have different ways they can use UGC footage for maximum impact. Now let’s go over some of these ways!
Telling nonfiction stories
The most natural use for UGC footage is in nonfiction stories. If you’re a news organization, make videos about current or past historical events, run political campaigns, or create documentary films, UGC can be invaluable for your project. There’s no better way to talk about news events or politics than with footage from the actual event.
The authenticity and raw power inherent to these shots add a ton of drama and overall emotion that doesn’t typically come across with traditional, “staged” stock shots.
People Running Away In Chaos From Riots With Fire And Police Water Cannon by The4KGuy.
The caveat is that “staged” stock shots can also be highly beneficial. They’re usually cleared for commercial use and can require less work in post-production. Some even do a great job of getting the same look and feel as a “true” UGC shot and even find creative ways to film during an actual protest or other “live” event.
Man Shouting Into A Megaphone. Afro Black Rebel Strike Protest by sibway.
While this is certainly very similar to our Citizen Journalism section below, nonfiction isn’t specific to the news. True Crime documentaries, for example, can pull in some UGC footage to give more context to a story. These shots include CCTV/security cameras, doorbell cameras, dashcams, and even home movies.
Recently Emerged Cctv Footage Shows Moment 7.5-Magnitude Earthquake Hits by Newsflare.
These types of UGC work together to put viewers in a time, a place and immerse the audience deeper into a story. And just to really emphasize the idea that UGC can indeed be staged but feel real, look no further than the utterly brilliant season 1* of Netfix’s American Vandal (warning: adult content).
*American Vandal is fiction, but it gets the point across
Giving brands a personal touch
Authenticity resonates with viewers, whether brands like it or not. For instance, Ocean Spray can pay filmmakers all it wants to create the most epic, funny, or well-made commercial of all time. Still, it’s nothing compared to the impact of a mega-viral video of a guy drinking it on a skateboard, listening to Fleetwood Mac
Now, this video above isn’t something Ocean Spray could have ever created in a meeting room or that they could have known would blow up the internet. And neither is this the first time a social media post has blown up a brand.
The point is brands can utilize UGC to put a face and a real human story behind their messaging (Ocean Spray capitalized on it and partnered with the guy for a bit). Think about this video and how an insurance company could use it to tell a serious story of how they helped support the homeowner after this disaster:
The other huge benefits are the practical aspects of using the footage. It’s far cheaper than hiring a crew, creating elaborate sets, hiring animal wranglers, etc. These clips are also already viral, meaning brands can almost guarantee success with their message simply based on that fact. The Pond5 marketplace is full of viral footage by our partners, making it easier than ever to capitalize on UGC footage.
Using Citizen Journalism content to get a first-person view
We’ve gone into a lot of detail in this blog, specifically about Citizen Journalism content. Therefore we won’t dive into too much detail here. But the overall gist is that having a “boots-on-the-ground,” eye-witness, first-person view of the event or story can have an enormous impact on your videos.
There’s a lot of crossover between nonfiction storytelling and Citizen Journalism, as you can imagine. The power of this particular usage is that it is less of a “fly on the wall” and more “up close and personal” to the story. Watching significant events play out from rooftops or aerial footage can bring a completely different emotion than some CJ footage where the person holding the camera is a part of the shot.
Capitalizing on Nostalgia
UGC has many benefits and drawbacks, chiefly because the footage can instantly put a viewer into a specific setting. It could be the clothes of the people in the footage, the specific event’s date, or the image quality of the shot. These all signify a moment in time, which you can utilize to boost the nostalgia factor up to 11.
Take some home movies, add some era-appropriate music, and you will transport your audience to the past. The use case could be a commercial/advertisement by a company that’s been around for decades, showing its long history as a part of peoples’ lives. It could be a political ad catering to a specific generation of voters. It could also be a documentary about the history of a sport, like skateboarding.
1980S Men Skateboard Skating Skatepark Skateboarding Vintage Film Home Movie by DogPhonics.
Either way, the UGC you choose should aim for that sweet spot in the audience’s brain that hits them where their sentimental feelings live.
Injecting Pop Culture and Meme-ery For Entertainment Value
Nostalgia isn’t the only emotion that UGC footage can conjure. Our UGC collection is filled with hilarious videos perfect for projects with a funny and light-hearted approach to captivating viewers.
It’s hard even to create something funnier than a crab wielding a knife.
Shots like the Gangster Crab are impactful because they utilize the shared experience of pop culture and memes by everyone worldwide. The goal is to get people to lock on to the visuals or stop scrolling when they see something that catches their eye. Silly, funny, cute, and otherwise highly entertaining content makes it easier for them to do that when viewing these kinds of videos.
You could imagine how a seafood market could use the crab clip. Picture an ad campaign where the caption is something like “Eat Better Seafood” or “Our Seafood Never Goes Bad.”
Social media is a perfect place for this type of funny, infinitely shareable footage. It was likely shot on a smartphone already, so it has the right look. It’s also from a Viral Video aggregator partner and has proven successful. The UGC footage’s success can then be your success!
And if you can find some way to incorporate Steven Segal into your project, please do it, and share it with us.
Filling a Screen
All the other tips have been about how UGC fits in with telling a story from a conceptual perspective. This one is more practical; UGC can be the shot that’s used in place of a green screen on a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
The UGC is what they watch in films and other videos where characters look at or watch a screen. For instance, the characters are talking about a viral video, or a hacker character taps into a “live feed” of security cameras. You can pop in some UGC to sell the story and give it more authenticity. This technique is especially powerful if the story revolves around actual events.
An important factor when using UGC footage is whether or not the license covers your usage. Most of what’s considered UGC footage is for “Editorial Use Only.” Your usage can only be for educational, news, or other non-commercial applications.
However, if appropriately licensed, editorial UGC video clips can be used in commercial projects. We can help you get editorial clips cleared for commercial productions based on your specific needs. To discuss customizable options like clearances and indemnity, contact a Pond5 Creative Partner by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.