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The Ethics of UGC: Guiding Brands through User-Generated Content Challenges_Giraffe Social_Blog

The Ethics of UGC: Guiding Brands through User-Generated Content Challenges

Best Practices for Ethical UGC
  1. Use creators who are engaged with the brand
  2. Focus on experiential content
  3. Encourage creative freedom
  4. Create compensation contracts
  5. Be transparent

User-generated content (UGC) is a dynamic force shaping the landscape of online marketing and branding, engaging audiences in a way that traditional advertising cannot match. The discussion below delves into the ethics of UGC, highlighting its value and the ethical conundrums it presents to the brand, the creator, and the audience.

Understanding the Value and Impact of UGC

UGC works because it’s authentic and relatable, as evidenced by a Stackla report stating it is 8.7 times more impactful than influencer content and 6.6 times more influential than branded content.

It’s not just the brands that recognise this value; nearly 79% of consumers find UGC highly impactful on their purchasing decisions (Social media today).

Ethical Challenges in UGC

With the rise of the creator economy, the lines between genuine consumer-generated content and sponsored content are becoming increasingly blurred. As brands look to content creators to replicate content that depicts authenticity, it begs the question of what can users really trust and how can brands ensure their reputation remains intact.


Authenticity is the main driver for brands using UGC in their marketing, as it’s typically seen as an unbiased and genuine portrayal of a user’s experience or opinion. However, when creators are being paid to produce content dictated by the brand, this authenticity can be compromised.


Influencer marketing is powerful because the audience assigns credibility to the content based on trust that the creator’s values align with their own. According to a Bazaarvoice survey, over 50% of Gen Z and millennials trust the advice and recommendations from content creators. However, with user-generated content, it’s hard to tell whether the creator’s opinions are genuine.


When your customers post about your brand online without being incentivised, a simple ‘thank you’ might be enough to appreciate their effort. However, when using creators to produce content that benefits your brand beyond testimonials and requires considerable effort, there are significant challenges for creators in terms of inconsistent pay and inequality gaps due to the lack of regulations in the industry.

Best Practices for Ethical UGC

Navigating the ethical landscape of UGC is about balancing the interests and rights of creators with the marketing goals of brands, all while maintaining the trust and engagement of the audience. Here are our best practices for overcoming the ethical challenges of user-generated content.

Use creators who are engaged with the brand

Engaging with creators who are already fans or active users of your brand can yield more authentic and passionate content. These individuals naturally resonate with the brand’s values and are likely to create content that genuinely reflects their positive experiences. This approach also helps in building a community around the brand, fostering loyalty and trust.

Focus on experiential content

Encouraging content that captures first impressions, organic reactions, and experiments can be highly effective. Such content often comes across as more relatable and trustworthy, showcasing real experiences with the brand or product. This type of UGC can provide valuable insights to potential customers, offering a transparent view of what it’s like to interact with the brand or use its products.

Encourage creative freedom

Allowing creators to retain a degree of creative control is vital for maintaining the authenticity of UGC. Provide guidelines to ensure brand alignment but avoid overly restrictive briefs that stifle creativity. This creative freedom not only results in more genuine content but also encourages creators to produce work that feels authentic to them as individual consumers.

Create compensation contracts

Establishing clear, fair, and transparent compensation agreements with creators is crucial. These contracts should detail the terms of compensation, whether monetary or in-kind (such as products or exposure). They should also clarify the extent of the brand’s usage rights to the content. This transparency ensures that both parties understand and agree to the terms, avoiding potential threats to brand reputation.

Be transparent

If the content is sponsored or if the creator has received any form of compensation or incentive from the brand this should be openly disclosed. This approach not only adheres to ethical standards but also aligns with many regions’ legal requirements for disclosure in advertising.

how can a social media agency help?

  • Develop an effective social media marketing strategy for your brand, including user-generated content.
  • Source the right content creators and cultivate relationships for long-lasting partnerships.
  • Oversee content creation and manage deadlines, to ensure brand alignment and content authenticity.
  • Manage contracts and negotiate fees to get the best value for your brand and ensure adherence to advertising guidelines.
  • Manage your social media community, ensuring community engagement and a positive brand reputation.

In conclusion

Ultimately, the ethical use of UGC is not just about adhering to guidelines or avoiding legal pitfalls; it’s about building and sustaining trust. In an era where consumers are increasingly savvy and discerning, trust is the currency that drives engagement, loyalty, and advocacy. Brands that successfully harness the power of UGC in an ethical and respectful manner are likely to reap long-term benefits, forging stronger connections with their audiences and standing out in a crowded digital world. If you need help navigating the world of UGC, reach out and let’s discuss what we can do for you!