Comparing Influencer Marketing to User-Generated Content

Michael Hoffman
July 13, 2021

Associations all around the country need to build, maintain, and sustain intense marketing campaigns. New members must come in to replace those who drop away. And with growth comes more power and more influence.

Traditional marketing campaigns involve things like newspapers, magazines, billboards, and television ads. Newer methods involve influencer marketing and user-generated content.

Which methods should you pick?

We’ll define what the new models mean so you can stay up-to-date on marketing techniques. Then, we’ll explain why those newer models could be a better choice for your next trade association marketing campaign.

What Is Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing involves building a relationship between a brand, an online personality, and that person’s digital audience. The content created is shared on social media and often nowhere else.

A typical influencer marketing campaign is built with these steps:

  • Determine your campaign’s message. What kernel of your work as a trade association do you want to promote? You could focus on educational opportunities, networking, or lobbying. Pick just one theme to guide the work.
  • Identify an ideal audience. Who should see your messages? Are you speaking to students hoping to enter your job sector? Or are you hoping to reach prominent, affluent people within your field?
  • Target an influencer. Search for someone who speaks to the audience you hope to reach. Finding the right audience fit is sometimes more important than finding someone with thousands or millions of followers.
  • Share your vision. Your influencer creates all the content for your campaign. But you can offer advice or input on the script, the props, the setup, and more.
  • Develop a payment schedule. Influencers are almost always paid for their time. They typically set their fees, but you may have room to negotiate if you can offer something important (like extended reach) in return.
  • Amplify the message. Influencers share campaigns on their own social media channels. But you can find them and share them too.  

Some trade associations have natural influencers within them. For example, cosmetics-based trade associations can reach out to makeup artists or beauticians. Carpenter associations can tap celebrity home builders. Restaurant trade associations can highlight their celebrity bakers and chefs. The list goes on.

What Is User-Generated Content?
Anything created by a user, not a member of your marketing team, can be defined as user-generated content. That means social media comments, product reviews, and even likes on your social posts are technically part of the user-generated content (UGC) realm.

But when we’re talking about trade association marketing campaigns and UGC, we’re typically discussing a few very specific types of assets, such as:

  • Event reviews. People discuss why they went to an event held by your organization, and they explain what they got out of the experience.
  • Membership benefits explanations. A person deeply involved with your organization describes why it’s beneficial and how it helps them succeed in a complex marketplace.
  • Educational promotions. Teachers within your organization highlight the concepts they’ll cover in the classes they hold for you.

Many forms of user-generated content aren’t designed to drive sales. The specific campaigns outlined above are different.

They are made to differentiate your trade association from the rest. Your members help you make the case.

Influencer vs. UGC: Which Is Best?
Outsiders might be able to explain your trade association’s benefits better than you can. But clearly, there are deep differences between UGC and influencer marketing.

Your goals, your members, and your audience should drive your format decision. But as you ponder your choices, focus on:

  • Speakers. Do you have an influencer in your sphere of influence who can reach people you can’t?
  • Audience. Can you reach potential members organically, or do you need help from an outsider to make a connection?
  • Budget. Can you afford to hire an influencer, or is it best to keep your costs as low as possible?
  • Messaging. Can you trust someone else to share your key benefits? Or do you need tight control over the script?

In general, trade associations with a low budget and a high need for control do best with user-generated content campaigns. So do trade associations that don’t have a natural influencer fit.

But if you do have an influencer who speaks to a group you can’t reach, and your budget allows for a connection, it could be a good option to explore.

Remember, you can always combine strategies for the most impact. Choosing one shouldn’t eliminate your ability to use the other if it seems worthwhile to you.

Michael Hoffman is the CEO of Gather Voices and an expert in the use of video in marketing and digital engagement. He teaches marketing at the University of Chicago and is a long-time consultant to business leaders on constituent engagement strategies. In 2017, Hoffman founded Gather Voices to revolutionize how organizations create and use video. Gather Voices’ Video Relationship Management (VRM) software solution enables associations to leverage the power of video to achieve revenue-based outcomes, like new member acquisition, membership renewal, and event attendance.