As the social media landscape evolves, plenty of brands and creators are lamenting the state (and potential future) of the influencer economy. But as traditional influencer campaigns reel (pun intended), user-generated content (UGC) may be stepping in to fill the void — and create a whole new revenue opportunity for content creators.
At least that's what tech company Catch+Release is banking on. The company, which has existed in various iterations since 2015, is angling itself as a hub that connects brands with UGC and is building a search engine for user-generated content. Catch+Release is going all-in on the space and has so far helped creators bring in $20 million in licensing fees to date, according to TechCrunch.
So what's the big deal about UGC, how is it different from influencer campaigns, and why do companies like Catch+Release see such a big opportunity for it?
So What Exactly Is User-Generated Content and How Is It Different From Influencer Campaigns?
In broad terms, user-generated content is just about any original content posted to social media platforms. But when we talk about it specifically as a revenue stream for creators and a marketing tactic for brands, we're talking about content that aligns with a brand, product, or company messaging. This can be content made specifically for the brand, or just content that happens to fit the brand and may be used by the company after its intended purpose as a piece of original content.
So how is this different from paid influencer campaigns? Well, for starters, influencer campaigns rely on an influencer bringing awareness around a product or service to their existing audience. In most cases, companies are paying for an influencer to give their stamp of approval to a product in front of an audience that trusts them. Companies are buying eyeballs and trust with influencer campaigns.
This, of course, has mixed and often difficult-to-measure results.
UGC, on the other hand, is more about the content itself than the person posting it. In many cases, when a brand enlists a creator for a piece of UGC, they'll end up posting it on their own brand channels. It's less about borrowing influence and more about generating a sense of authenticity. The content may not even be directly about selling. It might just feel like something that makes the brand stand out in a positive way to viewers.
There are plenty of creators who make user-generated content for companies where they'll never be in the content. Or maybe they'll use their animals for a cute twist. A lot of UGC creators who make good side hustle money (or even a full-time income) keep an otherwise low profile on these platforms.
What Does Catch+Release Do, Then?
Catch+Release helps brands discover existing user-generated content and UGC creators. It then helps those creators earn money by licensing their content for use by brands and companies.
The company also helps brands secure licenses for content that they see and want to use. According to company founder Analisa Goodin, "A creator could get paid anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000 for working with a big brand, or as low as $100 or $200 for licensing their content to a small brand."
A company using Catch+Release will paste URLs of content they like and want to use. Then, the platform will do a sort of "safety check" on the content to issue it a licensability score. This check includes things like looking for other company logos, determining how many people are in the content and where they are, and whether the subject matter of the content is suitable for most audiences. Catch+Release will approach the creator with a licensing offer on behalf of the brand.
But the company also routinely reaches out to existing UGC creators to plug their social media handles into the platform and become more searchable without any human interaction. At the end of the day, it's all about creating opportunity for more content creators and reducing legal risk for brands who want a more organic and authentic approach to their social media marketing.
Catch+Release's current big push is creating a search engine that helps marketers find the perfect content for their campaigns. For instance, if a user-friendly insurance company wants content about, say, "funny renters insurance horror stories," they can't just search for that in Instagram and come up with a viable list of content. Catch+Release wants to change that.
Is User-Generated Content Really The Next Big Thing In Monetized Social Media?
Look, influencer campaigns aren't dead. But the days of unbridled spending on influencer campaigns certainly are. Brands want to know exactly what they're getting for their money, and most influencers just don't have the ability to ensure their content will hit the right people.
Sure, some platforms are much better for influencer campaigns than others. YouTube is still a very viable place for companies to enlist creators and influencers to promote their products. It's a lot easier to do it naturally in a longer piece of content. But the idea that a creator with millions of followers on Instagram can charge tens of thousands of dollars for a few posts just doesn't fly with most companies now. We're going to see those campaigns pared back a lot.
However, UGC provides companies with content without also having to account for unknowable factors, like whether or not an influencer's audience is even real. Of course, the UGC itself still doesn't necessarily have an audience the way an influencer might. But in many cases, brands and companies are just looking for content that looks and feels authentic and provides value to their existing audience.
We're going to see more creators talk about the benefits of UGC, especially because it's a revenue stream that doesn't also require you to develop a following. You just need to be timely, good with a camera phone, personable, and able to take feedback. Or if you're plugged in with a company like Catch+Release, you just need to be willing to post a lot and be open to opportunities.
Whether or not user-generated content reaches the fever pitch heights of influencer campaigns remains to be seen. But it's absolutely a viable route for creators and brands alike that will continue to grow in popularity.