What gets better engagement on Instagram: user-generated or brand-generated content?

Among all social media platforms, Instagram is the leader in audience engagement for brands. We wanted to explore two different types of posts: user-generated content (UGC — essentially, earned media created by consumers and re-purposed by the brand) and brand-created content. Which type gets more engagement?

We examined ten brands, each with millions of Instagram followers. We tallied the overall amount of likes and comments on both types of posts and looked at whether or not user-generated content created any noticeable lift. Here’s what we found:

The mixed results show that using UGC itself does not necessarily boost your engagement — but if done well, it can lead to dramatic increases.

Louboutin, a luxury footwear brand known for its signature red sole, had an astonishing 26% increase in engagement with UGC, translating to almost 20K more likes and comments (on average) than BGC.

This is a great example of a user-generated post that Louboutin found and reposted. UGC is most effective when the visual content is coherent with the brand’s image. The simple contrast of the red sole against the white wedding dress and tuxedo conveys a strong image of luxury and status.

Brands like Sephora, however, see better engagement from branded content than UGC. Branded content is often professionally photographed.

In this branded post, Sephora introduces a new eye shadow palette with a professional high-quality photo of only the product. The audience engagement in this photo far exceeds a user-generated post that might have a picture of a customer wearing a shade from the new eyeshadow palette. Customers that follow Sephora want to see professional photos of new products than, perhaps, amateur makeup tips.

Whether the brand decides to post a user-generated post or a branded post, the trumping factor is that the content should be synonymous with the brand’s image in order to increase overall engagement.