The “so-called” UGC: an updated definition of user-generated content in the age of social media


When a concept is diffusely defined or, as this article argues, “taken for granted”, it becomes very difficult to track such concept on the literature and have some continuity as researchers build on top of previous results. This article proposes a definition for user-generated content, a term that though has lost some saliency, stands in the center or the social media phenomenon, so it should not be disregarded as an object of study.


Celebrating 20 years of the concept, this research performs a multidisciplinary literature review of 61 academic articles on UGC. Through deconstruction of the acronym UGC, it builds on the present converging, conflicting and diverging definitions and/or approaches to UGC on an attempt to consolidate a broader definition that encompasses the complexities of the phenomenon in a context of consolidation of social media, to be applied to social sciences.


Following the present analysis, UGC is defined as any kind of text, data or action performed by online digital systems users, published and disseminated by the same user through independent channels, that incur an expressive or communicative effect either on an individual manner or combined with other contributions from the same or other sources.


This is the first academic effort that aims to create an in-depth dialogue over the different approaches to UGC across disciplines on the social sciences field. It should help reignite interest in the acronym, which got somehow eclipsed by the broader field of social media; whilst without UGC, social media would not exist or would not have the same social impact it does in its current form. Analogously, UGC as a topic of research has been deeply affected by the emergence and consolidation of Social Media. As this debate evolves, this contribution should be helpful as a reference to operationalize UGC on future research.