In our current content-driven mindset of daily blog posts, videos, guides, ebooks, and micro-content, it’s extremely challenging for companies and brands to keep up with the racing demand.
Simply creating enough stuff can suck up an entire marketing budget, with writing, designing, and engaging with feedback being notoriously time-heavy activities.
User Generated Content, or UGC, is an unlikely saviour to the challenges of content marketing.
This article looks at the advantages and disadvantages of giving your customers the wheel.
It’s content generated by users. This much is obvious.
But we’re not talking about things like a customer service agent working a Twitter thread. UGC is about enticing your customers to generate new content that can be consumed by others while simultaneously promoting your brand.
This can manifest itself lots of different ways, but it’s usually either a competition or a review process.
There are dozens of advantages of UGC campaigns. If you’re running a creative competition, with photos or submissions of some sort, you create a huge bank of content for your users to browse.
Content that would be extremely expensive to create otherwise, would be impossible to create in that volume, and likely wouldn’t have the same incredible diversity for the simple reason that no company has a graphic design staff in the same numbers that they have customers.
For example, Starbucks ran their White Cup Contest in 2014, where they distributed white cups and people drew on them, submitting their designs.
The winning design was printed on a limited edition reusable cup.
They received nearly 4,000 entries in just three weeks – far more than any creative team could hope to produce in that period.
But aside from the actual content, there’s brand engagement and positivity, both of which are tremendously valuable.
The second core advantage is that UGC is far more trusted than anything a brand can write itself. This applies less to one-off competitions and more to persistent reviews and recommendations – like TripAdvisor.
They work hard via email campaigns and gamification techniques to get people to review their hotels and activities (be honest now – how badly do you want to be a Senior Reviewer?)
Just think how much stock you put in a positive TripAdvisor review compared to whatever sales copy you read on a hotel website. Probably a lot.
It’s the same reason why companies put testimonials on their landing pages – UGC reassures future buyers like no other content can.
We’d be loath to not point out some of the downsides to UGC. And there are downsides.
Namely, the lack of control. When you provide a platform for your users to produce on, you have to be ready to take the good with the bad.
In general, this isn’t as much of a concern as most brands think – but UGC can go terribly wrong.
For example: hashtag hijacking.
McDonald’s was subject to this when they started the hashtag #McDStories. Instead of the outpouring of sentimental warm nostalgia that they wanted, McD's received an outpouring of negative sentiments from their customers, which in hindsight could have been anticipated.
To make matters worse, the story was picked up by numerous outlets, and the negative messages were amplified to an even larger audience.
The point is that if you’re going to open the floor for user generated content, you had better be prepared to respond to some negative press. But for the most part, this can be mitigated by priming people to be positive rather than negative. #McDStories was the perfect opportunity to share a terrible tale of McDonald’s consumption.
Another way to handle poor UGC (especially reviews) is to respond to them in kind.
For example, if you’re a hotel and someone reports that your room service was terrible, addressing this publicly with a solution (and then actually doing that) will mitigate the damage done by the review, and demonstrate responsible and attentive management, two things that are superb for brand value.
Basically, UGC can create big problems. But with proper execution and (more importantly) attentive management, the vast majority of UGC is going to praise rather than defame your brand.
To sum up:
- UGC can be used to drive engagement and create a huge amount of awesome content in a short space of time.
- It’s generally trusted and is content that consumers want to actually consume (more than anything you or your marketing team can create).
- UGC adds value for those who are consuming, in addition to those actively creating.
- With careful planning and attentive and engaged management, potential disadvantages can be easily mitigated.