User-Generated Content (UGC)

Ah! The feeling you get when you receive a purchase order (or more importantly the money in the bank) is really great isn’t it?!

During my time at Dell, we lived according to the sales targets we regularly forecasted for the day/week/month/quarter and every ‘win’ was a step further to success. To say it wasn’t always easy is an understatement; 10% +/- on target typically meant a review session with senior management and the pressures at the end of each quarter to make sure we maintained momentum became an internal roller coaster of highs and lows which even the thickest of skinned found tough at times.

Success for me in that role was typically measured by spreadsheets; clients were elevated if they spent well whereas others were re-allocated to different account managers if they didn’t. Some of you may have experienced this at some point and told a few of your peers and colleagues what you thought of the experience as a result. Don’t get me wrong, working within a ‘machine’ such as Dell taught me so much more than I imagined (good and bad) and luckily for my clients, they get the benefit of this experience. But one of the potential elements of success never played out as a priority unless there was a compelling monetary reason for paying attention to… what was needed was greater focus on client feedback amongst those who engaged them.

Clients absolutely ecstatic about their latest laptop but pained by the delivery process could find their feedback falling on deaf ears, particularly if the sales person had moved on to the next big deal. Not surprising with the mounting pressures imposed by the economy and head office but thank goodness for customer services team. Indeed, a quick scan to see customer reviews on any website would give you a plethora of information that could be used within a business development strategy, but for most, unless it’s stifling the sales, it probably won’t be deemed a priority until it’s too late.

Unless something dramatically goes wrong (remember the laptop battery recalls by major computer vendors in 2006?) or there’s a product/service that needs launching on a budget, customer feedback typically falls into the standard siloed departments and archived. As corporate enterprises and business organisations exploit the benefits of social media, PR and marketing departments are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits leveraging user-generated content (UGC) as a way to reduce R&D and create viral campaigns as part of their cost-saving strategies.

UGC can be a blessing as well as a curse, particularly if your business has suffered a negative backlash from the public (think BP’s oil disaster, Dave Carroll‘s YouTube tribute to United Airlines, or Nestle’s palm oil problem), and controlling it can be particularly difficult. The rate at which information spreads within a public domain is phenomenal and ‘shepherding’ it as part of a damage limitation exercise can be exhausting, particularly if those within the organisation charged with the responsibility have no previous experience or are unaware of what the potentials are.

In just five years, businesses have seen UGC transform itself from a mid curiosity to a fully-fledged business strategy. Unlike most advertising, readership can be measured and feedback is instant in low-cost formats. The web has given many a voice and a platform to be heard by an unlimited amount of people. Indeed, the YouTube video I mentioned above has been viewed by over eight million people, and now, more than ever, is it a sign that trust and transparency is critical when re-enforcing integrity within your brand.

Examples of positive UGC include:

  • Nestle’s Milky Bar Kid campaign
  • The campaign where the public contributed to a musical video launching the Sony Walkman revival
  • Domino’s Pizza Four Square campaign
  • Kraft’s ‘Name Me’ competition for the iSnack 2.0/ CheesyBite (a spin-off from Vegemite)

Many of you reading this will already be all too aware of the power of UGC and it’s probably a safe bet to assume that you too have been part of it. There are thousands of websites out there that thrive on user generated content, most notable are Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, and of course, YouTube. The key to any strategy supporting UGC is about creating a sandpit for others to play in rather than create material for them to consume. Think The Sims or Second Life where the user has the freedom to create and build their own worlds and you’ll get my point. Not only that, video testimonials, word-of-mouth recommendations, and client quotes, all help to attract new business and re-enforce your sales pipeline. It may even increase the current spend some of your customers are already having with you. Should they be considering working closer with you, it may take the approval of another client to help make that final decision.

This is also where communities start and thrive, the exchange of information is what keeps it alive as long as there is value in the content. Any business looking to adopt any form of UGC must make this part of their overall communications strategy and realise that the key to it is ensuring that any information generated doesn’t fall on deaf ears. TripAdvisor is particularly good, and when I was looking up places to stay in New York, I found a very good example of a business keeping their finger on the UGC pulse. Another was from a few months back when I was pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of Champagne in my room at a hotel in Sussex I was staying at as a result of them spotting a Tweet I placed online about them… lucky for me they were keeping an eye out!

As will all business strategies, there are more serious implications that need to be considered including the legal practicalities of UGC. Laws regarding defamation, obscenity, and copyright all apply to UGC, though there are a few loop holes to help the ignorant, including claiming no knowledge that the material was on the site. However, once you have been informed, the best option that Advertising & Marketing law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse recommends is to take it down in accordance with your ‘take down’ policy which all UGC companies should draw up and implement.

If your company operates any level of UGC including blogs, elements of social networking, or you would like to invest some time improving your Web2.0 strategy then you may want to have a look at the following guides produced by

Legal risks of corporate blogging and user-generated content

Staff and their personal blogs

Moderation, liability, and terms of use

Tagging: the legal issues

An example of UGC terms and conditions can be found here on The Independent’s website.

The effective feedback loop that is created as a result of harnessing UGC makes for compelling reading as it helps to motivate sales people and customers alike who will realise that they are part of something special and not just another machine. UGC forms a fundamental part of the sales process and in fact, can make it much easier for your teams to get out there and do there jobs; particularly in an economy such as this one (and what an interesting one it is!). Spreadsheets, data analysis, and sales matrices can only be enhanced further if solid UGC strategies are included. Combine this with great customer service and quality salesmanship and any growth results made will be that much more rewarding.

Susanne Dansey is the Managing Director of Purple Cow Ideas Management – an organisation that facilitates a paradigm shift in the collaborative nature of the ICT Industry. You can follow her on Twitter and join the conversation on Facebook.


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