There are two schools of thought when it comes to User Generated Content (UGC) - the first are the advocates and converts, who believe UGC presents opportunities traditional content doesn’t for connecting with the audience and building brand influencers. The second is convinced it’s too costly, too hard to police and leaves open the possibility for naysayers to hijack brand communications, giving space for other agendas and creating the possibility for negativity and frustrations.
I think both points of view are valid.
In theory giving brand fans a space to air their opinions and dare I say it - engage - with the product or service strengthens bonds and consumer loyalties. This word of mouth buzz is invaluable in reaching new consumers, racking up SEO points and cementing relationships with existing buyers.
One of the common shots fired across the bows of the UGC advocates is that it takes too long to build a user database and too much manpower to police the resulting conversations. This point of view underlines why UGC is both a blessing and a curse. If you’re going to police UGC to the extent that comments are sanitised in line with brand policy then yes, it probably will use too many resources, too much manpower and create too many headaches. It’ll be awkward, stilted and likely to backfire. But this suggests you’re embarking on UGC for all the wrong reasons anyway.
From a legal and ethical perspective you ideally do want to monitor resultant conversations and content to ensure your blog, website, social media channels or other spaces aren’t being used to hurl insults or be spammed. Of course you don’t want to encourage those touting for business, pursuing their own agenda, posting a tonne of links or being disrespectful or unethical to find a home on any space your brand has set aside or created for UGC. But at the same time, criticism sometimes needs to be taken on the chin. Hashtags do get hijacked. Mined properly, UGC can be a goldmine of user feedback and suggestions, providing valuable market research data on product and marketing direction and execution.
Allowing everyone a chance to have their say can also take some of the legwork out of the sales process. The Belkin / Lego collaboration shows just how powerful letting everyone have a voice on owned media can be. If you’re not familiar with this rock star example of UGC, Belkin created an iPhone case with a back made entirely of Lego studs, allowing the user to attach Lego bricks in any design of their choice to create a totally unique case. Belkin then invited those who had bought the case to upload their creations on Instagram and used some in the actual product page, showing those who hadn’t yet added to cart what they were missing. Total UGC win!
I don’t think UGC works when the intent isn’t transparent or truthful. Those being paid to have a voice and share a link, upload a picture or leave a comment should clearly state as such. Paid spokespeople or marketing teams posing as everyday users shouldn’t be given a platform for UGC in my opinion – the authenticity and impact of the content gets lost. Consumers are very rarely fooled by brand attempts to steer conversations in favourable directions or create a smokescreen of approval. If you’ve ever looked at reviews online before buying something, it’s usually painfully obvious which ones are fake. Do you really want that to be the voice of your UGC?