User Generated Content

User generated content

In my last post I wrote about the Engagement Ladder, the top rung of which is user-generated content, I’ve been thinking more about this form of content and looking for some positive examples, here’s what I’ve come up with.

User generated content can be a great loyalty builder for brands, but there are some things to consider before you launch your campaign.

Is your brand ready? You’ll be giving up some control of your brand, if your marketing, legal, risk teams aren’t ready for that reality you’ll need to do more work internally.

Is your brand positively viewed? If you open up your brand for user input while your brand is in a crisis the blowback will be swift. Starbucks famously started a Christmas campaign in 2012 with the hashtag #SpreadTheCheer, a nice idea, and large screens were installed to display the messages in stores. Unfortunately the company was in the middle of a crisis around paying tax in the UK and the tweets focussed on that rather than the festive season.

Does your brand have a tribe? You need a group of your customers/clients to be engaged enough to want to build content for your brand, otherwise there’ll be no response.

Can you create a fair process? You need to respect the rights of the content creators, which may include offering fair payment, and you need to be clear on what you are promising to do with the work created.

There are three ways to elicit content from your customer groups.

Open Call

Publish a request for customers to submit content, sometimes this is done as part of a competition. It sounds generous, giving all customers a chance to contribute, and it can work, but your brand needs to be positively regarded and you need to be clear about what you’re planning to do with the work. One example of a celebrity crowdsourcing a design did generate a concept book cover, but also generated plenty of criticism from the designer community. The more open your make the call and selection process the more likely you are to get the backlash. However this may still be a good option for a shorter or local campaign. There are a number of companies using hashtag based selection on Instagram to share themed posts (#ThankYouAmsterdam for example), and the results are positive for both parties.

Selective Approach

Research who of your customers is already creating great content, or look for social media influencers whose work matches your brand. Invite them to contribute content.

Spotify are using some of their subscribers’ lists in ads, building on their existing fanbase, I’m sure they’ve researched the lists and contacted the subscriber before building the ad.

Existing Community

Your brand already has a group of committed fans, who are independently building content.

One of the best examples out there, demonstrating the loyalty and ingenuity of customers, is IKEA Hackers. Although at one point IKEA tried to close the site.  The site showcases ways that IKEA products have been repurposed; cabinets become a  bed base, vases become a bathroom wall, and a folding desk saves space. A smarter approach might have been to engage the IKEA Hackers and look for ways to support their activities to enhance the IKEA brand.

Lego have successfully built a community of super loyal fans,  their brand is based on the human needs of playing/building together and the pride of creation so their online platform Lego Ideas ties into the brand and gives their fans a chance to develop new lego sets – the best of which go into production.  They also support the robot building lego league, although it was not started by the company.

One of my favourite example of a personality doing this is the wonderful, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o who uses #FanArtFriday on her Instagram account, the images are beautiful and reflect her career. She’s genuinely excited to share them.

user generated content

Three things to think about before you start;

  • company readiness
  • process including legal rights and payments
  • your commitment to using the final work.

Spotify and Lego show us that user-generated content can work for a company, but it takes brand commitment and a tribe.

Image:  Artist   |   M McIntyre   |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Social Media Two Factors of Motivation

I saw a presentation from Lego regarding their social media presence back in about May, and I was jealous (this article summarises Lego’s approach). They have it all; a solid strategy for their online presence, a global team to support it, a growing community, user generated content, and co-creation.

It was presented as something attainable for all of us but I had my doubts, after all Lego has a simple, versatile product. A product that connects to childhood, play and creativity.

Social Media is increasingly important for companies, it is often where customers first look for a company or ask a question, but not all companies can use social media in the same way. There have been a few examples over the past year where companies have tried to use social media according to all the principles of openness that that should work – only to have it backfire. Most notably JP Morgan who last month tried to launch the hashtag “#AskJPM” encouraging Twitter users to take part in a Q&A with Vice Chairman James B. Lee.

It sounds like a good idea; banks need to increase the openness and trust they have with customers, at least that’s how I imagine the idea was sold internally. But JP Morgan has been hit by waves of financial scandal and at the time of the invitation tweet was in the middle of negotiating a huge settlement over mortgage issues. The Twitter backlash was fierce – you can still read it next to the original invite tweet.

It’s easy to see that there’s a difference between the emotion people have for Lego, vs that they have for banks. Particularly after almost five years of crisis. But what about a “happier” brand, perhaps a coffee company. Well last year Starbucks launched a hashtag #SpreadTheCheer around Christmas – sounds festive. Except that Starbucks were right in the middle of a tax controversy so that hashtag was soon hijacked.

So what does all this mean – should you stay away from Social Media every time there’s a “public relations” issue? No, that would be a short-term and self-defeating approach. Instead your social media strategy should include how to act when there is a reputation question, your social media experts should be flexible and able to handle both positive and negative situations. And perhaps most vitally companies need to realise that for the customer there is no difference between PR/communications/marketing – anything said about your company in any medium is fair game.

I’ve been thinking of this along the lines of Herzbergs two factor motivation theory. Herzberg theorised that there were some factors that were motivating in a workplace, and some factors that were not motivating by their presence but were de-motivating by their absence. I’ve been thinking about what needs to be present for people to be motivated to support your brand and how that might relate to the traditional ideas of an engagement ladder. This is what I’ve come up with so far.

The engagement ladder is the engagement companies should aim for, traditionally it’s thought that people take small steps along it. Of course it’s possible that if your company is facing a high profile legal issue that your customers will share content about you – but it’s unlikely to be positive.

Companies that are working with a “hygeine” strategy can still work on co-creation, but then not via social media, do it with core groups at specific innovation days.

There isn’t a one size fits all answer on how to use social media successfully. It will depend on the industry, the target audience, the business strategy and the reputation of your company. But every company can think through a strategy, and every company should be thinking about social media both from a motivated/marketing perspective and from the hygeine/reputation perspective – and be ready to use both sets of tactics.

The Cult of the Amateur

Or “The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values” to give it its full title, by Andrew Keen.

As you might expect from the title Andrew Keen is against user-generated content and social media. For him truth should be in the hands of the experts, and reporting is in the hands of journalists. He sees the demise of traditional media, particularly print media and laments its passing.

It’s an anti Web 2.0 rant. He makes a valid point regarding the credibility of bloggers vs news journalists, but ignores that journalists have also been guilty of faking stories and other, unethical behaviour. But beyond that the view is so biased and so limited that it becomes annoying rather than enlightening. There are a number of pencil notations in my copy, next to contradictions in his argument. For example one big complaint is the lack of accountability on the web, yet Reed College also comes under fire for denying admission to a student who had published rude comments about the school.

I agree that there are issues to be solved that most Web 2.0 evangelists ignore, such as the issues of privacy vs anonymity, censorship (necessary to protect children) and intellectual property. But I am more optimistic than Mr. Keen.