User Generated Content Can Be Great For Your Marketing...Until It Isn't
How to Protect Your Online Brand While Accepting User Content
Guest Post by Hannah Corbett of MakeItCheaper.com
Many companies are now incorporating user generated content into their online marketing strategies, in order to connect with their audience, and get customers involved with their brand. This tactic can be a great way to bring brand advocates out of the woodwork, and drum up a lot of attention around your business. But, user generated content can also be volatile, spiralling out of your control very quickly. So, is there a "right" way to execute a user generated campaign for your company? Or is the risk of bringing up negative consumer attitudes towards your brand too great?
What is User Generated Content?
The term "user generated content" is used to refer to an online space where the content is generated by members of the public, rather than a site owner. Discussion forums, wikis and vines are all popular examples of user generated content, as they are not one-way platforms where the site owners create content for an audience. Instead, these sites are structured more like a spider web; where users generate content to share with each other. Even a tweet or a Facebook status update can be considered a form of user generated content.
Recently, user generated content has seen an increase in popularity, as businesses begin to take the gamble of letting internet users have a little control of their marketing. Most notably, this is in the form of Twitter hashtags.
Why Is User Generated Content Beneficial?
- User generated content drives engagement. It gets people to visit your website, interact with your business on social media, and generally show awareness of your brand. Generating interest and awareness around the company is the end goal for many business’s online marketing campaign, and user generated content can be an effective way of achieving this.
- It also helps to build loyalty around your brand. When users get involved, it gives you, as the business, a chance to get involved back with them, and establish a more personal relationship between business and customer. For example, if you have a forum on your website, you have the opportunity to reply directly to your site visitors and discuss the topics that they are interested in. Building a more personal relationship with users will build loyalty for your brand, which can only come to benefit you in the future.
- Positive user generated content can also function as the public’s testimonial for your brand, or for your product or service, and ultimately provides social proof. Social proof has been psychologically proven to drive web traffic, engagement, sales – and virtually whatever else it is that you are looking to do with your online presence. If other people are doing it, then new people are likely to begin doing it, too. However, negative user generated content can do the complete opposite of this and negatively impact your business’s reputation.
- This particular digital marketing strategy can very quickly drum up a lot of interest and a social buzz because of its novelty. User generated content is different to a traditional, standard marketing campaign, and that will automatically draw attention from the public and the media alike.
- User generated content is also beneficial in a logistics-sense, as it can be more cost effective than launching a more traditional marketing campaign. User generated content is likely to require less man-power (in terms of in-house staff or outsourced workers) to achieve, and there’s unlikely to be a need for as much advertising and paid promotion online. If successful, user generated content often gains a lot of attention and traction organically.
- It gives you the chance to repurpose content for your own usage. Many user generated content campaigns involve encouraging consumers to submit their own images and creations, for example in a competition or online gallery. If your business successfully received a good number of submissions in this way, you could then repurpose and reuse that content for another marketing campaign, or incorporate it into your brand identity.
Why Does UGC Backfire?
So, with all these upsides and benefits to user generated content, why does it go so wrong sometimes? There are a number of ways in which a user generated content marketing campaign can easily spiral out of control, and have adverse effects for a company. Let’s take a look at couple of examples:
McDonalds – The #McDStories hashtag
This is probably one of the better known instances of user generated content going wrong, as it was widely documented and talked about across the internet. The fast food chain originally started out as the hashtag #MeetTheFarmers, which was devised in order to share the stories of the farmers who supply McDonalds. But, that hashtag was changed into #McDStories, and hijacked by users who shared their own experiences of McDonalds. Some of the #McDStories seemed to be true, and others were clearly done in satire – but none were particularly positive.
So, what went wrong?
A lack of control. McDonalds pulled their campaign within two hours, after things took a turn for the worse, according to the Los Angeles Times. But even so, the #McDStories hashtag continued to gain momentum, and even still exists now to some extent. Because they launched their campaign on Twitter – a platform over which they have no control – there was nothing they could do once their hashtag began to backfire.
McDonalds is also a company that always seems to have a certain amount of negative press surrounding it. Think about TV Chef Jamie Oliver’s recent campaign victory against the fast food restaurant, the past Supersize Me documentary, the scandal surrounding workers’ low wages, just to name a few. It could be said that because there is always some negativity surrounding their brand, it may not have been a good idea for them to launch a marketing campaign on Twitter that is left in the hands of the public.
These two factors combined ultimately caused the failure of the #McDStories hashtag, and may perhaps even suggest that the company won’t ever be able to use user generated content in the form of Twitter hashtags successfully in the future, as there is such a high risk that they will always be hijacked.
GoPro – Cool Video Contest
This is an example of a company utilising and executing a user generated content marketing campaign very successfully. GoPro ran a competition where users could submit a video shot on one of their cameras, for the chance to win $5K, amongst other prizes. It was a huge success: it gained quite a following, was received positively by consumers, and helped to promote the brand and build loyalty at the same time.
What did they do right?
The campaign was incredibly successful, for a number of reasons:
- A Competition for Their Customers First off, the contest wasn’t self-indulgently promotional in nature. GoPro weren’t looking for direct compliments or flattery about their business or product. The contest was a chance for consumers to show off their videos, rather than a chance for the brand to promote their products and push sales. Designing a user generated content campaign that is purely and unashamedly promotional in nature will, more often than not, backfire. The public won’t be agreeable to something they feel is just trying to part them with their money, and a user generated platform gives them the perfect opportunity to strike back and express that frustration.
- Sense of Ownership The Cool Video Contest put the consumer in control. They created and uploaded their own videos, giving a strong sense of connection with the product, and ultimately with the brand. A sense of ownership also means that people are more likely to share their uploads or submissions with friends and across social platforms, which of course means positive promotion, advertising and exposure for the brand.
- Give To Get Lastly, the contest entrants had the opportunity to gain something: to get something out of entering. GoPro stated that the winner of the competition would “win GoPro fame, cash, and more.” Consumers are much more likely to respond positively to something, and be inclined to participate, if they are getting something back in return. In this case, the biggest driving force was probably the $5K cash prize, but that doesn’t mean that money is the only motivating factor out there.
How to Avoid the UGC Backlash
So, after seeing examples of user generated content gone wrong and done right, what have we learned? How can you safeguard against your campaign being hijacked?
Keep some form of control. If you ask users for submissions, don’t do it through a platform where you have no control, such as YouTube. Do it through your own site or specially designed platform. That way, you have the chance to filter out any potentially negative content before it goes public and potentially spins out of control.
Timing is everything. Think carefully about when you actually launch your campaign. For example, if you have suffered a particularly bad piece of press recently, then you may be planning a marketing campaign to combat this. User generated content may not be the best option in this situation, as the public are unlikely to receive it well with negativity surrounding your brand still fresh in their minds. It might be better to design a different, more controlled campaign to combat bad press, and save the user generated stuff until the dust has settled.
Prepare for the worst. Before launching a user generated content campaign, sit down, and try to think of all the ways in which it could go wrong. By second guessing and thinking one step ahead, not only can you prepare and react quickly should the worst happen, but you can design your campaign to have some form of immunity to it. For example, if you are creating a Twitter hashtag, you might consider not directly including your brand or product name in the tag, because if it does get hijacked, then at least your business will not immediately be associated with it at first glance.
Be honest, transparent, authentic. You want to paint your business in a positive light, so don’t do anything that could possibly incriminate you. This is particularly pertinent with a user generated medium, as the public has a certain level of control over your campaign and brand, and will jump at the chance to criticise and spread negativity, if you let them. Be genuine and honest, and you won’t go wrong. The added bonus is that this will make your brand more personable and relatable for consumers, which can only build brand loyalty for you in the future.
Give something back. Give users a reason to interact, contribute and generate content with/for you. Even something simple like a personal reply to each instance of engagement will create a sense of satisfaction for the user, make them feel like they are being heard and valued by your business. For a competition, you could offer a cash prize, or even a product giveaway of some kind.
Prepare Before You Begin a Campaign
A user generated content campaign is not something you should rush into. It should be taken very seriously, and with a lot of thought and consideration. They are very volatile, and you could lose control very quickly – within a matter of hours, in fact. They require a great amount of delicacy to be carried out successfully, and are not necessarily appropriate for every business.
If you think user generated content could work for your brand, it might be wise to slowly integrate it into your marketing strategy, rather than diving in head first. For example, if you don’t already, allow comments on your website’s blog to gauge the general opinions, feelings and impressions that users express towards your brand. If it’s positive, then you can consider stepping it up a gear.
Or, you could get some influencers in your industry on board, hiring them to create and promote some very controlled content around your brand or product with a user generated feel to it, and sending that out to their following. Again, it’s all about gauging the success, and then taking the next step if necessary. By starting small, you’re minimizing the risk of a hugely negative backlash. Even if you do get a negative reaction, it will be small enough to manage, and will probably go largely unnoticed.
In essence, be delicate when it comes to user generated content, and build it up slowly. It could be that you find great success with it immediately, or it could be that it causes damage to your brand that will take a long time to repair. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so take baby steps, and make sure you think everything through thoroughly.
Photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina
Hannah Corbett is a writer for Make It Cheaper: the small business saving experts. You can keep in touch with Hannah on Twitter, or connect on Google Plus, or, for more useful small business advice, visit www.makeitcheaper.com.