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User Generated Content: Why you Shouldn’t use it Blindly

August 29, 2017

The marketing world seems to always have a “buzz” about one topic or another, and for the past few months, it truly seems like leveraging User Generated Content has become all the rage. That said, a lot of the articles that have come out surrounding User Generated Content (hereon out ‘UGC’) have talked a lot about the positives, but not so much about why using it blindly could actually hurt your brand’s reputation.

Below exercises some caution in talking about UGC and discusses the benefits, the downsides, and the best practices so you can keep up with the latest trend while also keeping your brand’s image at heart.

How User Generated Content Works

While UGC may be a buzz term these days, it’s nothing fancy. This simple refers to any content that was created by someone using an online source. This could be someone who comments on a blog post, writes a guest blog post, participates in an online forum, creates their own podcast, advertisement, video, etc. In general, UGC is made available on social media, but it can be something you find anywhere on the web.

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While technically anything you didn’t create could be considered UGC, it typically refers to content that someone created for the general public by sharing that content. For businesses, the lines get blurred when they want to use an image they don’t have the rights to use, or when they publish a guest post or an infographic without permission from the creator. Consider the benefits and pitfalls below:

The Benefits of User Generated Content

Millions of users are producing content everyday and publicly sharing on social media platforms. Social media marketing has made it easier than ever to identify your target market and be able to speak directly to them, and if you have built a following, you may already have a significant population who are promoting your brand on social channels and creating content on your behalf. This can be an awesome connection to have with your audience that can certainly work to your advantage.

  • Users that engage with your brand generally like to do so, they wanted to take the photo or post the comment in the first place—this connection with your audience can be extremely beneficial.
  • UGC campaigns have been shown to increased click-thru rate (up to 400%), and can increase web conversions by 26%
  • According to Marketing Tech News, “social networking (50%), peer reviews (68%) and conversations with friends (74%) which are all forms of UGC, are more trusted for product information than TV (34%), radio (37%) and newspapers (44%)”
  • UGC can increase the amount of time spent on your website, which will help to sell your brand and products/services more easily. With AgencyAnalytics you can follow your UGC campaigns and monitor them through the user dashboard, or you can create your own report for that campaign. Below shows how you create just one login, but can toggle from campaign to campaign (or in many cases, client to client):

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With so much content being generated every day, it is easy to see how leveraging this as a strategy can be effective.

There are many ways to utilize UGC (the many ways, which are out of scope of this article, can encompass a wide variety of marketing strategies which you can learn more about here). While these benefits sound appealing, UGC still needs to be done strategically so that you don’t get caught in an uncomfortable situation where you need to pull out a “damage control” strategy.

A Word of Caution with User Generated Content

The majority of problems that come up with UGC are either related to the tarnishing of the brand’s image or even more serious, legal issues (like copyright or libel) for using content that you are not creating. Remember that just like any content, if you don’t create it you don’t control it, but even more importantly, you do not necessarily have the rights to use it in advertisement.

There is also risk of looking inauthentic by simulating UGC—think those who use “Insta-famous” celebrities to promote their products, who are clearly being paid to do product placement. Obviously these kind of strategies do not resonate well with an authentic audience, and can also diminish the quality of the brand image you are trying to cultivate. In fact, there is actually a service called Instafamous that builds UGC for you:

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3 Quick and Easy User Generated Content Best Practices

There are a lot of different ways you can utilize UGC while also practicing caution. Following best practices can help to make sure that you are legally staying out of trouble (to the greatest extent possible) while also getting the benefits of audience engagement that come from it. Below are 4 tips to help make sure you are upholding the quality of your brand and getting the most out of this marketing strategy.

  1. Monitor and Moderate the Content Your Users Produce

To some extent the feasibility of this first tip is going to depend largely on the size and scale of your organization. Small businesses should do all that they can to “approve” content on their pages and monitor the kind of things users are posting on free platforms. For example, if you own a restaurant you probably want to make sure that your food is coming out looking presentable, in the way you would want it to look in photos in the images that are being shared. Notice negative comments happening on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? Do your best to reply to these and make amends when need-be. Paying attention like this shows that you care about your image. Larger scale organizations should have individuals in their marketing departments in charge of these tasks as well.

A great way to keep some control without putting too much work on yourself is to allow users to sign-in to your WordPress site, but with restricted access. This is a better strategy for a blog while social media UGC usually consists of the company owner reaching out to the owner of the content, but for blogs, you can do this by using an Author Profile WordPress plugin, which can be found here:

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  1. Adhere to Legal Requirements

One of the best ways of sharing UGC is to create very specific guidelines for things you are going to be reposting and sharing. As long as brands are very upfront about their usage and users can anticipate their content being shared, a lot of legal trouble can be avoided. For example, when designing a sweepstakes or campaign that requires users submit photos or other virtual content, be very explicit about the #hashtags and other sharing requirements you have in order to gain their consent in participating. The Page Awards did a great job with this and went above and beyond to create a full webpage to discuss the contest, as seen below:

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In addition, here is a list of 14 legal requirements to consider with UGC so that you can have a more detailed idea of what is legal and what is not.

  1. Consent & Always Give Credit Where Credit is Due

If you are ever sharing someone else’s content, you need to be sure to give them credit by using their screen name after you get their consent to share. Unfortunately just because someone takes a picture at your establishment (even if their profile is public) does not mean they are giving you permission to post it. It may be an incredible photo, article, video, or graphic—but until you get consent it is not yours to share.

Note: Be Especially Mindful when Advertising. It is one thing to share UGC on your social accounts, but using user-content for explicit advertising is a whole other ballgame. Before ever using UGC in a major (or even minor) advertisement campaign, you need to make sure you get official permission from the author and make sure you are representing them in a way that they deem as acceptable. You need to get legal consent in writing. Do not just assume compensation=compliance.

The Takeaway

UGC is a great way to leverage actual information and feedback from your audience. After all, people feel more inclined to trust a brand when they see others react positively to it. You need to do our best to keep your brand’s image in check with he kind of posts that are being created and shared about you (both in adjusting your actual services for quality and monitoring what is being said online). You need to be sure you are participating in UGC marketing strategies both legally and ethically as well. While the benefits of these kind of strategies are great, the risks and consequences can be detrimental to your image.

Do you have any tips for best UGC practices? Let us know your thoughts and about your experiences in the comments section below!

AUTHOR

Joe Kindness

CEO at AgencyAnalytics