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The rise of user generated content

It seems like no matter advertising magazine you pick up these days you see all kinds of articles on user or consumer generated content. So what is it? How can you use it? What do you need to do to make it effective?

User or consumer generated content refers to on-line content that is produced by consumers and published on Blogs, message boards, forums, public discussions (Usenet newsgroups), discussions and forums on large email portals (Yahoo!,AOL, MSN), online opinion/review sites and services or feedback/complaint sites.

Consumers ability to create this content has been driven by two factors. The first is the proliferation of broadband which has allowed the content consumer generate and view to not only become more robust but also spread much faster. The second is that the sophisticated and powerful hardware and software that used cost thousands of dollars and was only available to media professionals is now available to everyone. This includes digital video cameras, video editing software, blogging, podcasting and mobile phone photography.

Some current examples of websites that are based on User Generated Content include Flickr, Friends Reunited, eBay and Wikipedia.

The use of user generated content has forced a dynamic shift among advertising agencies and media organizations as they have had to go from creating on-line content to creating the facilities and frameworks for non-media professionals to publish their own content. Agencies should embrace this change but also spend the time necessary to be sure that the framework is as open as possible for the consumer but also has a screening process in place that will protect against consumer who do not want to “play nice”. But that is a small price to pay when a passionate consumer creator can take the brand in wonderfully new directions that captivates the media and ultimately millions of other consumers at a relatively low cost.

A recent example of good user generated content site is IgoUgo.com, which is part of Dallas based Sabre Holdings, is a site where you can find candid first-hand travel information and reviews submitted by everyday travelers. Travelers write reviews of destination from all over the world, these journals are reviewed by IgoUgo editors and if they are accepted the author receives GO Points. These points can then be redeemed go a variety of gifts.

Consumers see benefits from a frame work like this because it gives them the choice of becoming participants in the brand and content rather than just spectators. Also in today’s cynical marketplace, a model like this gives consumers a sense of community as they place far more trust in their fellow consumers than they do in content generated by traditional marketers and advertisers. This model also rewards the quality of the content with their GO point system so the better the content the more the author will be rewarded.

Learnings:
User generated content must have an insight or humor for it to have value and impact on consumers and to keep them coming back to the site. I have seen that clients who provide earnest content generally don’t find much it has much impact.

Seed the site or framework with sample content because it will help set the quality level you are hoping for and consumer will not find a site with no content when it first launches.

Consumers may not “play nice” and so explore the possibility of screening the content before it is accepted. This screening process can be as simple as it having to go through a visual approval process so you get the best content and not dilute the effectiveness of the campaign.

– If you are allowing consumers to freely upload content, especially video, you may need numerous legal disclaimers and content reviews to ensure there is no copyright infringement

– A rewards program to give contributors incentive to produce the highest quality content possible.

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Creative Director, Designer, Brand Builder, Speaker, Podcaster, Crazy One. As a designer, I have 20+ years experience creating the strategy, concepts, and designs for award-winning integrated global advertising campaigns, building multiple global Fortune 500 brands and creating innovative digital experiences. As a leader, I have 15+ years transforming agency and client-side teams using a mix of creativity, business strategy, process and political skill to create innovative, world-class work and cultures that change industries and companies. My clients have included American Airlines, W Hotels, Disney, Citi, ExxonMobil, Acura, Old Navy, Nationwide Insurance, Verizon, Subaru and many others. My work has received over 150 international awards, my app designs have been named as one of the World’s 100 Greatest Apps, Apple has featured my work in 9 keynotes, 4 TV commercials and more.

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