User-Generated Content: Experts Share Definitions, Advantages, Disadvantages and Legal Issues Live

By Stephen M Zorio

There are, perhaps, no three letters that attract more simultaneous excitement and fear in the content marketing world than UGC.

It's easy to see both the promise and peril of user-generated content at a glance. On one hand, getting fans to provide free content and act as advocates is a tremendous opportunity. On the other ... well, there are a few ways things can go wrong.

However, you can maximize the potential and mitigate the risk of UGC if you know how to approach it. We recently gathered some experts on UGC to figure that out. We were joined by David Alan Grier, a principal in the consulting firm Djaghe, LLCBlue Hovatter, one of the Founders of Community Funded Enterprises (CFE); and Joy SchofflerFounder and Principal of Leverage PR.

We talked about advantages UGC presents, the disadvantages (and how to avoid them), what good UGC campaigns look like and more. You can find the chat in its entirety here, but we've condensed it to the top five moments.

1) The definition of UGC

User generated content has a range of meanings as far as marketing is concerned. It can be getting ideas from the crowd for new products and services like Lego did or having your crowd of customers come up with your next tagline. -- Joy Schoffler

User-generated content

User-generated content (UGC) refers to a variety of media available in a range of modern communications technologies. UGC is often ... via WikipediaWikipediavia Wikipedia on 2:50 PM

Coming from the crowdfunding space, I see user generated content as crowdsourced content that your community creates. The uniqueness comes in the fact that groups of people are collectively coming together to generate content usually for free that can benefit a larger group. Wikipedia ... has a great definition, and I really think one of the easiest ways to understand the concept with the Amazon.com example of users generating product reviews. -- Blue Hovatter


User generated content consists of contributions to products and services by people who do not have a capital stake in the production process. Users have been generating ideas and content as long as we have [had] markets and customers. What is new is that we have new tools to incorporate user content into our products and services and new ways to engage users in the generation of that content. -- David Alan Grier

2) The advantages of UGC

Let's start with that idea of affinity group and audience.  These are people who are interested in your products and activities.  By using thins from them, you get a better idea of how your work is perceived and also what can be done with it. it also gives your affinity group a greater stake in what you do.  It can easily build loyalty.   -- David Alan Grier

I have had clients that do social customer care technology for enterprise level companies that are using it to have user generated FAQ's through their support centers. It saves on costs, increases engagement and improves the R&D process. -- Joy Schoffler

Support is one of the best places to use UGC.  Your customers who know more about your products and services in the context in which they are used than you ever will.  They know how to fix problems, debug issues and use the products for new activities. -- David Alan Grier

To me it is about empowering your users to help create your community. It also allows you to get a lot of content generated at little to no cost. Can you imagine if an e-commerce site had to pay for all the reviews the community provide to it for free? It is also a lot easier to keep your content fresh when your users are the ones creating it on a regular basis. -- Blue Hovatter

UGC provides a way to add meaning to market transactions.  When people contribute something and feel that contribution is valued, they have a greater stake in the market. -- David Alan Grier

3) Challenges and legal hurdles

As any organization embraces UGC, it needs to understand that it is getting an unvarnished view of its affinity group and needs to think about how it engages that view and presents it in a way that is honest and helpful to all. -- David Alan Grier

You really have to take it as all feedback is good feedback. You definitely don't just want to hear the positive as the best growth generally comes from the negative. When you have negative comments on social sites, especially with affinity groups that are as strong as sports team fans you often get a wide variety of fans defending you to the point it increases engagement and brand loyalty. -- Joy Schoffler

What Does Deleting Negative Comments Say About Your Brand? - The Social Media Monthly

The Social Media MonthlyWhat Does Deleting Negative Comments Say About Your Brand? By Bruce Warren Negative social comments are a fact of life in the omni-channel marketplace. Regardless of the quality of your brand’s customer experience, it’s inevitable that negative mentions will appear on social media sites and other unsolicited feedback channels. Savvy brands understand that it’s rarely …

You definitely have to be wary of potential liability issues when working with UGC. Copyright is one, but could also be vulnerable for many other legal concerns, i.e. slander, defamation. It is definitely important to moderate your UGC and also have the proper Terms of Service and End User License Agreements in place if you are a website. -- Blue Hovatter

You also have to have your legal department check UGC as well. If you are going to crowdsource your tagline you would run it by legal first. -- Joy Schoffler

You may also have to separate the UGC from your organization.  In effect, you have an independent crowd organization offering comment on your work but they are not part of you.  You see this in the computer support communities. -- David Alan Grier

4) Moderation (in moderation) is key


I believe it is definitely more of a case by case way to handle UGC. We also try to use 3rd party providers that we trust to host some of our content, and do a little reliance on their checks and balances. YouTube does a great job of monitoring its UGC for copyright and other issues. That being said, when it is your business you never want to rely on anyone else entirely for the content that lives on your website. -- Blue Hovatter

Part of it deals with the quantity of material you will actually use.  If you are sifting through UGC for a few items -- a tag line -- you generally want to keep tight control. If you are trying to build a large collection of material that is used for support, you probably want to let the users have more control over its organization and keep them a bit at a distance. -- David Alan Grier

I would not take down negative brand comments, rather reply with solutions publicly. There has been a lot of bad PR for brands that delete all of the negative. -- Joy Schoffler

For integrity and for knowing what people are saying, you do need to keep the negative comments up.  However, there is a tendency to merely repeat what others have said, add nothing new and give the impression that opinions are held far more forcefully than they are.  Careful moderation is good. -- David Alan Grier

5) Good UGC, bad UGC and the future
The AIDS Memorial Blanket always comes to mind for me. I like it because it reminds us that not all UGC has to exist in the digital realm. For a good user generated campaign, you need a group of true believers who can articulate what they want.  That is the foundation of success. -- David Alan Grier

My mind immediately goes to Lego. Allowing users to create their own designs and then if the community likes them the build them in mass. -- Blue Hovatter

Two things quickly lead to failed campaigns: Lack of trust and too many constrictions on the crowds. I'm working with a government agency that is struggling with UGC. They really want to keep complete control of it. Hence they are working with a very small restricted group -- remember that generally less than 5% of any crowd will contribute to a call -- and don't have a leader that their crowd trusts.  

Clear goals, clear process, clear connection to company, skilled leadership. That is what you need.  You shouldn't do it half way. -- David Alan Grier

I think we are going to see a real increase in the understanding of UGC and crowdsourcing in general universities like UC Berkeley are now offering executive education courses to teach it to CMO's and CSR's to use it. It is actually pretty interesting how it is being used to increase engagement on the corporate social responsibility side. -- Joy Schoffler

Lessons for Brands
  1. Understand your topic: Monitoring trends in content marketing is important -- understanding them, thoroughly, is even more so. It's better to admit ignorance and do research than to try something without having a solid understanding of both the promise and peril.
  2. Measure twice: Becoming too risk averse is a bad way to operate in a fast-moving world, but throwing caution to the wind is worse. If you have a solid plan that includes time to properly vet content, you can both react quickly and do so in a way that doesn't embarrass you or your brand.
  3. Be honest: Engaging your consumers means listening to everything they have to say. People are savvy to a UGC campaign that feels whitewashed and the backlash isn't worth it. You don't have to embrace negativity, that's not useful either, but be ready to address compliments ... and complaints.
Learn how ScribbleLive can help you incorporate UGC into your content marketing campaigns and be sure to follow Scribble Engage on Twitter to learn more about upcoming chats and content marketing resources.

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