Content creation is one of the most difficult aspects of modern digital marketing. It requires a lot of time and other resources, but is necessary to communicate and engage with your target audience as well as to strengthen your brand. So how can you create great content that users will share and engage with while simultaneously avoiding dropping the ball on all your other content (and non-content) related marketing tasks? The best possible solution is user generated content.
User Generated Content is Old News
Wrong. Well, yes, also right. In a lot of ways user generated content is an older method of content creation. Generally speaking, when most people say that they are referring to things like comments and reviews. Leveraging comments and being active on social media (conversing, using surveys, sharing user images, etc.) was the old way of doing things. The type of content I’m talking about are articles, essays, and blog posts.
So how do you go about incorporating user content into your site?
User Generated Content isn’t Easy, But It’s Worth It
We all want a marketing magic bullet and the trend seems to be that whatever this year’s buzzword happens to be, that’s what we think will solve all our problems. But that is never the case, is it? User generated content has been around for a while and it seems like a lot of people either don’t know that or have an outdated definition of the term. User generated content (content other than reviews) started out in the world of news journalism, specifically at the BBC around 2005. Since then this style of content creation has spread to other parts of the internet.
This type of content is increasingly part of the consumer’s interaction with a brand. A Mashable article from April 2014 touted the fact that Millenials trust user generated content 50% more than other content types. Content created by the user or customer that addresses their concerns and expresses their thoughts on your products or services are far more valuable than anything you might write yourself because it is more relatable and viewed as more trustworthy.
Another reason this content is so wonderful is that it is considerably more sharable. If you want your content to go viral, then user generated content is likely your best option. If a user creates content that is posted on a website belonging to a major brand–particularly a brand they know and love, then they’ll share the piece with friends and family who then reshare–so on and so forth, drastically increasing social interactions with your posts and generating more opportunities for engagement with your brand.
Why is User Generated Content so Important?
People generally don’t believe that corporations, or even large companies, have their best interests in mind. So content that comes directly from a company may be perceived as intentionally misleading or, at least, not representative of the whole truth. Content about a company or product that comes from “regular folks” is viewed as more trustworthy because, in theory at least, it removes itself from any internal bias.
Content created by your consumers is more relatable, as well. They’ll use images and anecdotes that their peers are more likely to understand and relate to, which means the content itself becomes more effective. Because that’s true, this an ideal way to close the gap between traditional content creators who are often early-to-mid career and younger audiences who may be college age or younger. I could go on forever about the benefits of UGC, so if you’re interested, I’ll just refer you to this great post.
Implementation Requires Lots of Planning
The reason more people aren’t harping on user generated content as the next big thing in marketing is because it requires a certain amount of infrastructure to support. Unless you’ve planned on using crowdsourced content from the beginning your business probably doesn’t have the resources in place to adopt this model right away. To be ready for user generated content your company would need to have these resources and know the answers to these questions:
- Someone to serve as Editor. This person would edit copy, proofread, create content guidelines for contributors, create an editorial calendar, and possibly even manage the uploading of content into your content management system. They may also be in charge of vetting contributors. This person would also help shape user submitted content to better fit brand guidelines and business objectives.
- A content management system that supports user submissions. You’ll need a process for registering new users as well as getting them up to speed on using your CMS. You’ll also have to create a workflow process inside the CMS to ensure that all content submitted by users will be reviewed by the right people prior to its publication on your site.
- You need to cover your legal bases. When talking about this type of content creation, you need to consider user rights. Who owns the content and for how long? What will your process be for removal of a post if the author/ creator decides they want it taken down? You may also need users to sign release forms for submitted content.
- What do you do if something breaks? Having trouble with a CMS is not uncommon. It’s going to be a lot more common when you have 100+ external users playing in it. Be sure to have an IT team on hand to handle anything that might come up. Website security should also be a primary concern. Talk to your IT team and see what that might entail.
- Plan for server usage. Many companies have a handful of people working in their CMS at any given time. With this model that number could potentially be huge. That single small business server with 16GB of ram DEFINITELY won’t cut it now. Make sure you have the hardware resources in place to avoid prolonged downtime on your site or freezes on the contributor’s end.
- You’ll need a PR plan. With user generated content, you might be able to discover new PR angles and generate stories about your company in the press. On the other hand, there’s also a chance for things to backfire. Have a PR plan in place to deal with anything that might arise.
- Education of Contributors. Assume none of your would-be contributors have ever written a blog post. How do you get them creating content that needs minimal editing? How do you get them to create content that meets basic web standards for SEO and usability? These are questions you’re going to need strong answers to.
What Does a Great User Generated Content Site Look Like?
Sites that rely on this type of content creation have a lot of different looks and feels. Really, the possibilities are endless. Unfortunately, that can make planning for its implementation on your own site more complicated, not less. So here is how one site handles user generated content from start to finish.
GameSkinny.com: This site allows users to sign up, log in, and start writing about video game related topics. The workflow is pretty seamless. Users log in to access a wysiwyg editor to create their content. They get points for adding key content elements to a piece, such as a photograph, title, and description. Points earn cool benefits like tickets to events and press passes. Once submitted, an editor reviews and requests any changes that may be necessary. The user is notified by email that review of their content is complete. They then make any necessary changes and resubmit. Once approved, content gets posted to the site.
Gameskinny offers resources for content contributors to become more skilled at what they do. While it’s based on the premise that contributors to the site would like a career (or at least a regular gig) writing about the games industry, these resources direct contributors on how to create high-quality content. It’s an education in both web journalism and SEO, which is precisely the kind of background you’d want your site contributors to have. These resources come in the form of emails, videos (akin to Moz’s Whiteboard Friday), and workshops.