Free Labor – Putting Your Users to Work

In “If It’s Free – You are Being Sold,” I talked about being aware of what you are giving away as a user.  Let’s look at it from the other side, the brand side.  Without being too callous, every dollar of labor you get from your users saves a dollar in expenses for you.  Do you use the self checkout at the local supermarket?  You just saved them money by doing the work for them, but you feel empowered, don’t you.  User generated content works the same way.

User-Generated content (UGC) includes any content that a website serves up that isn’t generated by the website.  That is a simple definition, but works well for our discussion.  It might be user reviews, user videos, user photos, news, research, etc.  The common thread through all of them is that the brand, or website, is paying nothing for this content.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • CNN iReport – “iReport is an invitation for you to be a part of CNN’s coverage of the stories you care about and an opportunity to be a part of a global community of men and women who are as passionate about the news as you are.”  By submitting content to iReport the user gives you a very, very broad license to your copyrighted work (See Section 5 of the Terms of Use).
  • YouTube.  Of course YouTube is going to make my list of examples.  Where else can you get a short 5 second of a chipmunk that is seen almost 40 million times:
  • Amazon Reviews.  Instead of reading the brand’s description of items, users can look at everyone else’s opinion, which users value more anyway.  And just like CNN’s license, the user grants a broad license to anything they post in that review.
  • TMZ’s User Submitted Commercials – In 2010 TMZ engaged Zooppa to run a user generated content contest to generate a new commercial spot for TMZ.  The rationale was that TMZ’s users knew that brand much better than any creative agency.  The spots were funny and engaging.  For the Case Study presentation at the 2010 WOMMA Summit, go here to watch the 10 minute video.

The great part of all of these is that after the infrastructure is set up your costs to get each of those pieces of content are incredibly small.  We are all friends here, so let’s be honest, a good portion of that content is stuff you will never use except where it was submitted.  But in some cases you may want to take that content and use it in other venues.  This may be intended (as in the case of CNN and TMZ) or it may be an after the fact decision (for that really eloquent review your user posted on your website about your new product).  These are all great ideas, but you need to protect yourself.

Things to Consider

  • Secure your rights.  Get a broad license to use that content in whatever manner you think you might use it (and even some that you can’t think of – “in all media known now or created hereafter”).  Notice I say license.  I am a firm believer that users content should remain theirs, and that any other stance by a brand is the wrong one.  All you want/need is the ability to use it, so why ask for more.
  • Don’t forget the rights of others.  Add in some language about the user “warranting and representing” that they have all the rights to everything in the submission.  Words are cheap, so you should have this in their, but quite frankly if you are using more than the words in a review, you will probably have one or more problems with the content.  If you are thinking about using user-generated content in a future campaign, build in a contingency to reshoot the content.
  • Don’t overlook the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  Invariably, if you have any type of UGC on your site, you will have infringing content on it.  In order to avoid liability under the DMCA, you must have processes setup to take-down infringing content when you become aware of it.
  • Protect your brand.  You may get some content that you don’t like, either in the form of a really bad review, or an objectionable video.  I think some control is good, but controlling UGC is like herding cats.  If the UGC is the entire campaign, having a kill switch on it is the ultimate control.  If it is just part of your larger efforts (reviews), have moderation guidelines in place and watch the submissions as much as you can.  If you can engage in pre-moderation, you can review all submissions before they are published.  Users will look at this as censorship, though.  Post-moderation allows stuff to go live, which feeds your user’s desire to see their stuff on your site, but you are running the risk of having questionable content up there for a period of time before you are aware of it.

UGC is a great way to get to a creative resource that was untapped until the digital age.  The submitters are highly motivated by loyalty to the brands they love.  They understand intuitively why they love your brand and if they can articulate it, their messages will resonate with other users.  Consider some of the ways UGC can go bad, learn the hard lessons of people getting it wrong, and you can leverage that huge pool of unpaid labor.

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