Getting Your Users to Work for You – User Generated Content Thoughts

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Imagine all the free work you can get them to do for you! All that free labor. Mwahaha!

User-generated content represents a treasure trove of creativity for you and your brand.  Every dollar of content you get from your users can be a dollar you save on the P&L sheet.  The trend towards uncompensated labor, another term for user-generated content, has even over taken our retail experience.

Have you taken the opportunity to check yourself out at the local supermarket?  How much time did you take to do it.  Did you get a discount?  The retailer did.  The benefits far outweigh the risks to the retailers of product walking out the store.  Even Apple has been heralded for the Easy Pay feature of its Apple Store app.  You feel like you are in so much control, and Apple gets your labor for free.

User generated content definition and examples

In the digital space your uncompensated labor is called user-generated content (UGC).  UGC includes any content that a website serves up that isn’t generated by the operator.  I know it is a simple definition, but it will work well for our discussion.  It might include user reviews, user submitted videos, user photos, user submitted news, crowd-sourced research, etc.  The common thread is that the brand, pays nothing for the content.


    • 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.

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

When you employ user-generated content it is important to consider a few things before you get started.  Some leg work up front will prevent you from dealing with issues down the road.

    • 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.
    • Moderate, moderate, moderate.  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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