Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Online Marketing: How User-Generated Content Can Drive Web 2.0 Online Campaigns

User-generated content is one of the cornerstones of Web 2.0, evident everywhere you look, from social bookmarking to video sharing, from Wikipedia to MySpace. And now user-generated content (UGC) is also transforming the way we do marketing.

Here's how:

Photo credit: Andres Rodriguez

User generated marketing is creating quite a buzz, tapping into the participatory culture of the emerging web, and transforming consumers into creative partners.

The process is called crowdsourcing, and it involves turning all or part of a project over to consumers, and investing in the wisdom of crowds principle. The idea is simple - a group will very often produce solutions far superior to anything a single individual might in the same circumstances.

Turn this over to marketing ends, make use of the rich web of social media, and the result is a user-generated marketing (UGM) campaign.

In this overview of user-generated marketing I take a look at:

  • The rise of the user-generated web - the conditions that have made UGM possible, and that have set a precedent for its success
  • A case study of a user-generated marketing campaign about to go live
  • Creating a successful UGM campaign - further strategies that will get the best out of the user-generated format
  • Issues with UGM - the potential problems and pitfalls of turning your marketing over to your audience



The Rise of the User-Generated Web

Photo credit: Andres Rodriguez

The coming of Web 2.0 switched the focus of the net from a place to simplyaccess information to one where everyone also played a part in publishing his or her own content.

Notable examples include the now world-famous Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; YouTube, the world's most popular place to find web video; and social communities such as Facebook and MySpace.

Each of these web destinations would be nothing without daily content contributions from the many active individuals in their respective communities. As such they are firmly grounded in networked, user-generated content.

Viral marketing is a communication approach that can fully tap into those networks as a fast, efficient and impactful approach to get the word out about a product on the web.

I have looked at some of the ways you can go about doing this in a previous article on social media marketing.

But while it is one thing to make use of the networks to spread the word for you, and bring attention to your product, publication or service, it is quite another to motivate the individuals inside them to actively contribute in the creation of your own content. Nevertheless, this is exactly what the founders of YouTube, MySpace and have managed to do.

User-generated marketing applies the same principle to the creation of brand identity or marketing campaigns. It turns the entire process over to the audience.

Case Study - User-Generated Branding


The Challenge

Let's say you are about to launch a new product into the alternative health market. The product is ready to go, and you have chosen your niche within the sector - a natural immune system supplement. The only thing you need to do now is create a brand identity for it - choosing a name and a tag line to use in your marketing campaigns. Traditional marketing logic says that you pay an agency, let their creatives come up with the copy, and then begin advertising.

On the other hand, you could tap into the growing area of user-generated marketing, which is exactly what Phytolabs Inc. is doing with their soon-to-be-launched Immunity Challenge campaign.

Here we have a simple but potentially powerful case of crowdsourcing in action. The Immunity Challenge website presents visitors with a simple offer:

''We are Phytolabs Inc. and want you, our customers, to help us pick a brand name and tagline for our new immune health product - and get paid for doing it. If you've ever thought you could do a better job of branding a product than "the marketing wizards at head office", here's your chance.

Just enter a name and tagline along with an explanation for why yours is the best entry and you could win up to $20,000.00.''

User Support

The challenge is a simple one, but how does the company support potential contributors? The more you can do to make your goals clear and your product well understood in the first instance, the more time you are going to save in the long run. Fail to give support to your contributors early on and you could well be faced with a great deal of material that is unsuitable and unusable.

The Immunity Challenge campaign offers the following:

  • Clear, concise product information - the company provides a short press release-sized description of the product, focusing on its target customer-base, key properties and advantages over the competition. If your audience knows your product, and who it is being marketed to, they will have a much higher chance of success
  • Clear terms - The site described both the challenge and its prize, stipulations about the geographical location of entrants (in this case USA, Canada or Mexico only), and of equal importance a set of rules for all participants
  • Scheduled live chat - live chat sessions to enable direct communication between the company and competition participants
  • An accompanying blog to keep readers up to date on the project, and elicit their feedback through commenting
  • A clear simple entry form that doesn't allow for any confusion or misunderstandings

Overall, this facilitates and equips Phytolabs with all that is needed to receive relevant marketing content from contributors. Giving participants both ample opportunity to read up on the product specs and to openly communicate with the company throughout the challenge easily weeds out a large percentage of the time wasters.

The only weak point in this user/generated marketing approach is whether people will find the challenge campaign in the first place. A good strategy on this front would involve the adoption of some social media marketing strategies, such as setting up a strong presence on some of the the major social networks.

It is better to actively seek out your audience on their own turf than expecting them to come and find you on your own website.

Creating A Successful UGM Campaign

Photo credit: Yurok Aleksandrovich

With the addition of some social media networking, the Immunity Challenge has every chance of success. And it wouldn't be the first campaign to effectively draw on the power of crowdsourcing and online social networks.

In recent times big players including Dove, Doritos, Mastercard and Converse have run user-generated marketing campaigns, and the trend shows no sign of abating.

The key to a successful online marketing campaign goes beyond just offering a cash prize, however. Among the considerations you should take into account if you want to create a worthwhile campaign are:

  • Your target audience - Depending on what you're selling, you are going to want to track down your potential contributors and engage them on their own turf. Among the most active social media makers are the 18 - 30 demographic, and this group is also the easiest to locate online through the various social networking services. If your audience falls into a different demographic group, think about where you will find them, and how you can elicit their contributions to your campaign
  • Your product image - The 'reality TV', gritty amateurish look of user-generated media is better suited to some products and services than others. If you are trying to create a cool image for your brand, UGM may be a great approach. But if you are trying to sell pension schemes or luxury villas, you might be better off taking a different approach entirely
  • Promoting your campaign - It isn't enough to put up a cash reward on your website, create an upload form and sit back waiting on the results to come in. If you want to create a really successful campaign you are going to have to make sure that the right people know about it, whether they are bloggers or members of the social networks. For a few free ways to promote your campaign check out my articles on promoting your content via YouTube, self promotion through Twitter and social media marketing.

In short:

  1. know your audience
  2. ,

  3. find them online, and
  4. make sure that you promote your campaign as far and wide as possible,

and you should see favorable results.

There are, however, a few potential pitfalls to be mindful of before making the commitment to working with user-generated content in your online marketing campaign:

Issues With User-Generated Marketing

Photo credit: Paul Moore

While user-generated marketing can have powerful effects, it is worth bearing in mind that such an approach is not a magic bullet for every situation.

Let me warn you then about some of the potential pitfalls and drawbacks of taking this approach, before you embark on your next user-generated campaign.

In Louise Story's cautionary tale for the New York Times, she writes of the apparent ease of crowdsourcing:

''But look at the videos H. J. Heinz is getting on YouTube.

In one of them, a teenage boy rubs ketchup over his face like acne cream, then puts pickles on his eyes. One contestant chugs ketchup straight from the bottle, while another brushes his teeth, washes his hair and shaves his face with Heinz's product. Often the ketchup looks more like blood than a condiment.''

Louise Story, The High Price of Creating Free Ads

One of the potential pitfalls of turning to user-generated marketing, then, is that you may well find yourself with wildly inappropriate, or otherwise substandard contributions by the dozen. And that's if you invest in getting enough attention in the first place.

Among the issues to watch out for if you are considering a UGM campaign are:

  • Poor quality media - if you use the likes of YouTube, expect to see a great deal of amateurish footage before you hit gold, in terms of both content and video quality
  • Don't underestimate the time commitment - if your campaign is a success, expect to have to put in a lot of hours wading through contributions, a lot of which will be terrible
  • Expect to hand over control - if you open up your campaign to the public, don't be surprised if you get some negative or unpleasant responses from pranksters and detractors. Once you invite users to create something in a public forum, you can't easily magic it away if you don't like the outcome
  • Pressure to announce a winner - there is a very real possibility that you won't like any of the content offered to you. Once you have set a deadline and named a prize, you are going to have to choose a winner anyway

With good strategic planning these potential issues are all avoidable, but it is worth weighing them up before taking your first leap into the world of user-generated marketing campaigns.


User-generated marketing is making its impact felt, and building on the existing success of viral marketing strategies.

Where viral marketing makes use of existing social networks to spread content rapidly across the web, user-generated marketing goes a step further and sources that very content from the networks themselves. The results can make for passionate engagement with your product by the very people that you are trying to reach.

Engaging communities and individuals to create your campaign or brand identity allows you to tap into a vast range of material, and cherry pick the best. The alternative, going the traditional ad agency route, gives you a more limited chance of finding that killer campaign.

On the other hand, ad agencies have a clear understanding of the medium, what makes for an effective campaign, and how to best position your product in the marketplace.

While UGM may be appealing in terms of the vast range of options it can present, not to mention the potential savings in fees, it would be dangerous to overestimate its potential.

Setting up and running a user-generated campaign can make for a great investment in time and resources beyond the actual prizes to give out. Unless you have a product that already has a passionate following, you are going to need to provide a financial incentive for end-users to participate. And that's just the beginning - once your competition has closed, you have the long-winded task of sorting through the entires, all the while hoping that at least one will be of outstanding quality.

User-generated marketing can be a powerful tool in the right hands, and can serve as a great complement to, and even replacement for, traditional marketing methods.

If you have more time than money to invest, or have a product capable of inspiring buzz and passion from its users, this is a strategy that might just be worth checking out.

Additional Resources

If you would like to learn more about user-generated marketing, you might want to check out the following links:

Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and originally published as: "Online Marketing: How User-Generated Content Can Drive Web 2.0 Online Campaigns

Readers' Comments    
2007-06-11 14:18:34

Reno Provine

Very interesting article. I would love to hear some experiences from people who have actually done this.

Reno Provine

posted by Michael Pick on Wednesday, May 30 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.




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