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October 12, 2020
Harnessing the Power of User Generated Content
 
There is a persistent belief in the wisdom of the crowd. In the public square, this belief plays out in our jury system. Online it plays out daily with the creation and trafficking of user-generated content (UGC). Each day hundreds of millions of photos, videos, social media comments, peer and product reviews, tweets, pins, conversations, influencer opinions, blogs, wikis, podcasts and comments in forums or in communities are posted, liked, and shared.
 
UGC is the digital equivalent of chatting with neighbors and friends. The content created by the crowd is broadly considered authentic, valid, believable, factual, detailed, nuanced, trusted and memorable. Consumers spend roughly 5 hours a day with user-generated content. Half of all internet users uploaded or shared a video or photo during the last 30 days.
 
UGC drives more traffic, time spent, click-thrus, conversions and sales than other forms of marketing and promotion. In surveys, upwards of 90% of respondents say UGC has greater influence on their buying decisions than email and search. A similar number of respondents say they trust reviews and recommendations from people they don’t know.
 
From a brand perspective, capitalizing on and promoting UGC validates, humanizes, educates, informs and motivates better than other advertising formats. Many people find UGC more interesting, relatable and shareable than professional ads. In a Comscore video study, UGC drew more engagement than professionally produced ads on the dimensions of emotional intensity, key message communication and easy to relate to. 
 
The average person consuming UGC feels that they get a realistic, in-depth look at a topic or product with a personal endorsement from its author. UGC stands out from the torrent of commercial messages online because it elicits contextually relevant emotional responses. UGC is unpredictable and exciting because it’s filled with real people, real emotions, real situations, real surprises, real reactions, real opinions and real practical insight and advice which is impossible to create artificially or fake.
 
The trick for marketers is to selectively embrace, deploy and harness the power of UGC to bolster brand awareness and engagement. This requires 3 steps.
 
Monitor and Moderate. Watch the user interaction on web and social properties. Keep an eye out for positive comments and interesting uploads that align with your brand and its customers or values. Check out the creator of a positive post as well as the content. Avoid using copyrighted material or content clearly created by professionals. Screen out inappropriate, false or hate comments. Fact check and validate statistical information or quotes from third parties.
 
Approach Creators Gingerly. Ask permission of creators to use their material. Make this conversation private and respectful. Check identities and bona fides. Answer questions and satisfy yourself that the content and its creator are genuine and original. Develop repeatable protocols to vet potential content partners.
 
Make it Legal. Contract with creators to use their material. Specify which content will be used in which channels for a specific period of time. Get a signed release for the creative elements and for the use of the content creator’s name and likeness.
 
Done right, UGC can be a powerful tool for brands and companies that develop systems to identify, vet and contract for their legitimate use.
 
 
 

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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