Is it the University Grants Commission? Or the code for an airport in Uzbekistan? Or the Uppsala General Catalogue – a list of the 12921 galaxies visible from the northern hemisphere?

And even if we know we’re referring to user-generated content, the difficulties don’t stop. What exactly is user-generated content? The BBC define it as ‘citizen journalism’, ‘social media’ or ‘participatory media’ – so basically anything that isn’t produced by them but ends up on one of their channels. This seems simple. Perhaps too simple.

Wikipedia – the ultimate example of UGC – defines it as “blogs, wikis, discussion forums, posts, chats, tweets, podcasting, pins, digital images, video, audio files, and other forms of media that was created by users of an online system or service, often made available via social media websites”.

UGC is trusted 50% more by Millennials than other forms of media. - Highlight to share -

The difficulty is that bloggers and vloggers are becoming increasingly professional and are starting to behave like professional reviewers. They may not be paid by the brand to produce the content but the lines are blurred: they are receiving free samples on the proviso they review the product. They are getting paid by other means. That might not be in the traditional sense by newspapers or magazine, but rather by advertisers through YouTube. This doesn’t seem organic in quite the way we expect UGC to be.

Consumers rely on UGC throughout their shopping journey, which these days combines online and offline. - Highlight to share -

And, finally, another matter for debate is whether UGC is a good thing. Andrew Keen, author of the book The Cult of the Amateur, certainly doesn’t think so. In an essay he wrote for The Weekly Standard, he argued that UGC, a by-product of the Web 2.0 movement, heralds the end of high culture:

“It worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer. It suggests that everyone–even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us–can and should use digital media to express and realize themselves.”

But what certainly is not a matter for debate is how valuable UGC can be for brands. Have a look at this great infographic from Ad Week’s Social Times. According to a survey by Ipsos, UGC is trusted 50% more by Millennials than other forms of media. For brands, that trust is invaluable.

Consumers rely on UGC throughout their shopping journey, which these days combines on-line and off-line, from initial awareness through to checking out the quality of aftersales – across all verticals including retail, travel, auto and financial services. At the same time brands and retailers recognise the true power of UGC: its power both to engage and influence with their customers, but also as an invaluable source of customer insight to drive improvements across their business from new product development through to merchandising and marketing.

So whilst the question of “What exactly is UGC?” is an interesting one, perhaps the most valuable question we should be asking ourselves is: “How to do we protect that value of UGC so that everyone can continue to benefit from it?”

Each and every one of us need to embrace three words: transparency, credibility and impartiality. - Highlight to share -

Each and every one of us need to embrace three words: transparency, credibility and impartiality. Some might add “authenticity” to that list. Whether you are a major brand, a professional blogger, or a small business, or indeed a review site, we all need to embrace these values. If you blog, be explicit about whether you have received a free sample in return for an article (or have been paid), if you are a brand or retailer – make sure you know where the content has come from and that is genuine. Oh, and it goes without saying don’t manipulate it or create your own “fake reviews” – it’s now against the law.

Think “consumer first” – and you won’t go far wrong.

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Matter for debate: what exactly is UGC?