THE RELENTLESS RISE OF UGC

February 2017

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It’s free. It’s plentiful. And you need it. User generated content, or UGC, is spreading across the social media world at a seemingly ever accelerating rate, and it’s now seen by those with spending power as one of the best ways to make a purchasing decision.

UGC hasn’t just taken over Facebook, but it it’s the reason for being for Instagram and Snapchat. It’s the foundation of sites like Airbnb that rely on user interaction for their very existence. And don’t think that this rise in participation hasn’t been noticed by big and small brands alike. Some of the largest companies in the world have embraced UGC. Coca Cola, Procter and Gamble, Starbucks, to name just three, have had globally successful campaigns using just user generated content.

The key to the whole UGC phenomenon is the smart phone. As soon as cameras were built into phones the practice took off. Now the phones are more powerful, the cameras better, and data cheaper, more and more content is being created and uploaded. It’s not just content though. Millennials are wired into the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, art of marketing a product without it seeming like you are. Product placement and hashtags tie their experiences to the product and make it an integral part of the experience. Almost 60% of millennials (Crowdtap) say they use UGC to inform their purchases of electronics (read Beats by DrDre, TV’s, XBox), 46% for phones (the very device that spawned this), hotels (45%) and travel plans (40%). Millennials don’t want to buy houses, but they’re happy to spend money on toys and experiences.

User generated content in the form of citizen journalism has also become a vital part of reporting a news story, both on air and online. Networks around the world, and here in New Zealand, are struggling to keep up with the rapidly changing environment, and make a buck before TV audiences disappear altogether. Online is the future for these organisations, and content is king. That content comes from people out there armed with their smart phones and GoPros running towards an avalanche, or caught in an earthquake. Editors spend more time checking social media sources than they do international wires, just in case they miss the next big clip.

What does UGC bring to those big networks, and international (and not so international) companies? Credibility and trust. Brands don’t carry what they used to with millennials. This group needs to see the people they care about and respect telling them something, using something. If they see other people like them reporting on an event, they’re more likely to believe it. If they see people like them saying a hotel / travel company / beach party is the best thing ever they will believe it and sign up. Reevo discovered that 70% of consumers place pear recommendations and reviews above professionally written content.

Is it the death of professional content? No, not at all. But it must adapt to fit hand in glove with UGC. Brand engagement is enhanced when you can marry the two. A dance of quality and credibility that must tread a fine line between complimenting each other and one outshining the other. That’s where the challenge lies, to keep professional content effective and relevant, while embracing UGC and connecting with consumers and viewers.

Konrad Kasiske, Content Director