User-generated content: It's more like good old, tried-and-true broadcast branding than you think -- if done right.
Marketers are being advised that the days of unidirectional communication are over and that, in order to continue to be successful, brands must directly interact with and engage in conversations with consumers through a variety of online communication tools. While there is no doubt this type of engagement is valuable, it is being overemphasized. The overemphasis sets up a false dichotomy between traditional "broadcast" style publications, where we think about brand advertising, and "user-generated" publications, which require expensive direct engagement with early adopters and influencers.
Such efforts can consume huge amounts of time and energy. They also apply the idea of user-generated content (UGC) very narrowly.
We believe it is time to move beyond the era of simplistic "per click" thinking and realize that good old-fashioned broadcast branding is still critical today -- but the internet offers brands a twist on the conventional notion. Brands still need to get their names in front of large audiences, but now they can do it through those who are reading and using UGC.
What marketers need to understand is that not all UGC is equal. The concern that it is somehow dangerous due to its potentially unpredictable nature is quickly becoming dated. Sure, you can find chaotic, disorderly and unrestrained message boards that a brand advertiser would be wise to avoid. But increasingly popular is the well-cultivated and curated user-generated content in wikis, blogs and similar spaces that allow for community control over the quality. Consider the growth of Flickr, Yelp and, of course, Wikia.
The number of people a company can reach through a solely online conversational-marketing approach is limited. If a company has an information-dense product, for example high-end electronics, then actively engaging in conversations with users and prospects helps the company educate and respond to questions about products or services.
But if a company has a comparatively less information-dense product, then it needs to reach millions of people with a simple message as frequently as possible within a context where they care.
And let's face it: Dollars spent on online brand advertising, compared to advertising dollars spent on TV, radio and print publications, are cheap and targetable.
Despite all the hype, Facebook is still an example of an undervalued broadcast marketing platform in today's environment.
One example is the wildly popular gift-giving campaign created by the producers of the "Sex in the City" movie, which allowed users to send virtual shoes as gifts to their Facebook friends, drumming up excitement and increasing buzz about the movie months ahead of its release. Hewlett-Packard had similar success on Wikia's Gaming Network with its targeted online campaign that introduced Blackbird, a high-end computer designed for gamers, to an audience of them.
Ultimately it's true that social media has enabled a sea change in consumer communications through one-on-one interactions and direct online conversations. But marketers still need to do large-scale, broadcast-style brand building. That hasn't changed. What has changed -- and must be embraced -- is the explosion of UGC venues companies have for conducting that crucial brand-building.
Jimmy Wales and Andrea Weckerle, Advertising Age. March 30, 2009
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