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The Flipside of User Generated Content

Consumer distrust. It’s a problem that runs through a marketer’s nightmares like a runaway train. User Generated Content is a good start to pull that train back into the station. And to no surprise, it’s become such a big part of current trends like influencer marketing. UGC is a more authentic than typical content. It is more relatable to consumers and is a great way to connect with them in real ways. Do we really believe a product or service is better because a celebrity is telling us so? I certainly wouldn’t. I am more inclined to believe someone who seems just like a regular Joe like me. The rub is that when brands engage their UGC with influencers who have tons of followers, relatability and authenticity of the content can get a little dicey. Particularly when you’re trying to differentitae between ad and advocacy.

One of the unique elements of UGC is that it taps into consumer trust and relationship building. It’s a good tactic, for sure.  Particularly when used with influencer marketing because the content users create is presented organically to those users’ social audiences. In fact, I recently saw a study conducted by Reevoo that said “61 percent of people would be more likely to engage with an advertisement if it contained user generated content.” And another from Bazaar found that “51 percent of Americans trust UGC more than other information on a company website.”

But….

And this is a big “but”. UGC is just half of a story that needs the whole story told.  I wholeheartedly believe that organic distribution is perceived as more authentic than paid, but when all brands care about or hone in on the size of someone’s audience, they risk missing out on the other powerful half of the user content story. And that is User Inspired Content.

Organic stories are more powerful than organic reach. And that’s why we should stop focusing in on how content is distributed and instead create the kind that people actually want to listen to. Content people want to read about and content people want to watch. The kind that places the user in the spotlight.

Take Patagonia, for example. This is a company whose mission is rooted in social responsibility. A lofty and worthy goal, and not one that’s easily communicated through banners or 30-second ads. To get its message across, Patagonia uses content to build a passionate community of people who share those values – and eventually support the company through purchases. They’ve produced and supported short films that tackle environmental issues, such as “The Refuge”, about two women from the Gwich’in people of Alaska who are on a quest to protect their land. They didn’t send them gear with the agreement that they’d post images wearing their stuff. Instead the powerful and emotionally charged story connects with users because it’s real and far from feeling anything remotely close to advertising.

REI, another outdoor company with strongly held beliefs and a passionate and devoted following, released the 30-minute film “Paul’s Boots,” that tells the story of a hiker who dreamed of completing the Appalachian Trail but passed away before ever starting. A group of hikers carried his boots along the trail to realize Paul’s dream. The film has garnered more than 1 million views on YouTube.

The risk you run by passing your voice to an influencer is you are fueling the relationship they have with your consumers. Is that a risk you’re willing to take considering the investment you’ve made cultivating followers and reach through your own channels, your paid media and PR?  Instead, why not give your advocates the podium, like Patagonia or REI did? Their story is the star. And because your brand plays a supporting role, the User Inspired Content is real and authentic. And it’s content a consumer will believe. And become an advocate themself.

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