The value of User-Generated Content in mainstream media
When digital technology overtook many physical interactions between businesses and consumers, and products became more commoditized, the biggest differentiator between companies competing for consumers’ time, attention, and money was trust.
Trust is one of the most treasured of all assets because it takes years to earn it and seconds to lose it. Without trust, a consumer-centric organization is doomed.
Today, every brand in the world is, or should be, vying for that same trusted relationship — a relationship Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer confirms is in crisis, “It used to be that people listened to brands. Brands could be trusted. However nowadays, people don’t believe brands anymore. Successful brands that innovate well aren’t what they used to be, they create human relationships, they have many living qualities — they are the Earned Brands.”
User-Generated Content (UGC), such as product reviews, can make or break a business, which is why the most successful ecommerce companies put people’s online experience at the top of their agenda. Take a look at Amazon and eBay. In the early 1990s, even before the digital revolution took off,they convinced people to trust them with their personal data and credit card information and, in eBay’s case, other faceless consumers in peer-to-peer auctions.
Today, 81% of people’s buying decisions are influenced by friends’ posts on social networks — one of the most common forms of UGC today. But UGC has been around much longer than social media. Some speculate it may have started with letters to editors in newspapers back in the 1700s.
In 2007, Accenture reported that senior media executives saw UGC as the biggest threat to the survival of their businesses. Shortly thereafter we started to see more and more newspapers and magazines banning comments from their sites and encouraging readers to share their opinions on social media. Little did those publishers know that they were signing their own digital death warrants. They may not be dead yet, but if they don’t change their tune about users soon, they will soon find themselves singing (and writing for) an audience of none.
UGC is pervasive and it’s not slowing down. Most is garbage, I’ll grant you that, but there are also many gems to be mined in cyberspace. Some publishers have figured it out and are starting to reap the benefits of a longer and more trusting relationship with amateur content creators.
As far back as 2011, eyewitness video by local citizens was integrated into the public broadcaster’s coverage of the conflicts in Syria on BBC World News TV.
For the past year, the BBC has taken the relationship with its audience even further by encouraging them to ask questions at the pitching stage of an article and provide feedback through the reporting process. The result is more relevant and engaging content for an invested audience and brand equity for the BBC.
A long-time supporter of UGC, The Guardian reinforced its position that journalism is a two-way conversation in 2013 with the launch of GuardianWitness — the home for user-generated news, videos, photos, stories and other creations people can share through their iOS and Android apps.
The barrier to entry is low for users who are delighted to see their content appear on such a prominent news outlet’s website. And for those who produce high quality content, they can further enjoy the prestige of being showcased on the main site and even in print. It’s a win-win for both citizen journalists and the publisher.
The Guardian reached the 500,000 regular-paying-supporters milestone in October 2017 after rolling out its threeyear membership campaign in select markets starting in 2014.
It’s not yet up there with The New York Times (2.1 million digital subscribers since 2011) or The Washington Post (1.2 million since 2013).
But when one considers that in July 2016 The Guardian only had 50,000 paying members, one can’t help but speculate that its commitment to having a two-way dialogue with its audience, respecting and publishing their content, and engaging them further through member-only events, seems to paying dividends.
UGC is here to stay
As of January 2017, over 4.9 billion people owned a smartphone which could not just shoot pictures and video, but edit them and share them at literally no cost.
The amount of UGC on the web is astronomical and much of which, I agree, isn’t worth the bits it’s using to publish it. But UGC is nothing to sneeze at either — it can, and often does, drive eyeballs, engagement and sales for brands across all industries, including publishing.
People are 200% more likely to share UGC than brand-created content. In fact, 85% of people say visual UGC influences them more than brand-generated videos or photos. On Facebook, UGC ads have a 300% higher click-through rate and 50% lower cost-per-click and cost-per-acquisition rates.
User-generated content has gotten a lot of criticism over the years and I totally agree that some of the comments on news websites are horrific and in desperate need of moderation. But that’s no reason to punish the many for the sins of a few. Sure, there are people who create malicious and fake content without any moral or editorial oversight, but they are not the majority.
Last year, in our interview with Michael Rosenblum, who, for over 25 years, has been leading the charge in the digital video journalist revolution, we talked about the role of user-generated video in the publishing industry.
He predicted that the most successful news organizations in the future will be those that have no professional journalists working for them at all. To some that may sound farfetched, but when you see the
number of citizen-driven video platforms popping up, such as Fresco News in New York and Newsflare in the UK (who just received a £2.4m investment and boasts clients such as the BBC, CNN, Sky News and the Daily Mail) it would appear that Mr. Rosenblum may not be far off the truth. User-generated video is cheap, it’s getting better all the time, and it’s engaging. What more could one ask for?
Brand equity in mainstream media is walking a tenuous tightrope. And while some brands have maintained the loyalty and trust of their readers, many others have squandered it.
Rekindle the trust
Having the best content on the web is not enough to gain the attention of today’s generation of news consumers. People expect media brands to strike an emotional chord with them; they expect publishers to trust them. When media companies banned readers from sharing comments and opinions on their platforms, they broke that trust. It’s time to repair the damage.
In 2017, Associated Press (AP) launched a new service that curates user-generated content for publishers — UGC to which they apply the same editorial standards as they do with journalists’ material. If you want to rekindle the trust you once had with your audience, why not give AP Social Newswire a try and share UGC with your readers at the right time, in the right format, though the right channels, at the right price.
I am passionate about quality content, but I don’t believe a degree in journalism is the only way to produce it. There’s some great UGC out there, so why not give users a second chance to gain your trust. Because you know what they say, “If you give trust, you get trust in return.” And consumer trust in media today is pure gold!