UGC and social networks are not just for the kids

When Rupert Murdoch and Google entered the world of social networks and user-generated content (UGC) with their acquisitions of MySpace and YouTube respectively, many wondered whether these bold and expensive moves would prove a folly. The answer is a resounding "No".

At this year’s Marketing Week Interactive conference, which attracted speakers ranging from marketing heavyweights, such as David Magliano, to technology giants such Google’s UK managing director Dennis Woodside, it was a subject that came up time and again.

Think MySpace and YouTube, and no doubt images of angst-ridden youngsters come to mind. But the arena has moved on and looks to be maturing rapidly. At the MWi conference, Channel 4’s head of marketing, new media, Tracy Blacher, illustrated how these networks are not just about short clips of teenage pranks. They can be used to great effect to stream exclusive content and drive momentum in digital campaigns – as evidenced with C4’s hugely successful online campaign for the US series, Lost. C4 is not alone in identifying social networks as a valuable communications tool: as MWi went to press, the BBC was said to be in talks with YouTube about streaming some of its content via the video-sharing network.

The internet is undoubtedly being remoulded as consumers seek to gain control and dictate how, when and what communications they receive from brands. It is an era when consumers are wresting back control. That must be daunting for some, but all is not lost.

Social networks and UGC are not just the realm of teenagers. Many adults, too, are hooking up online and seeking peer-to-peer recommendation or advice – one area where this is evident is in car purchase, the Net being prospective consumers’ first point of call for information and reviews. And of course, under the umbrella of UGC fall blogs, wikis and sites such as snackspot.com.

The modern-day consumer might be in control, but there is room for inspired marketers to interact with and offer the digital population more innovative ways to interact with their brand. While many marketers might associate "brand bashing" and negative reviews with blogs, these can be fertile areas for brand advocates and champions to praise your brand. Not only that, they also offer advertising opportunities at very low cost. A brand might consider sponsoring a blog or wiki; it can display banners on relevant networks and across relevant clips and content.

Be brave, be prepared to dip a toe in this new world and listen to what your consumers say. Evolve online – just as consumers have.

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