Ugc’s untapped potential

Despite user-generated content’s rapid growth and connection with consumers, few brands use it to reach customers. But marketers need to investigate how to make the most of this new medium

beboLike the ubiquitous buzzwords Web 2.0 and social networking, user-generated content (UGC) is omnipresent in today’s digital world. Its rapid growth is nothing short of a consumer-driven communication revolution, and is the platform for some of the most successful digital brands around, such as YouTube, Flickr and Wikipedia.

Research by Starcom MediaVest Group among UK adults with broadband internet connections indicates that weekly consumption of UGC significantly overshadows that of emerging media, such as mobile TV and internet protocol TV, and is more comparable with traditional media such as commercial radio and regional newspapers – 84% of respondents say they have read a newspaper in the past week and 60% have accessed UGC.

Despite UGC’s extraordinary growth and connection with consumers, few brands have used it to reach customers. There is a degree of trepidation from advertisers and agencies alike to try their hand at UGC advertising, attributed to a combination of fear of intruding on a “consumer” environment, a lack of understanding of who uses UGC and how they use it, and the fact that it is a largely unproven medium.

For this reason, as part of the research, Starcom MediaVest Group has segmented the broadband population based on their level of engagement with UGC with the aim of distinguishing the traits of each group, their motivations for using UGC and their acceptance of advertising in this environment.

The research identifies four distinct groups. Creatives are overwhelmingly young and male, with 33% spending more than four hours online every day. They’re a source of information for their friends, and they like to stand out in a crowd – which goes some way to explaining their enthusiasm for content creation: 22% keep a daily blog, 23% upload videos daily and 39% add an article to Wikipedia at least once a week.

Creatives are more accepting of UGC advertising, despite acknowledging the intrusive nature of many formats. This is driven by their understanding of the commercial realities of running UGC sites, and also because of their desire to be paid for their creative efforts.

Commentators are also more likely to be male, but they’re older than creatives. They consider themselves to be savvy consumers, are influenced by online reviews, and 64% review products or services online themselves each week. They are less accepting of intrusive forms of UGC advertising, such as pre-roll and ticker ads on videos, and prefer less intrusive formats, where advertisers have tried to integrate their brand more creatively, such as advertiser profiles on YouTube.

Voyeurs are more private, less trustworthy of blogs and less engaged with consumer feedback sites than commentators. That said, 42% watch online videos and 34% read a blog at least once a week. Voyeurs are least accepting of intrusive forms of UGC advertising, preferring contextual advertising such as Google Adwords on Flickr, open forums or consumer-driven feedback sites.

Those disengaged with UGC are generally not engaged with new technologies, and are highly distrustful of blogs (67% have never visited one).

As well as demonstrating that motivations to use UGC and attitudes to advertising differ markedly between groups, the research highlights why it is in an advertiser’s best interest to engage with active UGC participants – they are more likely to be brand advocates, with 61% of creatives and 57% of commentators recommending products to friends.

As marketers seek new ways of captivating consumers it’s essential they investigate the mass medium of UGC. Marketers and agencies must acknow-ledge that audiences will interact with UGC in different ways. Is your target audience likely to be creators or voy-eurs? Which form of UGC advertising will they be most receptive towards?

Your advertising may not sit well alongside every UGC advertising format. Just ask Vodafone, which withdrew its ads from Facebook after they appeared on the British National Party profile page. Have a strategy in place in case things don’t go as planned.

Be creative. Unless your intrusive pre-roll ad is going to return something to the content creator, people are going to tune out. However, there are many more creative options available. And remember to learn from the experiences of others by finding out what’s been working and what hasn’t.

Test and learn. You will only learn its true return on investment by testing the medium for your own brand and investing in research to determine its effectiveness. 

Peter Luetjens, Consumer Strategist, and Simon Stansforth, Head of the Strategic Intelligence Unit, Starcom MediaVest Group, contributed to this week’s Trend Insight

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