In this post, just to start off the new 2016 that has promised to bring a lot of changes, we’ll take a glimpse at how user generated content (UGC) will be shifting the advertising and internet industry in the next 12 months.
First of all, let us quickly define the UGC sources in the eyes of modern authors to avoid unnecessary doubt:
- Blogs – from personal websites with all kinds of matters and twitter microblogs to social networks made for content crafting like Medium, Tumblr, Blogger and LiveJournal.
- Social Networks for visual content sharing like Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, etc.
- Different knowledge bases built on wiki kinds of engines, e.g. Wikipedia and all sorts of wikia projects.
If we want to simply answer the question, we can take a look at Wikipedia, that was co-created by numerous users of the web and has become the main source of knowledge for millions of people. Monthly visits to Wikipedia.org according to Similarweb equal 2.6 bn. Clearly this is the most popular encyclopedia in the world and a source of knowledge for many in the today’s society. Does this mean that today’s user trusts UGC data more than your average professional publication? Starting to see how communications should change too.
So the point is bold: UGC is changing the world. Looking further at the professional research and science, different scientists use UGC in order to analyze today’s communities. For example, user creativity can be used in geographical researches, as in Livia Hollenstein and Ross Purves’s paper: “Exploring place through user-generated content: Using Flickr tags to describe city cores” have studied how people name their downtowns through flickr tags. This study shows the most appropriate way to find out toponyms that are actually used by citizens of different cities. And, there are dozens of such examples out there.
In 2008 everyone was talking about UGC due to success of those viral videos. However, advertisers have been quickly disappointed in it, since the viral effect is somewhat unpredictable and dependent on pure luck oftentimes. The other important idea connected to UGC was though unnoticed then. Namely, customers trust UGC, really.
In a survey, conducted by Social Soup, two types of ads were shown to an audience in the native environment of Facebook. One was TVC and it increased purchases by 25%, the other one was UGC based. The effect of the latter one brought a tremendous 33% growth in purchases. And, mostly because of trust.
Other examples of UGC campaigns can be easily found on the web. All of them have one thing in common: they were outstandingly successful. The list of top ten case studies has been recently posted on HubSpot.
So, is user generated content trendy, this time for real? Apparently yes, since we see increase of marketing budgets towards earned and not paid media. Companies try to build brands by not just attacking customers but crafting trust and loyalty. For this reason, they publish reviews at personal blogs and not broadcast on professional media. They invite users generate viral content themselves, creating deep care about their matter or brand, to a large extent impossible with just glamorous supermodels in their ads. The last point, indeed, is true beyond only advertising. There are many facts that uncover the trust and loyalty towards the content that is user generated, user initiated or mimics it:
- Take a look at today’s musical mainstream, where most of the singers today (compared to the glittering 90s and 2000’s) look like the people that follow them. Yes, producers see the trend.
- The last Pirelli calendar is another proof. Just compare it to previous ones, no need for words, as fame uncovers real people beneath.
- Growing popularity of plus sized models (well, not that new anymore)
- Famous actors non-standard looks, just like the society and their audience
- And, so on. You can find a lot of examples, that were published all around the web during 2015.
Why does this happen? The answer is simple. We are tired of ideal, with dimple on chin, perfect hair and body role models that are unachievable and content that does not seem like it’s been made for us. Just take a look at video ads of different perfume producers and you will smell it by yourself. We want to see usual people in movies, on scene and in ads. And UGC is the best source of usual people. Because today (and apparently in the next decade) we decide to trust to usual people and not just brands, – or actually trust the brands that are trusted and represented by usual people. Keeping this in mind, brands are expected to look more and more like ordinary (and extraordinary) people and rely on UGC, both in their research and creatives throughout 2016.