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Earning or owning UGC: the key differences

12th Jun 2017
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A number of years ago, a company called WD-40 began to see the benefits of user-generated content (UGC). While the product was originally designed as a lubricant for such things as squeaky hinges and to loosen tight bolts, etc., customers began to find new and unusual uses for the product. They began to contact the company with these innovations. Seizing on this great user-generated content, the business began to publish it on its site and social media channels. The response, over the years, has been quite amazing, and now there are over 2000 uses for WD-40 posted everywhere online.

The Value of UGC

Most businesses have come to understand the value of UGC as they promote their brands on as many platforms as possible. Comments, feedback, unique uses for products/services, along with visual (photos and videos) of customers engaged with that product/service have come to be more powerful than company-generated marketing efforts. We live in an age in which consumers trust fellow consumers more than they do the company itself.

Earning Vs. Owning UGC

UGC is earned by a business. It earns that customer content by providing satisfaction; it earns it by engaging customers in activities, such as contests. Until recently, however, businesses were content to simply post UGC and use it as a single-use marketing tool

The “big boys,” however, began to see greater value in “owning” rather than just “earning” UGC. If they could own it, they could use it for multiple purposes in a larger marketing campaign. The way to do this, they discovered, is to actually create the UGC themselves, so that they owned it and could use it for any purpose. They thus became media companies, as well as enterprises that sold specific products/services.

A prime example of this activity is GoPro. It has spent the past few years reviewing the UGC that is voluntarily submitted by customers. It then picks those that could be great content creators and arms them with hardware, funds, and platforms for them to produce their content. The caveat? GoPro owns the content and can use it anywhere.

Starbucks engaged in the same activity with its “White Cup Contest,” paying out gift card rewards for the best doodles on its re-usable cups. Again, it then owns this content.

So, Why is Owned UGC Important?

Here’s the thing. When UGC is posted on a social media platform, that platform owns the rights to it. You will get a short-term “bang” if the content is cool and generates lots of sharing and buzz. If this is what you want – to create shorts bursts that will promote your brand, then that is all you need.

But if you are looking more long-term, that is, to develop marketing campaigns based upon your users, then you want to reach out to them, facilitate their creation of that content, and buy the rights to that content. It then becomes a part of your repertoire forever.

Even small businesses can get in on this “act.” Manhattan Time Service, a New York-based watch repair and cleaning service, has discovered that soliciting and facilitating UGC that it then owns, serves as its best marketing tool.

Benefits of Owning Your UGC

Consider Apple for a minute. It does not solicit UGC through such things as hashtag campaigns on the likes of Instagram. It has a team of researchers who crawl the Internet looking for great UCG about its products. Then, it contacts these customers and literally buys the rights to that content or facilitates additional content creation by that user. Its recent “Shot on iPhone” marketing activity has resulted in 10,000+ billboards all over the globe. It basically has a worldwide gallery.

While you are not Apple, you can reap some major benefits from owning your UGC.

  • It creates a huge amount of metadata for you. Understanding the data within every picture, video, etc. provides more information about your customer base and its demographics. You can use this information to reach out to your customers at a personal level.
  • There are no legal issues with your use of any content – you are not re-publishing content that already exists elsewhere. You have generated that content an own it.
  • You can use it however, whenever, and wherever you wish – no royalties to pay - ever.

UGC is rapidly becoming royalty among the vast array of content. It can be earned or owned. Either is good and has its place in your total marketing strategy. Earned UGC will certainly help to spread your brand. It is a short-term marketing goal. Owned media is a long-term marketing goal. Owned media allows you to identify those users who will be great brand ambassadors not because they post something great about you but because they have the characteristics you want for a long-term campaign – something that you can use and re-use. These users you will facilitate – you will become a media company that produces that content.

A few years ago, Brian Clark of CopyBlogger made the prediction that those brands which also become media companies will come to dominate the Internet marketing landscape. It’s time to ask yourself how you can participate.

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