The Terrifying Truths and Surprising Successes of UGC

The Terrifying Truths and Surprising Successes of UGC

You might wonder about the buzz surrounding user-generated content (UGC). What is it? Do you need it?

You might wonder about the buzz surrounding user-generated content (UGC). What is it? Do you need it?

UGC: A Definition

User-generated content is created by the general public—rather than by a company’s staff or paid experts. It can vary based on media type, from someone blogging about a brand or experience to another person posting a YouTube video. With the ubiquity of social media today, UGC isn’t going away.

For some people, this feels terrifying. It doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s walk through a few case studies and then explore some dos and don’ts when it comes to UGC.

Case Studies: The Good

Remember Ford’s social campaign in 2009: The Fiesta Movement? Ford selected one hundred people active on social media and loaned them the European version of the Ford Fiesta eighteen months before the model was released in the United States. The trade? Ford asked them to share their experiences over a six-month time span via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. In result, Ford garnered over 11 million social network impressions without spending a dime on traditional marketing efforts.

Doritos’ “Crash the Super Bowl” contest is another great example. Knowing how expensive TV spots are to create for the Super Bowl—especially when added to the cost of airing ads during this pricey time slot—Doritos used UGC to make its ad money go further. The brand invited contestants to submit videos they created about Doritos, and Doritos picked the one that garnered the highest number of YouTube views to air during the big game.

This created a win-win situation: Doritos fans had a chance for their video to air on national television and win $1 million and Doritos saved expensive production costs and got an additional 1.7+ YouTube video views.

Did Ford and Doritos take huge risks when they let the public speak for them? Yes. Fortunately, the risks paid off. They planned out a detailed UGC strategy, executed it well—and it delivered.

Case Studies: The Bad and the Ugly

Not all attempts at using UGC go well. UGC is indeed a risk, and if companies don’t plan carefully, the attempt can cause embarrassment—and damage to the brand. When content is placed in the public’s control, the perception of a brand can quickly change.

Take McDonalds. In January 2012, the widely known fast-food chain tried to take advantage of UGC by asking consumers to share their Happy Meal experiences via Twitter, tagging the tweets with the hashtag #McDStories.

Misfire. Consumers hijacked the hashtag to complain about McDonalds and bash its low-value offerings. (For more on the debacle, click here.)

And even if a company doesn’t plan a UGC campaign, it can get caught in the UGC crossfire. In many cases, brands must race to respond to UGC they had no hand in encouraging.

Does the phrase “Dell Hell” ring a bell? In 2005, a widely known blogger posted about his dissatisfaction with Dell’s customer service, igniting widespread complaints about the company and its offerings. Reeling from the negative publicity, Dell afterward jumped on the social media bandwagon, training over 3,000 employees on social media and creating a social media team within its customer service department.

UGC Tips and Tricks

How can you use UGC effectively—and avoid as best as possible the UGC-gone-wrong scenarios? Here are a few tips:

  • Research what users say about your brand. Respond proactively. Many brands engender negative perceptions because they don’t respond to the public’s praise and complaint.
  • Find customers who are satisfied with your product or service and encourage them to write about your brand. Use positive reviews to promote your company. Post the testimonials on your Web site and social pages or, better yet, develop case studies from the content to use in your marketing collateral. Customer reviews are the most genuine advertising.
  • Respond to UGC. Think of all of the people checking into your venue on Facebook or tagging your company in a tweet. Flattering, yes? Don’t just sit back and enjoy it—take it a step further. A simple “like” or retweet can go a long way. One FrogDogger recently visited Nashville and dined at the famously known Loveless Café. After posting a picture on Instagram, the restaurant responded by “liking” the photo. It created a strong connection to the brand and only took a simple click.
  • Make contingency plans in case UGC goes south. Whether you planned the campaign or something just happened, know what you’ll do if UGC goes negative. (For more on this, listen to FrogDog CEO Leslie’s Farnsworth’s interview on Social Geek Radio about social media crisis communications. To learn about preparing crisis communications plans in general, download our white paper on the topic.)
  • Take control of your on-line reputation. Make sure your brand has a presence in social media that you’ve had a hand in creating. (Because even if you don’t have a Twitter handle, people on Twitter are still talking about you. You have a social media presence whether you like it or not.) Build positive social media equity—it will come to your rescue in a crisis.
  • Create content for social media that people want to share. (For more on getting customers to buzz, read our article on the topic.) And always avoid topics your audience may find sensitive.

When done correctly, UGC can be more effective than almost any other type of campaign. People trust other consumers far more than they’ll ever trust something from a business. And with UGC, your customers do the promoting, create the content, and spread the word.

Social media has allowed people to form direct relationships with companies. As marketers, we must take this into account when developing strategies.

Don't have a marketing strategy of your own? FrogDog is here to help!

Image courtesy of photostock/

Posted: Oct 08, 2012
Updated: Oct 10, 2019
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