Brand-Initiated, User-Generated Content Shows Potential

A new study from WPP Group’s Mediaedge:cia illustrates the huge potential of brand-initiated, user-generated content for marketers: Twenty percent of young broadband users worldwide have already engaged in some form of it and another 30 percent say they plan to in the future. But while some brands can benefit from the technique, the study concludes it’s not for everyone.

The study was commissioned by MEC and conducted by U.K.-based market research firm Brainjuicer, which polled more than 11,000 Internet-enabled adults between the ages of 16 and 25 across four continents: North America, Latin America, Asia Pacific and Europe. The results are being released to MEC clients this week.

The study found that for most consumers the primary motive for participating in such efforts is a reward of some kind. Rewards could be financial or product related, status affirming or even just a platform from which to express themselves (social currency) or to influence a brand.

The biggest obstacles to participation in UGC activities, per the study: lack of time and payoff for Europe, North America and Latin America and concerns about encountering bad language or rudeness, coupled with too little reward in the Asia/Pacific region.

Interestingly, it’s the older half of the age group polled that participates most in UGC programs launched by marketers. Some 56 percent of those claiming to participate are between the ages of 25 and 35, while only 13 percent are younger than 21. The gender split among UGC participants is 50-50, the study reports.

“If consumer attitudes towards [brand-initiated, user-generated content] can be summarized in one line, it is: What’s in it for me?” the study concludes. “Therefore, brands must be perceived to be giving as much as or more than they are receiving.”

But the benefits to brands are potentially quite significant. The technique is best used to enhance brand perception, the study reports. Indeed, brands can benefit from just asking consumers to participate in some form of UGC. The three primary forms of UGC are voting or rating, sharing thoughts or opinions, and making content. Over half of the respondents said they would feel much more positive or slightly more positive about a brand that invited them to participate in one of those three main forms of UGC.

“To use [UGC] as a short-term trigger for purchase is . . . probably to misuse it completely,” the study asserts. “It is better used to create predisposition to other communication that is more direct in approach and to promote word-of-mouth and personal recommendation.”

One surprising result, said Gerard Broussard, MEC managing partner, strategic insights and analytics, was that more than 40 percent of the respondents said they would consider participating in making content for a brand that they aren’t fond of or even that familiar with. But clearly not all brands are suited to the UGC space, said Broussard. “There is probably very limited use in the pharmaceutical sector where privacy is an issue,” he said. “Or even a category like batteries — the only time you think about batteries is when they don’t work.”

But those brands that do initiate UGC opportunities to consumers must be prepared to stay the course or risk a negative backlash. If consumer content creation “is the beginning of a conversation with a consumer, the brand owner must be prepared to maintain that dialog,” the study says. Questions such as whom in the organization will be responsible for that; what value will be exchanged for participation; and how the brand will be represented in social networks must be addressed, per the study.