After you had an incursion into online communities and target audiences during Anastasia’s lecture, it only makes sense to spend a little more time addressing some of the myths associated with user generated content and the theories that aim to explain its uses.

Make sure you check the posts from the 2012 and 2013 lectures on the same topic.

The myths

We started the lecture by identifying the myths and assumptions surrounding the incorporation of user generated content in a communication strategy. These include:

  1. Everybody has access to the internet (check the “Digital Divide” to see that is not the case)
  2. Posting is easy (it could be physically and process-wise easy BUT what are the implications)
  3. Creating content is easy (BUT does it do what it is aimed for?)
  4. Creating content is cheap (that if we assume that subscription/creating of the accounts is free BUT disregards the time needed to create as well as the time needed to gain the skills to create effective content)
  5. There are plenty of online distribution channels (maybe too many SO do you know which one is the right one to choose? Remember the Social Media Landscape and web trends lecture)
  6. Engagement is simple, straightforward and sustainable (yet every platform has a very different definition of engagement. Moreover, with platforms growing in popularity attaining visibility is increasingly more difficult requiring therefore more effort, more time and more content).

Independently, all these statements have an element of truth however put together they point to a limited understanding the uses of social media fueled mainly by a superficial approach to technology and its growth. It also points to a marketing/selling/pushing approach to communication rather than an immersive and responsive approach highlighting thus the separation between companies and users (us/them). Heller, Baird and Paransis “Customer Relationship Management From Social Media to Social CRM” report (2011 – on myBU) focuses on the differences in perceived importance associated by consumers and businesses for their online interactions. While for the consumers their communication for brands gives more importance to “what’s in it for them”, companies continue to belive that consumers follow them because they have a genuine interest in them.

The theory

Fueled in part by these myths and the recognition of a different approach to digital media between business and users, researchers and practitioners alike have aimed to identify the factors that influence the generation of content by users.

Beck (2008) offers an extensive review of the 5 determinants of user generated content production and the theories affiliated to them (the Prezi has more details; make sure you check the reading on myBU). The determinants are:

  • group size (having a bigger audience, does not necessarily guarantee it will be more active/engaged – check the “long tail” theory again)
  • topic and purpose (shared purpose and shared ideas tend to lead to higher engagement; also good to think here of our talk about crowdsourcing as well as the utopian and dystopian views of technology and the Internet: the Internet does not bring together only a company’s/person’s/idea supporters but also their opponents)
  • usability
  • member characteristics
  • policy and safety

The application

The bad

Most of the examples we looked at, showing user generated content “gone bad” stem from the companies’ poor understanding of social media, poor research into the target audiences and online communities or the underestimation of how online communities react and communicate.

The good

Some of these examples show the positive reaction and engagement of users in social media campaigns, other show the users unpromted reviews of products/services or reactions to current events.

  • Dunkin Donuts’ #Coolatta campaign.
  • Daym Drops’ epic review of Five Guys Burgers & Fries.
  • the very visually and creativity driven #whitecupcontest from Starbucks
  • Cameron’s Conference Rap by Cassetteboy (made possible by new changes in legislation in the UK which make parody videos legal)
  • Other examples include Litter Robot and their YouTube competition, #UWRightNow campaign of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Tourism Queensland and Iceland wants to be your friend. You can read more about them on Mashable and Postano’s blog.

Learning points for your strategy engagement_Thunderbird 2014

  • Prepare the audience (know the rules of the platforms; user expectations)
  • Assess your risks and benefits
  • Think of the balance between the user value vs the brand value (this should be informed by user needs vs brand needs)

Make sure you check Thurderbird’s Engagement 3.0 report.


About Ana ADI

Professor of Public Relations/Corporate Communications @ | Researcher | PR & Social Media Consultant | Fulbrighter

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