User Generated Content: Enhancing Your Online Experience

People always want to fit in – even if it means standing out. That is the philosophy behind User Generated Content (UGC). This content allows users to be a part of a community, while still being able to voice their opinion. It encourages interaction and the distribution of information – all of which better the users’ experience. And UGC is constantly growing… but does it have any drawbacks? And how can it be improved?

Going Up?

Statistics show that UGC has been skyrocketing in recent years. A study by eMarketer shows that 70% of internet users are consumers of UGC. Most of this UGC is composed of blogs and social media.

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Social media sites have allowed people to voice their opinion to the masses, no matter where they are in the world.
Photo property of Zachary J. Prutzman. All rights reserved.

According to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, there are three main returns that the content’s owner is looking for:

  1. connecting with people
  2. expressing oneself
  3. recognition of the owner’s work

Blogs and social media fill these returns perfectly, as you are posting and receiving feedback, which is why they are the most widely-used forms of sourcing UGC.

UGC is powerful in drawing new viewers to a website. This is because the content’s owner is promoting their work outside of the site that is hosting the content. Telefonica Research conducted a study on a variety of video-hosting sites and found that 47% of all videos having incoming links from external sites. This serves as a form of advertising for a site, and it’s free of charge.

Different Forms of UGC

User generated content can take on a variety of different forms. As stated earlier, the most popular are blogs and social media; however, there are other forms that are much more useful. Almost every website can provide a form of UGC that will be beneficial.

One manner in which UGC drives eCommerce is through product reviews. As mentioned in the article “User-Generated Content” by Niroshan Balasubramaniam, product reviews have becoming a staple in the eCommerce field, as they provide the consumer with some trust as to whether or not the product they are buying will meet their expectations.

The consumer is no longer looking at advertising distributed by the producer; rather, the consumer is receiving unbiased reviews from other users. And with the rise of sites like eBay, consumers are no longer dealing with companies shipping products; rather, they are dealing with other consumers. Reviews on sellers nullify any worries as to whether or not the seller’s product will actually reach the consumer.

More people found out about the 2004 Tsunami via blogs and social media than through conventional media such as CNN and BBC. Photo property of paragthink. All rights reserved.

More people found out about the 2004 Tsunami via blogs and social media than through conventional media such as CNN and BBC.
Photo property of paragthink. All rights reserved.

This was a problem that I ran into back when eBay was just getting started. Sellers did not have feedback, as the site was only running for a couple months. Thus, I was hesitant to purchase products until a seller had a vast amount of positive feedback. Luckily, the growth of user-involvement means that this is no longer much of a problem.

Also, UGC has been successful in producing content. Allowing guest posts on a blog provides a wide variety of content, coming from different voices, and keeps the blog fresh. No longer is there a couple of authors trying to produce content; instead, there is a whole community that is uploading information.

The success of these types of communities was evident in 2004 when a tsunami ripped through the Indian Ocean. The National Geographic found that more people were informed via blogs and social media than by CNN or BBC.

There are drawbacks to allowing guest posts, however, which will be addressed in the next section.

Things Are Running Amuck

There are many problems that are associated with UGC – some of which can invoke legal implications.

One problem with UGC is the fact that anyone could be publishing the information…
Photo property of Crezalyn Nerona Uratsuji. All rights reserved.

Users are constantly posting illegal material. Vidmeter found that nearly 10% of videos on YouTube are uploaded without the content owner’s consent. This can result in legal ramifications towards both the website and the person that illegally uploaded the content.

Also, many people have issues trusting UGC – especially when it comes to blogs. Users question whether or not those providing information on a certain topic are experts or an amateur. This is especially true for those seeking information on science and medicine, as mentioned in Balasubramaniam’s article. By only allowing experts to make guest posts, it provides higher-quality content and a sense of trust for the consumer.

These types of blogs, however, can still provide UGC without allowing guests themselves to make the post. Incorporating tweets, comments and pictures from viewers into a post makes them feel as though they are contributing. It is important, however, to make sure that you acknowledge the user for providing the content.

The Future… Don’t Be Scared

As UGC continues to rise, its future seems bright. That being said, there are already many areas that are being identified for improvement.

As companies become more and more concerned with product reviews online, a shift is being made by PR departments to curtail bad reviews. By allowing users to only see reviews from people they trust (such as their Facebook friends or experts in the field), it would drastically improve reliability.

Also, users are becoming concerned with private information posted on social media sites becoming difficult to control. Other users can tag pictures of someone, thus having it become attached to your name.

Many companies have found it difficult to monetize sites that provide UGC, as most of these sites are trends that eventually phase out. Improvements are being sought as to how monetizing these sites is possible.

Have no fear, however. UGC is improving vastly every day, and is making your online experience much more pleasurable. By finding which form of UGC will best complement your website, you can improve your customer’s experience and drive more traffic to your site.

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