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User Generated Content: Why Content is Still King

In my younger days, I frequented the bar scene. My college buddies and I had somehow conceived this as a good idea to find a date, in spite of the fact that most bars were filled with other men on the same mission. Bars were more tailored to provide a place of escape rather than a location to find someone. Those women who had the type of future I desired (you know, in the long run) were at home studying for tomorrow’s exam, not out in bars like me. But I persevered. Of course, the sheer lack of success in meeting people of the female persuasion should have alerted me to the fallacy of this idea quickly. Nevertheless, I was undaunted. Did I mention I persevered? I continued to flounder in the relentless hope that someday, I’d meet Miss Right across the bar – waiting to share a glass of Guinness with the man of her dreams.

Does that sound familiar to you? I don’t mean in the sense of the bar scene (Fortunately, I came to my senses and left that scene for good). Instead, I mean in your own pursuit of how to generate a usable, interactive web experience for your business?

I share the story of my youth (albeit with some discretion) because I know how history repeats itself in other ways. As I got older and entered the business world, I remained in relentless pursuit of the same sort of hopeless goals – except this time it was with my search for a “magic pill solution” on the web.

I’d frequent different sites in a desperate search of the perfect program, or design, or content, to try to lift me out of the downward spiraling, self-actualization that perhaps I wasn’t going to find the perfect web solution this way. But I persevered.

Then I came across this idea: Content is king. User generated content was the salvation I had been in search of all along.

There was a rub. I had no clue how to find user generated content. Fact is, when I first heard about user generated content, I had no idea what it meant, or what I was supposed to do about it.

The thing I have learned about User Generated Content (UGC) is that if you can pull people to your site for the right reason, you can create a place that is user-friendly and your brand loyalty is well served. The key is to provide a significant place where people will come to interact with you by submitting information. The submitted information is User Generated Content.

YouTube does this very effectively. While the advertising model behind YouTube has yet to be fully vetted, the principle of allowing users to express themselves in an easy, reliable, and friendly environment is a great example of how good UGC can be acquired.

Blogging is another example of finding good user generated content. If you can create compelling headlines and interesting copy, people will flock to find your site and give feedback.

But is that all there is to UGC? Blogging and videos? In fact, one of the two most powerful ways to have UGC become an integral part of your user’s web experience is to give them a social network application. That is, give them a voice, a way to be heard. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are several web companies out there that will allow you to plug into their system and brand it with your distinct company’s identity…at a cost.

Recall my fruitless search for female companionship. On the Internet, more than half of web users are female. A report from Adage.com shows that last year, ” ‘women’s community’ was the most visited and fastest growing Internet category. The number of unique visits to women’s community sites jumped 35% to almost 70 million from 52 million.” (Adage.com, Feb 2008)

While on the web, women are using social networking sites, finding information about parenting, and trying to be healthy. And yes, perhaps one or two are seeking romance, but mostly, they are finding a voice – a way to either express themselves or find information – that helps them express themselves in other areas offline.

The second way to develop a strong UGC platform is to give users a way to connect with you. Show vulnerability as a company and give your user the opportunity to let you and others know if they have appreciated (or not appreciated) your customer service and website.

It will do wonders for your trustworthiness online. When other users see that you’ve provided a forum to give honest feedback, good or bad, they will react positively. Research has shown that customer satisfaction programs are amongst the best programs an organization can launch. This is because it gives the customer a way to feel appreciated.

When is the best opportunity to make a customer for life? The single best opportunity to show you care is when something goes wrong. If you can capitalize on the experience and go out of your way to help resolve the situation, you’ll make a strong statement about who you are and what you do. And if they leave anyway – well, it’s just good business to make nice with customers.

I am not suggesting you make a bad experience happen in order to resolve it. I am suggesting a great way to have UGC be a part of your company’s web strategy is to launch a fully-fleshed customer service program online with feedback and forums, “rate it” functionality, and social post icons for them to share if your content is good with other sites.

Ultimately, there are two groups of people who read this article. There are those who’ll continue searching for the next big thing to hit the Internet, so as to try and take advantage of the web and quickly reap the financial rewards. The only problem is they don’t know where to start and are often fishing in the wrong pond (think back to my youthful exuberance). And then there are those who are busy trying to figure out how to use what I just wrote to create a great user experience. Which one are you?

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