The internet is an almost incomprehensibly vast and fluid repository of information. Never before in human history has so much content been immediately available to so many people -- and much more will be uploaded by the time to you finish reading this sentence.
It’s no surprise that the profusion of digital media has already had a profound impact on everything from journalism to entertainment to advertising. As sources of information continue to become more decentralized, traditional organs of communication and commerce have been forced to adapt. The same incentives news organizations have for using freelancers and other independent content creators exist for brands that are trying to spread their message as widely and effectively as possible.
That’s why user-generated content (UGC), much of it found on social media, is becoming a major component of brands’ creative strategies. Not only does it provide them with content for a fraction of what it costs to produce traditional advertising, but it also reflects the demand for authentic, relatable, visual stories. In essence, this “authentic content” can be found across the entire internet space, and I believe the demand for it will only continue to grow exponentially.
Why Authentic Content Matters
While big-budget ads are still with us, many brands are recognizing that there are alternatives to the familiar strategy of renting studio space, hiring a director and a production team, and creating elaborate, top-dollar commercials.
And money isn’t the only issue. Brands are also trying to produce an authentic message that will resonate with consumers who are becoming more and more interested in engaging with them. According to a 2014 study conducted by Cohn & Wolfe, 63% of consumers would prefer to do business with a brand they view as more authentic than its competitors.
Authentic content can provide customers with an engaging visual experience -- what’s more real than content created by real people who most consumers can actually relate to? As in any relationship, trust is earned, and brands have the opportunity, now more than ever, to cultivate trust from the bottom up.
As we look to the future, the companies that are adapting to this type of content -- and the shift in production strategy that comes with it -- will be at a significant advantage.
Authentic Content Lives Across Diverse Fields
The opportunity that authentic content creates isn’t only affecting advertisers. Just look at how drastically the business model has changed for news organizations in recent years, in many ways thanks to the explosion of shared content online. There has been a massive influx of sources of information. Revenue has flattened as advertising options have proliferated, and newsroom employment has plummeted.
We’ve also witnessed the disturbing phenomenon of fake news. This has been enabled by the sheer number of outlets, the slingshot effect of social media and an online ecosystem that privileges clicks and shares over vetted, high-quality content.
But the fact that the internet has empowered anyone to be a journalist has also provided tremendous benefits. As the pressure on media and advertisers to produce faster, cheaper and better content increases, the demand for user-generated, authentic content has exponentially increased. This new source of supply is leading to innovation and efficiency, and we can certainly expect to see an explosion of campaigns leveraging this type of content in the coming years.
Strategizing Authentic Content For Your Brand
UGC enables creatives and producers to flip the switch on their usual creative processes. For example, one of our clients is using UGC to drive storyline development -- writing the script in real time, with the content driving the story, compared to fitting it into a predetermined production mandate.
UGC is readily available, so it provides creatives and producers more control in choosing content and the flexibility to adjust it if a brief evolves over time. But before you can even get to scriptwriting, you first need to determine how your team will leverage UGC in your campaign, and there a few key parameters to consider:
Define your target audience. Brands should take advantage of the real-life nature of UGC by defining the audience(s) they think their content selection will resonate most with. If a user has created content of themselves practicing Goat Yoga (yes, it’s a thing), there are likely hundreds -- if not thousands -- of other goat yogis around the world that would likely relate to that experience. UGC is also a great format to complement hyperlocal marketing and advertising efforts.
Determine the look and feel. With every smartphone release comes a superior camera. An endless number of professional-grade photos and videos currently exists, and many more are uploaded to the internet every day. Do you want UGC that appears more editorial and produced (by the user, of course), or are you going for that home-video look? Or, have it all, and stitch them together for one seamless story.
Mitigate any risk. Brands should figure out their game plan when it comes to safely acquiring and licensing UGC directly from the content creators themselves. How will you verify the owners of the content? How will you secure the necessary rights and clearances to use the content? What level of rights do you need now or might you want to secure in the future? What about indemnification?
The internet has spurred a dramatic transformation in the way we share and consume content. Millions of creative people can now present their work to a global audience, and they have unprecedented opportunities to work with the biggest brands in the world.
Who knows how much remarkable content is just waiting to be discovered?