industry thoughts from Clarteza

02 February
Mag Retelewski

From Gray to Clear: The User Generated Content and Navigating Social Media

As marketers increase the ad spend on social network marketing and encourage marketing departments to spend more time on engaging and interacting with the consumer, it is becoming more essential to understand how new marketing channels fit within the customer experience ecosystem for the brand.  Let’s start by clearing up some of the buzz around user-generated and social media.  

Gray: “User-generated content means I’m losing control of my brand.”

It’s true that brands and companies no longer have direct control over each piece of information swimming around in cyberspace, making many marketers and executives cringe at the prospects of what could end up going viral and destroying their brand.  Just today, Twitter informed me that Mountain Dew can apparently dissolve mice.  Meanwhile, Lowe’s continues to suffer a backlash from its facebook fan base from its recent pullout of ads from “All-American Muslim”. Major PR problems like these spawn commentary on news sites, blog posts, Facebook and Google+ shares and twitter feeds, as well as cartoons and comics that then themselves get shared across social networking channels.

Clear: It’s the same, but different

But, what if we take a step back as marketers, and ask ourselves “were we ever really in control of what people say or think about our brands?”  Consumers sharing news stories with friends is not new.  Consumers talking about brand gaffes and sharing opinions on products is not new.  Just as always, word of mouth reigns supreme in shaping consumer attitudes and behaviors toward brands.  Social networks and user-generated content platforms simply provide a new way to do it.  The underlying shift is not that consumers share information, but how the information is shared, where that information is shared and how quickly that information is shared.


Gray: User-generated content will deteriorate my brand image.”

Ever notice that there is no “dislike” button on facebook?  While major PR and product flops will certainly be passed around the web, consumers are just as likely to generate and share positive content about brands.

User-generated content is no longer avoidable.  And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  Consumers have always been talking about your brand – the difference now is that you can see the digital paper trail.  Will there be negative commentary?  Of course.  But bad press is better than no press, especially when it comes to product selection.  A full 84% of consumers say they read product reviews before buying products online (Center for Media Research).  Many are smart enough to know the truth about a product lies somewhere in between the best and the worst reviews.  But if there are no reviews at all, they may not even consider your product.

Clear: User-generated content creates more opportunities for marketers

The real benefit to marketers in user-generated content is the ability to be part of the dialogue, rather than blasting out one-directional messaging to consumers.  Asking the right questions can get consumers talking, and at best, can inspire multi-channel marketing campaigns, such as P&G’s recent “Life Opens Up” project, which used consumer-generated media across traditional and new media platforms.  User content can also provide insights for innovation, inform customer service, and at a minimum, provide marketers with valuable feedback on marketing initiatives and product launches.  The content provided by consumers, importantly, is written in their own language, allowing marketers to see first-hand the language consumers use to talk about their brands and products, which provides direction on how to better communicate with these consumers in marketer-generated content.


Gray: “My brand needs a Facebook page.  And a Twitter feed.”

Does it?  The pressure is on for marketers to engage in social networking spheres and encourage or increase the amount of user-generated content surrounding their brand.  Marketing budgets have more dollars for digital media – so it has to be spent, right?

At its core, the goal of marketing remains to communicate a brand message that resonates with consumers.  Facebook, Twitter, et al are a means to an end, and should be used when they make sense for the brand and the message.  Not every brand belongs in every channel and not all consumers can be reached via Facebook or Twitter.

Clear: Find the message, then determine the channel

It’s not the avenue that matters most, it is the message.  To successfully engage consumers in a two-way conversation, the message and the questions have to be relevant in order to create stickiness.  Because of the ever-increasing number of ways in which consumers can interact with your brand, the message becomes even more important.  Contradictory messages across different platforms risk creating dissonance, losing consumer attention, and creating discrepancies in the brand image.

As the number of channels multiplies, it becomes even more important for marketers to ensure that the overall brand message is built from the top-down to ensure consistency across consumer touch-points, both online and offline.  Simply increasing ad spend across an array of channels without clear and relevant content, risks losing focus and reducing return on marketing investment.

For consumers for which marketers determine their need to invest in various social media channels, they must go “all in” and live in the real-time world in which their target audience lives.  Consumers expect responses to questions, comments and crises within a matter of hours.  Content decisions must be streamlined and immediate, requiring a different mindset from the multiple-decision-maker and step-by-step planning process that goes into traditional advertising.

Finally, for brands that don’t need to actively invest in content generation in social media outlets, keep in mind that just because you are not online, your consumer may still be talking about you in cyberspace.  At a minimum, even if investment isn’t warranted, marketers should still allocate a limited amount of time and resources to mining social behavior and relevant commentary to grow their customer learnings and stay ahead of issues.


On the surface, the explosion of user-generated content and social media activity by both consumers and brands has added significant complexity to consumer marketing efforts.  Looking more closely, however, the complexity is in execution and the need to integrate and coordinate marketing activities across channels and across consumer touch-points.  User-generated experiences create a host of opportunities for marketers, but in order to successfully navigate the new world of two-way dialogue, marketers must be careful not to lose their focus.  Successful marketing today means returning to the basics – identifying and gaining a true understanding of the core consumer, creating a branding and messaging strategy around those insights, and working across the organization to ensure that the message is communicated to the right consumers, in the right way, across the right channels.

In order to do so, companies need to ensure their organizations are set up in a consumer-centric fashion, rather than divided according to functions.  Sales, marketing, research and R&D departments will need to work more fluidly and more closely in order to achieve the necessary unified approach.



Sources URL
McKinsey Quarterly: Marketing with user-generated content
Clickz: The Right Way to Use CGM
Research Brief: What Dissuades Web Shoppers?