User Generated Content – Media Power Comes to the People

Posted on 30. May, 2012 by in Loyalty, Word of Mouth

No matter which side of the Facebook/General Motors controversy you stand on, we all recognize that with access to social media consumers are taking a larger part in establishing the image of most brands.  While what consumers say or write to one another has always been important, typically it could be ‘drowned out’ by the weight of corporate advertising, promotions, and public relations.  But today with consumers having their own media (e.g. Facebook pages, Twitter tweets, YouTube videos, text messaging, etc.) the balance of power is shifting.  Not only do consumers have access, they also have tools available allowing them to produce near broadcast-quality messages using photos or videos complete with soundtracks.

 UGC: Sometimes It’s Positive, and Sometimes It’s Negative

So like it or not we are now clearly in the era of User Generated Content (UGC).  UGC comes in all shapes and sizes.  Sometimes the message can be negative (ranging in power from the review you may have read about a local restaurant to videos gone viral like United Breaks Guitars) but just as easily the message can be positive.  Unfortunately the positive messages are less likely to make the headlines, but when they do, they can become pure “marketing gold”; consider the case of Algonquin High in Northborough, Massachusetts.  The drama class at this high school decided to stage a production about of all things, a supermarket chain!  They conceived and presented Wegmans …The Musical!

For those outside the northeast corridor, Wegmans is a family-owned regional supermarket chain with about 75 stores that’s headquartered just outside Rochester, NY.  It’s well regarded as a leader in customer loyalty having been created by an astute businessperson, Danny Wegman.  Today, his children run the privately held firm.  My wife, Linda, and I were introduced to Wegmans by our oldest daughter who lives in Fairfax, Virginia.  Personal friends of ours have been treated (or subjected) to our numerous stories about our pleasurable visits to the Fairfax store.  But even with such fan support, a musical may be a first for this fabled chain.  Not only did the musical draw attention within the school and the community of family and friends, but thanks to the public social media it’s now on YouTube where in one week it’s had over 18,000 views.

Letting Go is Hard to Do

The challenge that all brands must face with UGC is, of course, that the message is totally beyond the brands’ control.  While Wegmans did donate some props and was kind enough to cater the after-show cast party, they had to let go and hope for the best.  The students learned about the company, observed what they did, and told the story on stage exactly as they saw it.

In my work with Doug Pruden at Customer Experience Partners we’ve been talking about the power of customer advocates and the stories they tell (i.e. UGC) for the last several years.  We’ve recognized that customers will write and speak as negatively or positively and as frequently or infrequently as they want.  But we also know that brands can help along the way by: 1) identifying those customers who are behaviorally committed and emotionally linked to a brand, and finding those among that group who have the “communicator gene” and; 2) ‘arming’ those individuals with content and opportunity (rather than making them find it themselves like the Algonquin High students did).   We’ve named this process, Identifying and Arming Advocates.  It’s a very effective way to energize potential positive word of mouth that otherwise remains relatively latent.


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