The Pros and Cons of User-Generated Content

User-generated content is any form of content, such as videos, images, or comments, created by users on an online system or service and made available publicly on that system. YouTube is perhaps the prime example of a platform that thrives on user-generated content — users upload over 300 hours of video to YouTube every single minute.

While YouTube succeeds by putting user-generated content at the heart of its business plan, it is more reasonable to wonder how this content can fit into a normal content marketing strategy. In other words, how can your business benefit from user-generated content?

Before we answer that, though, it makes sense to question exactly why people feel compelled to create content for companies when they are not getting paid to do so. Generally, people upload content to the internet for two important reasons:

  • Users like to have a platform on which to express themselves. The internet provides such a platform for everyone in the modern world to have their voice heard. When people spend their hard-earned money on a product or service, they like being able to share their opinions on it. In addition, when people read blog posts they are interested in, they like to share their thoughts on those topics. User-generated content lets people express themselves and promote their personal values among others who think like them.
  • While users don’t receive payment for user-generated content, there are often other incentives to provide it. For example, brands often run contests on social media that promote user-generated content, with the winners receiving some form of reward, such as a gift card. A simple example would be a gift card offered to the uploader of a picture that gets most likes when using a brand-specific hashtag.

User-Generated Content Benefits

The following are some of the main benefits you can get from user-generated content.

Reduce Your Content Burden

Image via Flickr by sevenatoms1

Creating great content continuously on any subject is a huge challenge for content marketers. The internet contains such a vast library of information that it’s difficult to come up with ways of producing new, compelling content. However, user-generated content reduces the burden on businesses to produce outstanding content.

Something as simple as a user review can provide detailed insights into your product or service, and the great thing is that this type of content is evergreen. Even for blogs, a really good discussion among users in the form of comments based on a post you have written can provide an evergreen type of content that still interests people long after the discussion ends.

Save Time and Money

Producing compelling content consistently doesn’t only present challenges in generating ideas. The simple fact is that it takes time to create content, and time is money. User-generated content essentially allows you to outsource a lot of your content creation to users, which saves both time and money for your business.

Improved Reach and Engagement

User-generated content doesn’t have to take a “set and forget” approach whereby you allow users to write comments on your blog posts or upload images to your site. You can run active user-generated content campaigns on social media that often result in dramatic improvements in both reach and engagement.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all areas in which you can implement a user-generated content campaign, and these campaigns are easy to create. For example, you can create specific hashtags for users on Instagram related to your product or service. Every time users upload content with your hashtag, they drive engagement with your brand.

For an example of a company successfully implementing user-generated content campaigns, consider Emirates, the airline based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This airline has a special WindowViewWednesday hashtag for Facebook, with users uploading stunning images taken from their window seats in Emirates aircraft.

Effective user-generated content results in up to seven times more engagement than content generated by brands. More social media reach and engagement results in more brand awareness, eventually leading to more sales. Can you afford to miss out on such a valuable cog in the content marketing machine?

SEO Benefits

According to customer analytics platform Kissmetrics, 25 percent of search results for the world’s top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content. You cannot overlook a statistic that proves the amazing SEO perks of user-generated content.

SEO can prove tricky to understand, but it makes sense that a really detailed product review from a user might drive traffic to a website. Product or service reviews are often keyword-rich, meaning they contain the keywords and phrases businesses try to rank for. Multiply the value of one keyword-rich review by potentially hundreds of pages, and you quickly have a clear idea of why user-generated content is so useful for driving traffic to a website.

Better still, certain optimization tweaks can drive even more traffic. By structuring your site according to Schema.org standards, all search engines can offer more relevant content-rich results, such as aggregated star ratings for a product, page, or service. Otherwise known as rich snippets, these user-centric results can boost click-through rates from search engine results pages by up to 30 percent.

Increased Dwell Time

Dwell time is an important SEO metric that measures the length of time people spend on your website after clicking through from the search engine results. The key distinguishing aspect of dwell time is that when visitors leave, they return to search engines.

Ideally, you want users to stay as long as possible on your site and increase the time they spend in your branded environment. It’s not a stretch to say that the more time people spend on your site, the more likely they are to remember your business when making a purchasing decision.

Allowing user-generated content in the form of images, comments, or reviews can increase website dwell time by encouraging people to express their thoughts on what you say, do, or sell.

Improve Trust

The statistics on the trustworthiness of user-generated content are startling — 92 percent of consumers trust organic, user-generated content more than traditional advertising. One of the first places people look when deciding to buy a product is not the product description, but rather the customer reviews about that product. As the statistics show, people deem such reviews more trustworthy and perhaps more representative of actual product quality.

Negatives of User-Generated Content

When considering user-generated content and its potential value, it is important to highlight some of the possible disadvantages of this type of content.

Negative Content

It’s almost guaranteed that user-generated content eventually leads to some negative perceptions of a company appearing online. People aren’t always predictable, and not everyone will like what you say or sell on your website. Brands must become aware of the fact that user-generated content can result in negative feedback, which is visible for all other potential customers.

Of course, moderation efforts can prevent such negative feedback from showing up on your site. However, this presents a dilemma, because censoring perfectly valid feedback just because it is negative can quickly backfire on businesses.

Need for Monitoring

In an ideal world, you could allow users to discuss what they want, upload whatever images they see fit, and express opinions in ways they want to. Unfortunately, monitoring and moderation of user content is required. People can turn nasty online, and a healthy discussion about your blog post or product can quickly deteriorate into a form of online mudslinging.

Monitoring is also important to combat spam. Areas in which you promote user-generated comments and feedback can quickly get crowded by spam, which negates any potential value of this type of content.

Legal Issues

It’s important to note the relevant legal issues that come with user-generated content. For example, consider a social media user-generated content campaign that encourages people to upload images of themselves using your product or service in some way. Such content belongs to the person who uploaded it, and you need their express permission if you want to share other people’s content on your business social media pages.

At the very least, you need to provide direct attribution that makes it clear the content does not belong to you. The potential for legal issues exists, but if you follow the rules, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Closing Thoughts

In summary, the benefits of user-generated content outweigh the disadvantages. User-generated content saves time and money in curating content. Content created by real people who write or post it from a neutral perspective provides a level of authenticity that doesn’t exist with branded content.

People are simply more likely to trust and rely on what others are saying about your product or service before making their decision to buy. Running specific campaigns that encourage users to upload content can dramatically improve your reach and engagement with potential customers.

Lastly, there are tangible SEO benefits that can only come from user-generated content. Familiarity with the possible downsides of user-generated content is important so that there are no unexpected surprises, such as legal problems. However, such potential negatives should not dissuade you from user-generated content because, at the end of the day, it can work wonders for your content marketing.

About the author

Ronan Mahony

Ronan Mahony is a freelance writer who likes to write about internet marketing and technology topics. When he's not writing, he likes to play guitar and travel the world. He loves the small pleasures in life such as the first cup of morning coffee and the cold side of the pillow.