With the appearance of social networks, communication between companies and users underwent a significant transformation, becoming two-way rather than one-way as it used to be in the past. Users are no longer simply the receivers of messages; they have now become the (co)creators, which means that they react to the messages they receive by creating their own company-related content (known as “user generated content”). This content can take different forms: photos, videos, podcasts, text messages, blogposts, statuses, tweets, pins, infographics, forum discussions, comments… Its key feature is that it refers to the companies, but is published by the users themselves.
What users have to say about companies has become more important than what the companies say about themselves, as user generated content presents authentic content in authentic conversations with users. This kind of content has a much higher authority in the eyes of people connected to its creators. People tend to place more trust on the recommendations (and criticism!) of their families, friends, acquaintances, peers and interest groups on social networks. They also prefer reviews and recommendations of products and services to the marketing and promotional materials published by the companies themselves. In the end, all this affects the users’ decisions about buying and using these products and services, which makes user generated content essential to companies’ digital campaigns.
User generated content can be both positive and negative, and it can be shared voluntarily or when stimulated. Of course, companies want the content to be positive, and shared voluntarily and frequently. This can be achieved through good long-term communication with the community which knows how to appreciate and reward such a relationship. Users can also be stimulated to share content about companies. These kinds of campaigns often take nothing more than a hashtag which is used to generate content on multiple platforms. Applications are another common strategy. In order to insure good results, these campaigns need to be strategically planned, and it is essential to constantly follow the communication with the community and react to situations in real time.
User generated content is currently one of the key dominant trends in digital communication. It affects the users’ attitudes, the growth and engagement of the community, the reach of published messages, generates visits to sites… At the same time, companies receive instant feedback which can be used to guide future endeavors. This kind of content creates ties between companies and their users, gives voice to communities, and makes companies more accessible. It is up to the companies to recognize, nurture and reward the relationships with the members of the community who share (positive) messages about them.