So here we are, just a couple of days away from Superbowl XLV. Time to look back at last year’s edition, and the NFL did so by launching an advert promoting this year’s playoffs, which shows the New Orleans Saints’ fans emotions during their team’s victory in the 44th edition of the big final. The interesting thing about the advert: It has not been shot by the NFL, but by fans instead. The NFL found the videos on Youtube, asked for permission and compiled them into the spot (you can watch the it here).
The technical term for this kind of approach, “user generated content” (UGC), has been a buzzword for years now, and I wondered whether it was too basic to talk about it. I decided to write about it in this post anyway because I believe that there is a) a lot of misunderstanding around it and that b) the potentials of user-generated content have clearly not yet been fully explored.
UGC basically means that the users of e.g. a website or webservice generate the content themselves, not the owner or publisher of the website. Just think Facebook or Youtube – the companies behind these sites only offer the technical framework, all content is generated by the users of the site for other users.
But the NFL example is different. The NFL is not a web company. Its product is not just the technical framework for human interaction (well, looking at it from a philosophical point of view you could argue it is…). They just use UGC to support their traditional business. Unless you are in one of the few companies that fully built on UGC, that is exactly the situation you are in. You know that the technical ability and personal will of your customers to share information with you and others is something that could be of tremendous value to you.
But let’s be honest: Most companies either haven’t found the key to identifying and unlocking this value, it remains a fuzzy “we still don’t know what it is but there’s something out there”. Sounds like the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Or, they are afraid of the potential negative impact it may have. Allowing others to create content for you means that you lose control. All attempts to open up without losing control I’ve seen over the last few years failed – unsurprisingly.
So let’s look at it from the other side, maybe that will help to bridge the gap:
Why are users generating content? There are a couple of more or less scientific studies available. Those I’ve seen basically go into two directions: The first is self-presentation of the user. We all have the desire to connect to others and to be recognized. Now we’re able to connect with an endless number of others and receive recognition from them. The second can be linked to the fear of losing control many companies have (see above). I would call it the users’ lust for revenge: Finally there is a way for users to tell those people, companies, brands, products, etc. that didn’t listen before how bad they are – in a way that is seen by many and therefore can’t easily be ignored by the target.
Those writing these kinds of studies and articles try to convince you that the game has changed completely. They want you to believe that the logic of customer interaction that you were used to does not exist anymore. But it does!
I learned many years ago that customer base their buying decision on their net benefit: They try to maximize the difference between the benefit they get from e.g. buying a product or service and the cost they have to take to get it. If we develop this further, a very basic outcome is that customers are looking for good products and services that fulfill their needs. Sounds awfully simple, but hey, who would disagree?
The feeling of revenge users have and the fear of companies to allow for user integration are both based on the fact that many products and services are just not delivering this.
Here’s the key: Don’t let the terms of “user” and “content” mislead you. A “user” to an internet company is what a customer is to you. And “content” is information that relates to or is part of a product or service. So all you have to do is to allow your customers to participate in the creation of good products and services that fulfill their needs. Doesn’t that sound a lot easier to digest?
This can range from allowing commenting and telling others about you offerings to outsourcing of product development (just google “open innovation” to learn more) – anything is possible. The difference between today and back in the days is just that users are connected to you in a faster and ubiquitous way and more experienced in how to deal with this kind of interaction.
They will not be thankful just for the grace to be allowed in, they expect you to help them to get a good product or service that fulfills their needs. This is the only thing you should be afraid of: Not being able to deliver it.
This brings us to a completely different view and solution: The advent of UGC, social media, etc. challenges you to create structures that allow you to co-create with your customers. As a result, it is not a question of media savvyness. It is a question of your internal capabilities, of your processes, of your flexibility and of your will to improve. And yes, it is extremely hard, as it will change both the way you work and you business model. This goes straight to the heart of your operations.
That’s the real reason why so few companies are in. That’s why so many companies are in fear, look for lame excuses or try to build higher walls around what they are doing instead of tearing them down.
That is until someone will come to your industry (from within it or not) who isn’t afraid to build customer oriented business models and processes, someone who can take the heat of deep customer integration. Someone who will destroy all those that are in your industry today.
That someone can still be you.