User generated content has unbridled power and a very low price tag. It reaches audiences that have suddenly become engaged with a topic. It reaches audiences that never knew they were engaged until this point. It even reaches audiences that are seemingly disengaged with marketing altogether. So how do you tame the beast?
“Damn, Daniel!” exclaims our assistant Anna, giggling as she walks into the kitchen.
“Eh?” comes our response.
Anna, who I should mention is Southerly’s official voice of the young and impressionable, explains an internet meme that’s gone viral. It’s a Snapchat video of an American high school kid, Joshua, who upon seeing his mate Daniel walk past in a different pair of sneakers every time, yells “Damn, Daniel!”. Daniel is enthused by this. Sometimes Daniel walks past in a pair of white Vans. In these instances, the catchphrase is suffixed with “Damn, Daniel! Back at it again with the white Vans.” And it’s hilarious, says Anna.
We stare at her, utterly bemused.
This state of being changes little when you watch the video, by the way, which plays out exactly in the way just described. Unfortunately the video has just been deleted by hackers on the creator’s account so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
It’s like a big firework with a short fuse. And nobody knows who’s next to light the thing.
White Vans man
Turns out, however, this thing is massive. At the time of writing, Josh’s original tweet was retweeted nearly 340,000 times and liked nearly 450,000 times on Twitter. It made it on to The Ellen DeGeneres Show in the US, where only the most virulent of viral tweeters get their fifteen TV minutes. Its reach was so far, in fact, that a shoe cleaner manufacturer hijacked the phrase for a tweet about cleaning dirty white Vans, that was subsequently retweeted over 6,700 times and liked more than 7,100 times.
Vans then tweeted the phrase, receiving over 6,700 retweets and liked more than 8,300 times. One pair of white Vans on eBay clocked up a bonkers price tag of $400,000 (I dare say the top bidder might end up regretting that one) and Vans itself gave the eponymous Daniel a lifetime supply.
By comparison the meme’s producer, Josh, got a surfboard, which seems stingy to say the least.
Anyway, no sooner had Anna graced our kitchen with such profundity than I had embarked on researching this article about user generated content. And what should pop up top of my pile of topical research material? None other than “Damn, Daniel!”.
That would be beautiful serendipity, were it not more a stark reflection of the ubiquitous and unhinged power of user generated content. Here, a brand has simultaneously infiltrated our kitchen’s innocuous water cooler moment and one of the biggest viral explosions of its time, completely organically, and all without having to lift a finger.
The onus is not on content creation but creating opportunities for content.
Daniel is of course now the inadvertent brand ambassador for Vans. I’m sure he never set out to be, but probably came round to the idea after being given a lifetime supply of their shoes.
Neither Daniel nor his audience were engaged with the brand beforehand – at least no more so than you or I are engaged with whatever’s on our feet right now. But, when the relevance of what was produced, coupled with Josh and Daniel’s potential as influencers (kind of), showed its worth, the brands – Vans, the aforementioned shoe cleaning company, and a university on a recruitment drive to name three – came a-flockin’.
The marketing guys at Vans saw a chance to latch onto a big user generated trend and they did it with gusto. As a New York Times article about the whole thing comments: “A tweet from a major brand signals the point where a meme is reaching the beginning of the end of its life span.” Fifteen minutes of fame, it seems, extends to branding here, too.
This is the sort of massive, rapidly acquired power user generated content can have. It’s like a big firework with a short fuse. And nobody knows who’s next to light the thing, but they sure as hell want to be there with everybody watching when the spectacle happens.
When the relevance of what was produced, coupled with their potential as influencers, showed their worth, the brands they came a-flockin’.
But it doesn’t have to be this fleeting. There are ways that brands can keep a whole fireworks display going and have everybody they would want to watch, watch.
I’d like to turn your attention to ChannelMum.
The mother of user generated content
Mums are a discerning bunch. They’re savvy, they know what they want and they know what’s best. Which is probably why they don’t tend to trust branded stuff online. Just a fifth of Millennial mums, in fact, trust content from company or brand websites. This seems to contradict the convention.
So, in the case of Josh and Daniel we had a vast, highly engaged audience that didn’t yet know it was an audience until the big thing happened. Now we have a potentially fruitful audience highly engaged with each other that is fundamentally, and perhaps even actively, disengaged with branded content. How does a brand start opening those doors?
It is, of course, with user generated content. But this isn’t just any old user generated content; this is mums helping each other out. And that’s a very powerful basis.
ChannelMum was launched last month by Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard, and is a video-led portal for Millennial mums.
It demonstrates a rather innovative, or should I say harmonious marketing model. I recently extolled the power of user generated video, and pointed out that the competition in this area is hotting up. Indeed here, it’s the coming together of real video blogging (or vlogging, if you prefer) talent – big influencers in the world of mothering – with users who receive the content they trust most – user generated content – and the brands that are essentially along for the ride.
In other words, through this unique portal the brands have access to a very relevant, organically engaged audience, and a group of niche influencers. At the very least these people will keep creating valuable video content the brands are happy to have some sort of loose association with. And at best these influencers all have the potential to become brand ambassadors should they be want to join forces with a brand and extend their own reach. It’s a win-win for all and at its centre is a stream of relevant, valuable user generated content. Is it any wonder then that ChannelMum is backed by ITV and has signed commercial deals with big names like Ikea, Argos, Mattel and Pampers, as well as information partnerships with the NHS to reach young mothers?
It’s the coming together of video blogging talent with users who receive the content they trust. The brands are along for the ride.
The power of UGC
The power of user generated content is in reaching the unreachable, engaging the disengaged, and spending very little in the process. The audience might be at first unwitting, even unwilling, but by the very nature of its execution, they are brought round. The content is genuine, valuable on more than a superficial level, and trustworthy in a meaningful way to the Millennial user.
And it’s happening in a big way. According to Crowdtap, nearly six out of ten Millennials call on user generated content to make a decision about buying major electronics, followed by cars (54%), mobile phones (46%) and booking hotels rooms (45%). Seven out ten consumers value peer reviews of products over professionally written content, according to Reevo.
The iron is hot. The onus is not on content creation but creating opportunities for content. Some brands encourage user generated content through competitions, which is fine, but be under no illusions who’s creating the content and who they’re creating it for.
User generated content is not about making the user do the work for you, it’s about finding and nurturing content that actually engages their peers. As a brand you’re only along for the ride. The kind of passenger you choose to be, however, is up to you. Are you a back seat driver, calling directions, or are you more like the white Vans man, riding by and loving the attention?