6 Ways to Make Your User Generated Content Initiative Shine

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I know, I know … but it’s so easy to just create my own stuff. That’s the same excuse I used with my wife when she had asked me to teach our young kids to clean their rooms. I knew it would take three times longer to teach them than to just pick up after them. Now that I have teenagers – crap, why didn’t I listen to my wife!! I took the shortcut then and am paying for it now with messy rooms and kids that don’t pick up their dirty socks.

Enterprises get into a cadence for producing content. IBM is a content-creation machine. It becomes easy to create this content once you have the machine in place. The problem is, this content strategy is one-sided. You need more than just your own voice out in the market. Enter “User Generated Content” or “UGC”. It’s harder up front, but has big payoffs in the end.

What Is User Generated Content?

UGC_infographic_thumbnailUGC is content developed by your users, or the market in general. An article and infographic on @Mashable reflects research into the value of UGC to millenials. This value goes beyond just millenials, though, as social media extends its reach into the corporate buying process. The short of it is that UGC:

  • is more trustworthy than other forms of content
  • has more “stickiness”, resulting in more time spent on UGC
  • is becoming easier to generate and create by individuals, and
  • can be the most influential form of content when making a purchasing decision.

“It Takes a Village …”

At IBM, we launched one of the coolest products on the planet (note: I am biased, I admit it). It’s called Watson Analytics. Watson Analytics takes your data and then let’s you ask natural language questions to find insights, presenting them in beautiful, micrographic format. Because it’s so easy to use and it’s a freemium product, we decided that UGC would play a crucial role in the adoption of Watson Analytics with our target market. I’m sharing some of the things we learned along the way about how we made our UGC initiative shine!

1) Create a Seamless Experience
With the exception of URL changes, you can’t necessarily tell that you are leaving the product experience when you go into the community. We designed the community to have the same look and feel as the product. This wasn’t just a visual design decision we made – it was a user experience decision, designed to facilitate interaction and activity. We extended this best practice to our main marketing site as well as our content hub. More importantly, we deployed SSO so that users didn’t need separate community logins from their product login. SSO is an expected detail that should be there, but, is sometimes overlooked by organizations trying to move fast into their UGC initiatives.


2) Vintage Is NOT Always Cool
Forums are great. Lots of UGC comes from forum interactions. But, forum experiences haven’t changed much in the past decade. Since Watson Analytics is a modern product, we opted to create a modern “forum”. We chose the “Question/Answer” model for our forum, which we call Watson Analytics “Discussions”.


If you’re going through all the trouble to kickoff a UGC initiative, make it modern. There’s an abundance of technology and software services that can help make you look like a bleeding edge marketer. Use them!

3) Seed the Content
UGC is like that boulder hanging on a precipice. When it comes to UGC, you may need to give it just a little nudge to get it going. Once you have momentum, it storms away on it’s own. Here are ways to seed content:

  • Invite alpha or beta users of your product or service to join your community and share specific content
  • Add content yourself which was generated by users in other systems (with appropriate permissions, of course)
  • Pull content in from your content marketing efforts that is relevant and can facilitate engagement

4) Plan Ahead to Pick the Right Venues
The Watson Analytics digital marketing engine employs varied technologies across our many initiatives. Selecting the right technology to facilitate UGC is crucial. We built our Content Hub using WordPress and the Discussions site using AnswerHub. We toyed with the idea of using WordPress plugins for our Discussions, but, the added benefit we got from AnswerHub was their willingness to pitch in to get things working. We also got a scalable, commercial product that held our massive user loads as well as integration with some of our support systems.

Even though we were moving fast, lots of our team were thinking far ahead about where we wanted to go and that made it easier for us to pick the right platforms. Here are a bunch of other ideas for UGC venues:

  • Public quizzes, polls and surveys
  • Reviews
  • Q&A
  • Guest blogs
  • Social media streams
  • Games
  • Contests
  • Content comments (blogs, YouTube, etc)
  • User galleries
  • Testimonials

For a more interesting view of content types, check out Chris Lake’s (@eConsultancy) totally awesome Content Marketing Periodic Table, which includes a number of UGC types.

Postano also has a great post of 10 awesome UGC campaigns, including Belkin’s “build a lego iphone case” campaign.


When I was in college, I had a professor introduce us to the powerful concept of “WIIFM” – “what’s in it for me?” Before tipping the UGC boulder, you better be sure there’s something users get in return. If not, then, you might be playing the role of Wile E Coyote and have the boulder fall on your own head.

For now, participation in the Discussions site enables users to connect to Watson Analytics subject matter experts – internal and external. Anyone ramping up on a new product knows the value of having instant connections to people who have the answers. In the future, we’ll include aspects of gamification and sharing in order to ramp up new forms of UGC. Other ways to incentivize UGC:

  • Cash
  • Prizes
  • Promotion of the user’s background, skills, etc
  • Contests
  • Just ASK!!!

6) Expect a Little Damage Control
Back to the boulder analogy. Once you tip the thing off the precipice, remember that you may have little control over the path the boulder takes. Meddling in it’s course could do more harm than good. Recognize that you may need to live with the good and the bad of UGC. Have an action plan for responding to negative UGC. Sometimes, people only want to be heard and negative UGC can be addressed by listening and acknowledging. Other times, the problems may be more serious and require stronger reaction. Overall, the good of UGC should outweigh the negative and, over time, you’ll get a ton of feedback from your users which can be fed into the machine that makes your products or services.

The Results Are In

So, how have we done? AWESOME … From the start, community interactions have exceeded our expectations. We’ve had incredible engagement on our Discussions site. ah_analyticsAfter just a few days, we had over 1,000 pages indexed in Google. From Nov 24, 2014 to Jan 7, 2015, we now have nearly 5,000 pages indexed from our UGC content initiative alone!

In just 6 weeks, we have almost 800 users and 269 questions answered.

These aren’t all the best practices for UGC … just some ideas to get you started. Including UGC into your content marketing plan, however, can have some big payoffs in the end.


Looking for more?

Here are some other fantastic posts about UGC that will keep your education moving along …

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