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Will social distancing supercharge user generated content in the workplace?

I don’t know about you, but I’m super curious to see the long term impact that COVID-19 will have on the world and in particular the way in which we approach our work and development. 

I’ve already seen that mandatory home working has changed how people behave in my network – 95% of our clients now actually put their videos on during calls. Before, it was more like 5%. It’s nice, I get to see people’s faces!

My question today though is whether this shift in working patterns will finally break down any previous resistance to User Generated Content (UGC) within organisations. 

Will we finally stop striving for perfect content and trust our employees to share?

WE’RE SO FAR BEHIND

According to Gartner, “By 2018, more than 80 percent of organizations will leverage user-generated content as a part of their corporate learning strategy.” I would love to hear if this is true. From my personal experience – even working with some of the most forward-thinking L&D teams possible – I don’t think this has come to fruition.

Yet, in our personal and consumer lives, UGC has become the accepted norm and what we expect. 92% of consumers trust recommendations from other people, even if it’s people they don’t know. This is a staggeringly high percentage and if you think about it, it really does ring true.

Good reviews are crucial to the success of brands and businesses – think about the last time you didn’t go to a restaurant or book a hotel because the reviews were bad. Fashion sites now have the ability to post real photos of consumers wearing their clothes and we 100% will trust those photos over the perfectly lit images produced by the brand. UGC doesn’t have the same agenda as branded content and once you remove the agenda, we’re much more likely to trust it.

We’re also more likely to engage with it. When users create and share content on social media channels, they get 28% higher engagement compared to standard company posts and ads based on user-generated content receive 4 times higher click-through rates.

However, the fact that UGC is so present in our personal lives simply magnifies it’s absence in our working lives. 

Why are we so far behind in the workplace and what’s been the resistance to embracing this clearly very valuable tool?

TRUST

This is the most common objection I hear when trying to persuade our clients to embrace UGC. ‘We don’t trust our employees to post the right stuff, or not to do something inappropriate.’ Quite frankly, this makes me very sad. How can we trust our employees to run our business, serve our customers and do their jobs, but we don’t trust them to record and post a video? This seems counterintuitive to me. Our employees are sharing their knowledge every single day over email, whatsapp and face-to-face – via methods we have little or no visibility over.

However, one of the real positive outcomes of COVID-19 is that organisations are being forced to trust their employees more than ever, especially with such a large amount of businesses working purely from home. I hope that this will open the door to more flexible working in the future – particularly for more traditional industries – but also increase the level of trust in general.

PERFECTION

This second most common objection I hear is the fear around content quality. This can cover everything from design, brand and style. ‘What if someone posts something and uses the wrong logo? What if someone posts something which has typos in it?’ The simple answer is, it doesn’t matter. As long as what the user is saying is valuable to others, that should be the only metric.

Even if you look at the most popular videos on YouTube, you’ll notice the presenters will often get tongue tied, make a mistake or not film in the perfect lighting. Of course there are some simple things to think about to ensure your audio and visuals are decent, but again, the main thing is that the content has value. 

If you take the time to script, shoot, brand and produce every piece of content, you will completely be shutting the door to the real benefit of UGC – it’s quick, from the source and authentic. You’ll also end up spending a lot of time and money and the content will be out of date by the time it’s finished.

Fast forward to now, we’re living in an ultra-reactive world, where even our news consists of selfie videos and sketchy updates to simply get the message out there as efficiently as possible. I’ve seen clients pull together whole programmes of learning for furloughed employees within days and one particular client who built and stocked their entire LXP within 1 week! The boundaries and fears about perfection finally seem to be tumbling down and I for one hope they stay down.

MOTIVATION

The third most common objection I hear is that employees won’t engage with UGC, that ‘it’s not suitable for our demographic’ (usually based on age) and that UGC is ‘just for millennials and post millennials.’ I even had a client in a workshop once say to me ‘I don’t do this social media stuff, what’s in this platform for old people like me?’

This couldn’t be further from the truth – we simply need to look at social media demographic data to see that all ages engage with social media. Just a few examples:

70% of 50-64 year olds and 87% of 30 – 49 year olds use YouTube 

68% of 50-54 year olds and 79% of 30-49 year olds use Facebook (which is actually more than 18-24 year olds at 76%)

We don’t even need to go that far either. People often link UGC to Social Media, but it’s so much broader than that. UGC can be found in many forms whether it be written reviews, blogs, forums, or even support questions.

Even with all this data, this perception still exists and for some people, they do still feel that UGC ‘isn’t for them.’ 

My question is will social distancing and remote working change this attitude? Particularly now we live in a world where video cameras are pretty much the only option for human interaction and as we’re so starved of it, we’re all switching them on! 

We can see this simply from the fact that Zoom shares have increased by 40% and they have 2.22 million monthly active users so far in 2020. I’m sure many of us have had that phone call with our gran trying to get her to download Zoom or use Facetime. More and more people are embracing video as a means to communicate and connect. Gone are the days when working from home meant wearing pajamas and hiding from people all day! 

POSITIVE OUTCOMES

At times like these, it’s sometimes helpful to focus on the positives and I for one am hopeful that a positive outcome of this will be more trust, less fuss about perfection and an even bigger enthusiasm and acceptance of UGC in the workplace.

There’s so much amazing knowledge in the heads of your employees, it needs to be let free! I’m sure you all have that 1 person in your team that you think ‘if they got hit by a bus tomorrow, we’d be absolutely [insert profanity of choice]!’ This is what UGC can help protect you from and gives employees some real practical control over their learning. 

It’s authentic, it gives your employees a chance to shine and most importantly, it’s far more valuable than you might think.

Where are you on your UGC journey? I’d love to hear your views and tips. 

Interested to hear more of the benefits? Check out this useful guide on how UGC can contribute to transforming the learning culture in your organisation.

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