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What is user generated content?

What UGC means for businesses and workplace learning.

Cassie Gasson Chief Marketing Officer

What is User Generated Content

In this era of content sharing, content saturation and content noise it comes as no surprise that the learning and development professionals of the world have come to look at ‘content’ as their new potential saviour (standing in a long line with gamification, VR and social learning). It’s everywhere, it’s cheap and we want a piece of that pie, right?

Although not a ‘fix-all’ solution, there’s much to be said about introducing and integrating a user-generated content (UGC) strategy within your learning environments. It’s relevant, applicable and its connectedness and authenticity builds advocacy and trust within your business. In fact, according to a recent survey: 75% of respondents claim that UGC makes content more authentic.

It’s also great because it promotes peer-to-peer sharing and social learning and turns your audiences into the creators of *some* of your training content. Not all, because we know you have mandatory training and the such like too, which can’t come from users.

But what exactly is User Generated Content?

Generally speaking – in marketing terms – user generated content is defined as any type of content which has been created and shared by unpaid contributors (or in our case, employees). It can refer to pictures, videos, testimonials, tweets, blog posts, and everything in between.

The use of UGC as a marketing tool relies on the concept of social proof, which Wikipedia defines as “a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behaviour for a given situation.

In a learning context, that could mean by seeing staff share their experiences and knowledge, it might influence others to do the same. In fact, according to Nielsen, 43% of people are more likely to purchase a new product when they have learned about it through social channels or from friends and family.

Why wouldn’t this same sensibility apply to the trust gained internally about a business using the same UGC model? So what could it mean for L&D? Just some ideas…

  • ENGAGEMENT AND CONNECTION: Imagine someone answering a peer’s question about a system, process or policy, without ever interacting with a piece of formal learning? Imagine the bonds fostered between colleagues and the new relationships built as a result.
  • TRUST: Imagine learners taking control of their own training, harnessing information from across the web and learning resources to provide dynamic, fluid environments which reflect the modern experiences they are having outside of workplace training environments. This consistent experience helps them feel their business understands their needs and subsequently can build trust and confidence in the business and colleagues.
  • ADVOCACY: Imagine your employees saying great things about your business to one another…doesn’t matter where – portals, intranets, face-to-face or LMS environments included. What if they started saying great things about your business to the public (that’s some great brand advocacy).

I know what you’re thinking. This all sounds like a great idea, but you don’t have the infrastructure or technology in place to support UGC, nevermind the capacity to facilitate its creation OR indeed the community management skills perhaps necessary to make those sort of learning environments work. *PHEW*

But that’s not entirely right.

Because the beauty of UGC is in its collaboration. In fact, it’s usually created through the collaborative efforts of multiple individuals. The value and success of collaborative user-generated content is a result of both the direct efforts of its contributors and of its embeddedness in the content–contributor network which creates it.

In laymans terms – it’s successful because it makes content contributors of us all – empowering people to share knowledge (which we know they do of their own volition anyway). As this occurs, more and more people share because of the value they’ve experienced, the recognition they receive or even because they just like sharing. It’s an exemplar of the snowball effect and can really begin to change your learning culture by getting your employees more engaged.

I found this stat particularly compelling: UGC posts shared to social channels see a 28% higher engagement rate than standard brand posts.

This says to me that content from your employees will always outperform content from the business or L&D department – and it goes straight back to that trust and authenticity we were discussing earlier.

Digital change = culture change

What comes first – digital revolution or culture change? Hard to tell sometimes, as the two are so deeply interwoven. But the truth of the matter is, technology can be a huge instigator in terms of organisational culture overhaul (nevermind the subsequent learning culture shift).

I believe one of the core problems businesses experience when looking to harness UGC is that they are experiencing are siloed data systems. An LMS here, an intranet there. Social learning (or UGC content) separate again (and typically on users’ own devices). They have formal learning separate from social learning environments.

But think about it: when you combine email, Google Drives, DropBox, Google Chat, Slack, WhatsApp, LinkedIn and more, as a user you’re forever wondering where that link was that Sharon shared. Or the screencast Ashley sent you last week (or is that just me?). It’s sucked into the ether – the content is gone forever.

The brilliance of the UGC is stuck in these siloed systems – and your staff are just getting lost and confused with so many communication options at their disposal. Or if you’re business 1, they’re getting frustrated with a lack of ability to communicate quickly and easily with one another and have resorted to personal communication channels for work-related queries and problems.

The fact of the matter is this: your employees are already learning from one another whether you like it or not. You already have UGC going on in your organisation; accept it and ask yourself this instead. Wouldn’t it be nice for it all to be in one clean, tidy place? Wouldn’t it make sense for MORE employees to see that useful video Dan made for his team about your new CRM? Wouldn’t it be great to have more eyes on high-quality, authentic content created by your users, for your users?”

Course it would.

But why is authentic content so important for success?

Because it has been proven to produce increased engagement and conversions. In a report by Nielson Global, 42% of consumers are more likely to trust a recommendation from another person over branded content, suggesting that the authentic approach to content is the best-practice approach.

So what you really need is a clear, singular location which supports and facilitates the sharing of content for your employees – for the benefits of learning, integration, inclusion and a trust culture. This goes bigger than learning, although it should be a core piece of the puzzle. This is about facilitation from L&D – not creation. This is about trusting your employees, giving them the respect they deserve to be entrusted with their own enablement.

STOP: UGC is a long term engagement tactic

A caveat – if you will. It’s important you know that this isn’t a ‘quick-kill, short term results’ kind of approach. I talked about learning strategy and culture at the beginning because these are ongoing, malleable things which must be built to be adaptive, scalable and reactionary.

A UGC strategy takes time to embed and get right. Yes, your staff are already sharing content – but getting them to do it in a singular, particular place, consistently, is going to be a challenge.

Formally introducing UGC into your business will take time; it’s going to require some energy. But it’s worth it, because user-generated content is powerful indeed.

And the beauty of it is that it already exists. You just need to find a place to put it, a place to facilitate it. A place that your employees understand and relate to. Whether that’s a LMS, an intranet or something even more exciting like our Learning & Skills Platform (sorry, couldn’t resist) – the choice is yours. But give your staff a place where they can learn with content that isn’t JUST formal elearning and compliance training and you’ll see the shift in culture soon enough.

Harness the excellent content already being shared in your business and watch employee engagement, interaction and advocacy increase.

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