Obstacles to User-Generated Content’s Mainstream Integration


To drive a new era in marketing for eCommerce, we must identify how manual approaches of gathering and employing content stifle UGC’s widespread integration.

What tangible issues, if any, hold back the integration of user-generated content (UGC) into standardized marketing processes for eCommerce? How and why have we, as marketers, held UGC back—even as we’ve realized its importance? To drive a new era in marketing for eCommerce, we must identify how manual approaches of gathering and employing content stifle UGC’s widespread integration. We also need to analyze the problems associated with the first generation of consumer-engagement platforms and acquiring brand-referencing content. Only by confronting these issues, and mindfully building technology solutions accordingly, are we able to bring on UGC’s next wave.


The Hurdles of UGC

Organizations regularly cite five main challenges that prevent UGC programs from becoming standard features of marketing operations:

1. Process:
The financial, technological, and human capital costs associated with integrating such a UGC program into existing systems and processes are daunting. A lack of comprehensive, turn-key solutions to address all of the operations and management issues that relate to UGC have kept content acquisition and publication efforts manual for most organizations. As a result, programs remain very basic and time-consuming. Manual processes are often centered on sorting through a brand’s existing content or trawling online for UGC that might be a great fit for an existing campaign. Such approaches are, essentially, efforts to crowdsource or curate existing and uncontrolled content from various sources—and are neither scalable nor cost effective.

Technological solutions that attempt to overcome these issues are often difficult to integrate, leaving many companies to look for implementation timeframes that would allow for minimal interruption to workflows. Since marketing departments rarely have “downtime,” many options are not as solution-oriented as they initially appear. As a result, UGC programs take on a supporting role rather than serving as a main contributor to engagement.

2. Vendor Communities:
Online communities that support commerce are as ubiquitous as traditional marketing campaigns. Whether their goals are to consolidate reviews, uncover the best prices, or give consumers the ability to compare and contrast products, these communities give customers the opportunity to glean what appears to be the real skinny before pulling the trigger on a purchase. Through these outlets, buyers have a platform to discuss and research brands, products, and services, which has revolutionized commerce. Consumers have come to depend on them, integrating them into their purchase process. Reliance on vendor communities has made them a necessary third party within many verticals; however, the reality is that they can be costly for operators. Indirect bookings and purchases mean another organization has agency over a portion of your income; indirect reviews indicate little to no ability to control whether a review is authentic, which can be damaging to your brand.

While consumers now spend more time researching products and services prior to converting into consumers, brands have done little to consolidate onto their properties the information for which buyers are searching online. As a result, vendor communities have become vital to both consumers and brands alike.

To some organizations, the complications relating to a piece of content’s ownership and management make UGC something that is simply beyond their reach.

3. Rights-Management Controls:
What’s at the heart of UGC? Users. People. To some organizations, the complications relating to a piece of content’s ownership and management make UGC something that is simply beyond their reach. As we learned through last year’s Oscar ceremony, who owns a piece of content can be challenging to determine. Let’s think back to the 2014 Academy Award ceremony, when the host of the evening—Ellen DeGeneres—took to the stage carrying her own smartphone. She proceeded to suggest that a bunch of gorgeous attendees in the first few rows take a selfie with her; she then famously posted the image to Twitter during the ceremony. A classic example of UGC supporting the Academy Awards! The image went viral, temporarily “breaking” Twitter.

An interesting, enlightening moment in audience engagement without a doubt. But perhaps the most interesting lesson that emerged from the very social moment was that whereas everyone assumed Ellen owned one of the most famous selfies of all time, the reality is that she did not.

Sure, the image might be on her phone, but she doesn’t own it. The actor Bradley Cooper, who was front and center in the image, is actually the rights holder for the photograph. Come again?

That’s right. Bradley Cooper took the picture; therefore, Mr. Cooper owns the image, and he alone can grant permission for how and when it is used going forward.

Welcome to the world of rights management. It is often anything but straightforward. According to Instagram, 60 million images are posted to its community daily.1 Instagram provides one of the more compelling methods of finding and publishing UGC, but let’s be clear: every day it is also full of 60 million “Oscar Selfie” logistical considerations. Now consider that UGC isn’t simply a social media phenomenon.

Brand-referencing content can be found on an ever-growing number of platforms. Even when UGC is published through a company’s owned properties, there still exists the reality of usage releases and the process of securing the appropriate permissions for how the content can be used in perpetuity. Content of any kind is a tricky business, because content by nature has a creator who can claim ownership. The benefit of UGC is that it is a reflection of the consumer; the difficulty of UGC is that it is also often owned by the consumer.

This reality makes its organization, processing, and maintenance difficult for brands. How can one organization control the permissions for content created by millions of individuals working within and outside of its own online properties?

4. Collection and Management:
The question immediately preceding can be re-focused to expose yet another common issue companies have harnessing UGC. With millions of pieces of content published across countless platforms, how can a company even begin to search, organize, and harness the power of UGC? The term harness means that you have a system of control over an item, leaving you able to determine its best use. With UGC, the question of content acquisition almost takes on a philosophical tone: how can one find the tree within the forest? If you think of brand-referencing content as a platform-agnostic reference library that is always growing, always being added to, how easily can a company develop a team to sift through and harness the most effective pieces of UGC to integrate into its marketing efforts? Such an organic and manual approach to UGC is the current standard for many organizations. The challenges of finding, collecting, and managing UGC outweigh the desire of many organizations to employ this type of content front and center in their marketing plans. As a result, once again, UGC is often relegated to being a supporting player rather than a method through which to plan significant marketing campaigns.

5. Filtering and Moderation:
If the process of collecting and managing brand-referencing content is its most well-established and documented problem, then it’s time to meet that issue’s conjoined twin: filtering through all that content to isolate the right pieces for marketing efforts. Effective engagement is more than putting content in front of your audience; it is about delivering the right content, through the right channel, in the right medium, at the right time. If it takes one team of people to collect media for a UGC program, it takes another team to comb through it to find the pieces that make compelling, on-brand marketing materials that work across any piece of technology.


Clearing the Obstacles to Conversion

It isn’t enough to find a manner of systematically jumping over the hurdles that have been commonly associated with manually managed UGC programs. The effectiveness and relevance of UGC is simply too important for anything less than the wholesale clearing of obstacles that have prevented UGC programs from being rightfully mainstreamed as a part of marketing operations.

Marketing’s new era, and UGC’s coming of age, depends on the emergence of real solutions for content’s integration into marketing operations. Content marketing platforms that are built as a result of best practices relating to content acquisition and management will ensure your brand controls its UGC, rather than the other way around.


About Dianna Koltz, VP of Sales and Marketing

Having been publicly acknowledged by Direct Marketing News as a “30 under 30” for her ability to lead and transform growing teams, Dianna
 is fiercely committed to providing measurable results for clients. Before joining Rivet, Dianna held the role of VP of Client Services at Marketvine by Dell, where she was awarded the Dell Gold Award for her leadership. She has also held executive and strategic roles at startups and public companies including Bazaarvoice, Adperio, and Meredith Corporation. She formerly served on the Board of Directors of the Online Trust Alliance, and has spoken at numerous industry events. Dianna currently serves on the Advisory Council for the Akins New Tech Academy in Austin, Texas, and is the co-founder of the ATX Customer Success Management Professionals organization. She earned her BA in News-Internet from Drake University.


1 Instagram, http:// instagram.com/press/.