by: Matt Rhodes

When people talk about new media, social media or Web 2.0, there is often one thing in common: user generated content (UGC). This is really what the essence growth of Web 2.0 is. Web sites are crammed full of videos, photos, reviews and articles written by users. This reflects a shift not only in the amount of time people are spending online (more), but also a change in the reason for going online.

People no longer go just to read and find a piece of information; they go to contribute information, share ideas and interact with other users. Wikipedia has over seven million articles in 200 languages - all user generated content. YouTube has over 150,000 new videos uploaded every day. People want to contribute to the debate and we need to give them the opportunity to do this.

The internet has changed from being about individual users interacting with websites, to individual users interacting with each other through websites.

This change is massive and the opportunities it opens up for you are equally large. For brands it’s about getting rid of traditional marketing approaches and engaging customers in what you are doing - involve them and use the content and ideas they generate to help you.

One simple but effective way to start use UGC in your business is to get customers to rate products on your site and write reviews. Many firms are worried about this, but they really shouldn’t be. Businesses like Amazon have been using customer reviews on their main site for years, others like Expedia have a customer reviews site that sits separate to the ecommerce site (TripAdvisor in their case).

To get the use of UGC in this way right, there are a few simple rules to follow:

  1. Be clear why people are reviewing - they should be doing it so that they can let other people know what they think about the product rather than it just being feedback to you on your brand.
  2. Allow people just to give a rating and use a five point scale. People tend to be very positive, in fact the average score given to products when rated online is 4.3 out of five!
  3. Allow people to post reviews in real-time. You can moderate them afterwards and letting them see that their post is live will be the reward they need for taking the time to write something.
  4. Don’t fake reviews. Not only is this going to become illegal, there is also no need. I’ve heard of companies that fake positive reviews, and ones that fake negative reviews. There’s no need to do either, so don’t.

Pretty soon your reviews will become an integral part of your site. It stops being somewhere customers go to perform a transaction and starts being somewhere they go to interact. They spend more time on the site and research suggests will spend more money with you. Products with reviews generate a much higher conversion rate than those without. Now there’s a real benefit of UGC!

Next time we’ll build on this and look at a range of ways you can start to engage customers online.

Original Post: http://blog.freshnetworks.com/index.php/2008/04/

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