[Editor’s Note: This is in response to a question my boss asked me and heavily influenced by these three posts. Also, just to make it clear, when I refer to “user generated content” in this piece, I’m mostly referring to the trend within the marketing/advertising industry. If you’re not familiar with this, check out this New York Times article about Chevy’s attempt. ]
“User generated content” is an obvious step for companies. Essentially its a free way to get publicity and content. The problem is, in the not too distant future all these users generating content will start to ask themselves why they’re not getting paid. Eventually leading to, “What the hell am I getting out of giving this company my content?”
The obvious answer is distribution. They’re providing you the audience you didn’t have. But if every company has user generated content then all the differentiation starts to diminish and it becomes a distribution channel just as filled with crap as the rest of them.
At that point we’re back to square one: A medium in need of better filtering. The parallels between “user generated content” and blogging seem appropriate. They’re both ways for ‘regular Joe’s’ to get their voice heard. What we’re finding out in the blog world, is that when you have millions of voices, you need a good way to filter the signal from the noise. Things will be no different in the world of user generated content. After all, we only have a limited amount of attention and if we spend it all trying to find good content we won’t have any left when we finally get there.
That’s where we’re headed: The branding opportunities of the future lie in the filtering and repackaging of content. Companies that figure out how to actually help people spend their attention more effectively will be richly rewarded. Think about it, less and less onus is being placed on who created the content, while more and more is placed on where you found it. Just ask YouTube: It’s a destination, a repackager of content. Part of their magic is that they allow anyone to put a YouTube video on their own site. As a result their branding seed is spread far and wide.
By tapping into the virality of video content online and adding value as an easy way to distribute they have made their own name viral. Isn’t the dream of every brand to have their name plastered far and wide?
Update (4/18/06): Added an extra note to narrow my focus in the editor’s note.