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User-Generated Contests

  |  February 26, 2008   |  Comments

Marketers must move away from a contest mindset toward a program mindset.

When the acronym UGC (define) came up in a meeting two years ago in reference to a video idea, I originally thought it meant "user-generated contest." The funny thing is, when it comes to the role video plays within UGC marketing strategies, I wasn't far from the truth. Even today, you need only to breeze the contest pages of YouTube and Jumpcut to see how most brands are still playing in the space. (The archived contests are like a campaign graveyard! Someone please take them down!)

Although some of these contests have created great click rates and a descent response, I often find myself looking at the contest graveyard and thinking, "What now?" What ever happened to the woman who won the shampoo commercial or the guy who wrote the best new commercial jingle? Did they go off to become brand advocates and loyal customers? Or famous directors and songwriters? Truth is, no one really knows...or cares to find out. The brand's ROI (define) is most likely equal to the participant's gain: at best, 15 minutes of fame.

We need to move away from a contest mindset toward a program mindset. We must stop creating one-hit wonders. We must create video content that people will want to engage with over a long time. Content that motivates people to respond with their own content. Content that results in ongoing collaboration and conversation, rather than winners and losers.

We Must Be Human to Talk to Humans

Miles Beckett and Greg Goodfried, creators of lonelygirl15 and KateModern, understood early on how to get people to upload videos. They looked at what motivated YouTubers to respond: a human face people could relate to, invest time in, and care enough about (or hate enough) to inspire them to upload video in response. This is the very same formula that makes vloggers (define) like Renetto and Geriatric1927 so popular.

Yet the contests and promotions advertisers bring to YouTube very rarely follow this model. People are usually driven to a fun, sexy, promotional video or a page of text explaining the contest rules. Nothing human -- and definitely nothing for people to want to get to know better or start a conversation with.

Storytelling models are always evolving, and the first step in creating an interactive brand content program is to look at what's working already. Sure, people also like TV's traditional, sit-back-and-watch storytelling. But if you want people to take the next step of uploading their own content, give them someone to talk to. Someone relevant to them, not just relevant to the brand.

Quality Content Results in Quality Time

Last month, an Accustream report forecast user-generated video (UGV) market growth this year would be 52 percent, raising the total number of views to around 34 billion. Yet while YouTube may have topped out as having the most video uploads in 2007, it was the smaller Sony site, Crackle (still in beta), that came out ahead with a total of 216,596 average views per video.

What does it attribute this accomplishment to? An emphasis on professional content.

This year, we'll see a huge shift from amateur to more polished video content. If brands want to be smart in the space, they need to either partner with the creators of this kind of content or start creating it themselves.

Quality must be set by the brand and the content creator. If the content they serve up doesn't set high enough standards, they can't expect an audience to be motivated to produce quality responses in return.

Let's face it, the only reason audiences turn to low-quality videos on UGV sites in the first place is they want to feel like they have a way into the conversation. Being human opens up that two-way conversation. Add quality production and sophisticated storytelling on top of that, and people will spend more time with that content, and the brand in turn.

Allow Easier Ways to Participate

A UGV experience doesn't mean catering a program to video enthusiasts alone. Bear in mind a large number of people will never want to upload a video. But that doesn't mean they don't want to participate. Allowing easy ways for entry, such as rating, forums, and live chats around shows, will grow an audience tenfold over time. While the video participants may be the ones with the most face time in the storytelling experience, providing viewers the ability to shape a show through commenting, rating, and other methods allows for an overall richer experience and an audience that cares.

In the end, it's the brand's and content creator's job to listen harder and to ensure they're actively responding in return.

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Christine Beardsell

As vice president, group creative director of Digitas's brand content group, The Third Act, Christine works across all brand teams to lead the creative innovation of motion media content. She has a unique and varied set of skills that weaves media, tech, and channel smarts to inform deep interactive experiences for clients such as American Express, Samsung, and IHG. At the advent of the digital revolution, she established Digitas' Final Cut Pro media lab and has since scaled it across offices.

Christine has a BFA from The Cooper Union School of Art in New York City, where she focused her studies on motion media, interactive design, and photography. Her work in the industry has contributed to top honors including silver and bronze Cyber Lions, a Caples Award, an OMMA Award, New York Festivals Awards, ECHO Awards, and The One Show Awards.

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