Why user-generated content is the power behind the throne

Content is not king, engagement is – so focus on capturing audiences by giving them the tools to create their own content says Paul Cotton.

In a world where digital strategists consistently say content is king it’s important to remember content is predominantly used to engage audiences.

Is it perhaps worth considering engagement itself is the power behind the throne and content is just a charming figurehead? And really, anyone can put a figurehead together.

While that may seem to be at odds with brands and their attempts to gain attention, it’s actually a good thing. More companies are developing initiatives that incorporate some form of user-generated content or UGC for those in the know.

Lego is a perfect example with their Cuusoo site where creative folk submit designs they would like to see the company produce. Their Build With Chrome site, which works with Google maps to allow people to build houses on ‘plots’ of land is another great approach.

Author Neal Stephenson’s recent venture on Kickstarter is ripe with opportunity for its (rather niche) audience to invest their time and emotions. His aim is to develop a platform for virtual sword fighting. It’s called CLANG and while Stephenson will start everyone off with a framework and set of rules for battling with broadswords, the real upswing is going to come from the community who will be given the tools to develop their own rulesets and fighting techniques.

Creating or reinvigorating your product, service, or campaign so the wider world can involve themselves with it is a growing trend with online services. Look to game makers to see who’s doing it best and remember there’s always a way to apply an idea or variation to your personal cause. Lego Cuusoo might not even be here had crowd-sourced shirt designer Threadless not existed before it.

There are a multitude of ways to engage audiences and let them have fun producing content for you, just give them the tools and the opportunity to do it.

Paul Cotton is a social media strategist at Salmat Digital.


  1. Bill Posters
    11 Sep 12
    8:10 am

  2. I’m calling it – this technobabble article represents the pinnacle of social media stupidity, the dream is over, the bubble has burst, it is all finished.

  3. digital meat eater
    11 Sep 12
    9:24 am

  4. My local butcher makes wonderful sausages. Problem is his service sucks. my grocer sells the best apples, however her bananas are terrible. Niche, quality content rocks. Most big traditional media companies are not engaging their audiences because the bottom line is priority number 1. There are so many openings in digital media with the ability to make a buck. Mumbrella is an example.

  5. Sad Break
    11 Sep 12
    10:06 am

  6. It’s the same argument, over and over and over and over again.

  7. Jim
    11 Sep 12
    10:15 am

  8. I think most UGC is a just awful, but that said a quick whip around Vimeo and you begin to see what the future of UGC could look like. The thing is most corporations and ad agencies are asleep at the wheel. The old foundations are falling apart, rapid change is coming and nobody know what the future will look like. That said, not many are doing anything to create their future either, everybody is risk averse and still the change keeps coming. I’m not sure the bubble has burst, I don’t think there was a bubble to begin with, what has burst is the old way of doing things…just look at channel Ten…I predict they will be the first of many to fold, simply because they rely on old ideas..its all about Niche now..niche audiences and niche content. Throwing a blanket marketing strategy to the world is just a waste of time and money. Social media only looks stupid to those who have no idea how to use it effectively.

  9. Alice
    11 Sep 12
    1:07 pm

  10. A lot of websites which engage well do it by pre-purposing content from bigger sites … is this fair? Is this the future? Is it financially sustainable?

  11. Breana
    11 Sep 12
    6:13 pm

  12. Interesting mind thoughts Paul. Thanks for sharing!

  13. jean cave
    13 Sep 12
    5:29 am

  14. You are quite right. There is a lot of auto-niched saddos who are looking to add support content but not looking to actually buy anything, just find some new niches.

  15. Helen Cameron
    14 Sep 12
    9:58 am

  16. Best quote from these User Generated Comments:

    “Social media only looks stupid to those who have no idea how to use it effectively.”

    @Jim – I’m with you on that one!

  17. lazyphuka
    14 Sep 12
    4:35 pm

  18. ugc is popular cause it’s cheap…ain’t that right dr mumbo?

  19. Nice one
    17 Sep 12
    4:40 pm

  20. Good article Paul. A couple of years back The Gruen Transfer website had a way you could make your own TVC and caption it. Some very funny results came in and was a fantastic tool for engagement for TV show. It’s hard to engage without going down the social or game path.