When brands utilise fan made, or user generated content, it becomes the advertising equivalent of citizen journalism. It promotes the idea of participatory culture, while also adding to the narrative of the brand identity, and creating a community of collective understanding, collective intelligence, and collective passion (or brand tribes) around the brand organisation.
If a brand were to take the recommended video from this week, slap their logo on it, and use it to tweet “Wasn’t 2012 the best?”, that would be an example of utilising user generated content to create engagement with their company.
Bruns (2007) outlines characteristics of produsage with these 4 main points:
- Moving away from dedicated individuals/teams, towards broader generation and distribution via participants;
- Produsers move between the roles of leader; participant; and content user;
- The generated content isn’t necessarily a finalised product, but something which can still develop;
- Deliberate blind eye turned from copyright, in order to build upon existing works for further engagement.
A great example of a brand utilising user generated content to tell a targeted narrative are the hashtags UOW promotes to highlight student culture: #ExperienceUOW (1 | 2) and #ThisIsUOW (1 | 2 | 3 | 4)
What’s interesting about these two hashtags is the different narratives that have evolved through this user generated content. #ExperienceUOW tells the story of UOW students and their interaction with the campus; which was the original aim for both hashtags. #ThisIsUOW however has morphed into a loop of negative feedback towards the university, branching beyond just Facebook and Instagram, finding a hub of activity on Twitter also (an online platform where #ExperienceUOW has not landed). One of the ways the brand seems to be trying to control the #ThisIsUOW brand, is by creating a storify page to share only the aspects of the tag that it deems worthy, however user generated content is of such a nature that it cannot be stopped on channels which are not moderated, thus allowing the negative, satirical, or parodying feedback to continue circulating via twitter. This then becomes a part of the brand, although not necessarily a welcomed one by the organisation (hence the creation of #ExperienceUOW), giving some power to those who are helping establish this element of the brand, rather than the traditional, dedicated team behind the social media accounts.
Is utilising user generated content ethical? Often times, brands take from the content creators without crediting or attributing the work to them. While UOW runs their campaign as a competition, other brands do not, and sometimes go as far as to steal for their own profit. Could brands also be taking user generated content and not crediting it in order to make it appear more ‘credible‘ due to the lack of qualifications from those who are creating?