User-Generated Content isn’t Always Great Content: How to Use It Wisely

User-Generated Content isn’t Always Great Content: How to Use It Wisely

I was going down a YouTube rabbit hole the other day and I ended up watching an old episode of TRL from the year 2000. Melissa Joan Hart and Britney Spears were hosting in Carson Daly’s absence. Besides the fact that Mambo #5 was on the countdown, I was reminded of something even more interesting.
 
Melissa Joan Hart starts talking about a contest TRL is running where audience members can submit original artwork to potentially be featured on TRL merchandise. She and Britney introduce the artists and share the designs on screen — all of which were hand-drawn sketches.
 
But what I found most remarkable was how Melissa and Britney called the audience to action. If others were interested in submitting their artwork to the contest, they couldn’t upload it to social media. They had to FAX it in. I couldn’t help but smile when TRL’s fax line popped on the screen: (212) 258-8719.
 
You can watch around the 3-minute mark here:
 

 
Think about how limiting this was. I imagine there were thousands of people who would’ve wanted to enter their designs, but the barriers to entry were high. They couldn’t fire their work off in an email, submit a form, or upload to social media. They had to have access to a fax machine. 
 
I wonder if marketing and social media managers know how lucky we are today. On a daily basis, our audience gifts us a bank of content we can share from our brand channels, with their permission of course. And on the other side of that, your audience has more opportunities to express themselves and share content that is meaningful to them. 
 
The opportunities for user-generated content are endless. We can receive unlimited content, all in an instant. But just because you could use UGC, doesn’t always mean you should. Let’s discuss some considerations when managing and sharing user-generated content. 
 
 

How to Make the Most of User-Generated Content

 
I’ll start with the hardest, yet most important tip. Screen your UGC! While we love content that is authentic, you should still have a level of standards before reposting a piece of content. Some UGC is good, but not good enough. Look for basic quality guidelines like image clarity, lighting, audio quality, etc. 
 
Ask yourself if you’re sharing this piece of content because it’s helpful, informative, or entertaining to your larger audience, or if you’re only sharing it simply to spotlight the original user. 
 
You can still express gratitude and show appreciation for the user without reposting their content. A simple DM, comment, or like on the post is often enough to make the user feel special. You’re not leaving them out, and they’re just as likely to keep posting just for being acknowledged. 
 
 
Also, remember there are certain etiquette rules when it comes to user-generated content. First of all, always ask permission before resharing it. Just because a user shared it on their own channels, doesn’t necessarily mean they’d like it broadcast to your entire audience. Plus, reaching out to thank them for the content and ask permission only strengthens the relationship. It’s much better than just taking their content without initiating a conversation. 
 
 
Okay, so now you’ve determined the UGC is high enough quality and you have permission to share. But your job goes beyond simply retweeting or reposting. In order for your UGC to have the most impact, you have to give it meaningful context.
 
This is where most UGC, including testimonials, falls flat. Unless the content does a great job storytelling all on its own, you will likely have to provide those additional details. 
 
For instance, let’s say you’re a realtor who is tagged in a photo your clients posted standing in front of their new house you helped sell. Rather than just reposting it, tell us more about the couple and how you met their needs. Give your audience something they can potentially relate to as well. Is this a young couple who is expecting their first child and needed more space? What were they looking for in a home and where did they find it? How desperately were they searching before you were able to help?
 
This added background helps your larger audience see themselves in the content, too, and realize that you have the solution they may need. “If it worked for them, it will work for us.”
 
 
Lastly, remember that attention is scarce. If you reshare every single piece of UGC without context or adding value, you will slowly chip away at your audience’s attention, and they may tune you out for good. 
 
For example, if you run a fitness studio and you often get tagged in your customers’ post-workout mirror selfies, resharing several of these back-to-back, day-after-day is BORING. There are only so many Boomerangs we can take! 
 
We’ve all seen those brands with endless Instagram Stories that don’t hold our attention. And don’t even get me started on those people who tag a friend in a post, then that friend reshares the tag, and then the original tagger reshares the tag! You’re just spamming your audience at that point.

 
 
Don’t just reshare so you have a steady stream of content. Reposting all of your UGC can be tempting, and it surely makes our jobs easier, but it can do more harm than good. 
 
You know how it goes… always make sure your content adds value. It has to be worthwhile. 
 
The Streisand Effect: A Must-Know for Every Marketer or PR Pro

The Streisand Effect: A Must-Know for Every Marketer or PR Pro

You don’t have to be a Barbra Streisand fan or have grown up in her era of music to know just how respected she is. She is known as one of the greatest voices of all time. But beyond her voice and music legacy, we can thank Barbra Streisand for helping create a social phenomenon called ‘The Streisand Effect’. And it’s absolutely something every marketer should know about.
 

 
 

What is The Streisand Effect?

 
Let’s rewind back to 2003. 
 
Long before drones were created, a company called California Coastal Records Project captured an aerial photograph of Barbra Streisand’s sprawling beachfront mansion on the coast of Malibu. Although many photographers in California are known for invading the privacy of celebrities, this case was likely inadvertent. The photo was taken in an effort to create awareness about coastal erosion — not necessarily to reveal Barbra Streisand’s residence. That may have been a coincidence. 
 
The photographer, Kenneth Adelman, published the photos on his website. Barbra Streisand then filed a $50 million lawsuit against him, calling for him to “remove an aerial photograph of Streisand’s mansion from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs.” 
 
Aerial shot of Barbra Streisand's mansion off the coast of Malibu, CA

By Kenneth Adelman

 
At the time she filed the lawsuit, the image had only been downloaded from Adelman’s website six times; two of which were downloads by Streisand’s attorneys. As a result of the case, paired with Barbra Streisand’s celebrity status, public interest in the photograph grew immensely. By the end of the month, 420,000 people visited the site. Boy, did that backfire! 
 
‘The Streisand Effect’ occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of further publicizing that information, usually via the Internet.
 
It reminds me of the episode of Friends when Ross and Rachel get a new ‘hot nanny’. Ross forbids Joey from pursuing her, which only makes him want her more. 
 
 
Spoiler alert: we later learned she’s a lesbian. Crisis averted! 
 
 

The Streisand Effect in News & Pop Culture

 
We’ve seen examples of The Streisand Effect in play with several headlines over the years. It often comes up when celebrities try to have unflattering photos of themselves removed from the Internet. Both Beyoncé and Khloe Kardashian have tried this. I didn’t think Beyoncé could take an unflattering photo, but her 2013 Super Bowl Halftime Show performance sparked the ‘hulking’ meme. RUDE!
 
Beyonce meme showing her lifting weights with an unflattering expression
 
Other examples have come up more recently amid racial justice reform. ‘Gone With the Wind’ was temporarily removed from streaming platforms, which ignited more interest. When six Dr. Seuss books would no longer be published, it created a frenzy. The attempts to suppress only drew more attention. 
 

The Takeaway for Marketers and PR Professionals

 
Why is this important for marketers or publicities? Because despite your intentions, your messaging may do more harm than good. 
 
I’m currently reading The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind by Jonah Berger. He dedicates a chapter to talking about the Tide Pod Challenge from 2017. You may remember the viral meme that encouraged teenagers to ingest laundry detergent. Obviously, not a good idea.
 
Tide tried to do the right thing early on. When they first got wind of the challenge, they released statements and messaging warning their audience that the pods were only to be used to wash clothing. They even tapped Super Bowl champion, Rob Gronkowski, for a commercial about it. 
 

 
 
But, you guessed it… the campaign only drew more attention to the Tide Pod Challenge, inspiring more teens to try it. Boom, ‘The Streisand Effect’.
 
This makes me wonder if public service announcements always have a reverse effect. Jonah Berger’s book indicates that pushing your audience and telling them what not to do, only makes them feel like their freedom, control, or choices are being limited. He says that if you really want to change someone’s mind, find more ways to remove barriers and help them come to a decision themselves.
 
They say some things are better left unsaid, which may also be true in marketing. We often think that over-communicating is what will get the message across, but it may inspire people to do the one thing you’re telling them not to.
 
In Tide’s case, I’m sure there were legal implications to their warning campaigns. But for Barbra Streisand, she probably should have let that photograph go. She unintentionally drew more attention to something she wanted hidden, and now we’ve named a phenomenon after her. 
 
The good news is, she’s safe and living the life just fine in Malibu. But I’ve gotta tell you, if I had a mansion like that, I’m not sure I’d want it hidden. It’s spectacular!’
 
 
This Simple Content Idea Works Every Time

This Simple Content Idea Works Every Time

Content creation usually requires a lot of trial and error, but for a content idea that ALWAYS works, I looked to some of my favorite movie scenes for inspiration.
 
Like in Miss Congeniality when the frumpy FBI agent Grace Hart becomes a stunning pageant queen.
 
 
Or in Clueless, when Tai Frasier gets a makeover and goes from stoner to stunner.
 
 
Or the iconic scene in She’s All That, when the class geek Laney Boggs makes an entrance down the stairs, stunning Freddie Prinze Jr. with her beauty.
 
 
If you haven’t guessed it by now, the surefire content idea I’m referring to is transformations. Transformations hit the mark every time you publish one, and they work for any medium. Here’s why:
 

 
 
 

Transformational content is versatile.

 
It’s not only people that undergo transformations. So can places, companies, and things. Any brand has the potential to share them.
 
We see this often on social media any time we see a person’s physical, mental, or behavioral traits transform. But an inspiring before-and-after can also apply to products, DIY projects, home renovations, or workplace culture.
 

Transformations are authentic.

 
But only if you communicate them correctly… Don’t skip right to the good part. 
 
Even a good testimonial can be a bad testimonial. For a transformation to be the most effective, you have to show the full story. Paint a picture of the bad, the ugly, and then the good. This gives the transformation more meaning and impact.
 
If you have a satisfied customer, don’t just share a happy-go-lucky quote. Help your audience understand their original problem and pain points so the transformation has a stronger story arc.
 

Transformations are compelling.

 
They give the reader something to look forward to, and there’s always a clear beginning, middle, and end. It’s likely your audience can relate to the before stage of the transformation themselves, and they’ll be interested to see how the story ends. Transformations are the perfect way to promote the idea that “if it worked for them, it will work for me.” 
 
Every great story has a strong hook, so be sure to frame your content with an interesting detail that will grab their attention. 
 
 

Transformations promote conversation.

 
If your audience sees the way things were before compared to how they are now, there’s a built-in wow factor. 
 
They’ll feel inspired to remark on the story or ask questions of their own. And since transformations typically emphasize improvements, your followers will want to applaud, congratulate, and engage.
 
 

Transformations illustrate credibility.

 
No matter what your expertise is, transformations show your impact. This can apply to products you sell or services you perform. Maybe you’re an artist who makes jewelry to upgrade someone’s look, or you’re a landscaper who gives homes some much-needed curb appeal. 
 
With transformations, you don’t have to explain why you’re an expert. They prove it on their own. This will make people trust you and want to work with you. 
 
 

Transformations build relationships.

 
A transformation is often highly personal. It’s admitting to the world that you needed to make a change. Your transparency and willingness to share the full journey with your audience not only make them feel closer to you, but it makes them want to root for you.
 
Because of this, vulnerability is key with transformations. Your content will be much more interesting if you share your imperfect experience. 
 


Transformations create an emotional connection.

 
Have you ever sat through an episode of Queer Eye and found yourself crying at the end? When you bring your audience along for a transformation, they experience the emotional roller coaster, too. They are an ideal opportunity to relate to your audience and inspire them to take action or get involved.
 
 

Transform Your Brand’s Content

Audit your content to see if you’re sharing enough transformations. This content idea works well as a blog post, short or long-form video, Twitter thread, or even before and after photographs. You also can get really creative with transformation transitions on TikTok! With every transformation you share, you’ll build trust and bring yourself closer to your audience.
 
Brands: How to Jump in on Trending Topics without Getting Canceled

Brands: How to Jump in on Trending Topics without Getting Canceled

If you knew all of your potential customers were going to a party, wouldn’t you try to make an appearance? Real-time trending topics are like parties on social media. It’s where your audience hangs out, and where your brand should, too. From the latest news in music, TV, sports, or movies, chiming in on pop culture trends demonstrates your brand’s personality. They are your chance to become the life of the party! 
 
The tricky part is that these content opportunities are unexpected. Despite our best efforts to plan a content calendar and get ahead, we can’t predict what becomes popular. That’s why content creation requires us to be agile, well-informed, and quick-witted. 
 
But there’s a right way and a wrong way to insert your brand into trending topics. Here are some considerations to help you avoid a social media party foul. 
 
 

 

Know your audience. 

We spend a lot of time understanding our audience’s demographics like age, location, or income level, but the magic happens when you know their interests. Research what your target customer likes to watch, listen to, or read. 
 
The beauty brand, Tarte Cosmetics, connects with their followers by live tweeting during The Bachelor. 

 

 

Listen.

Create a routine that helps you catch up on the latest trends, current events, or headlines. This can be as simple as listening to a morning radio show while sipping your morning coffee, subscribing to a daily newsletter, or browsing trending hashtags on Twitter. Google Trends is also a helpful tool for monitoring popular search queries. 
 
When the ESPN documentary #TheLastDance became a national trending topic, DiGiorno knew their followers would get kick out of this live tweet. 
 

 

Do your research.

Sometimes, a topic may be trending for complicated reasons, or to highlight a sensitive subject. Before you jump into the conversation, make sure you understand its sentiment and context. You don’t want to associate the brand with a subject that can hurt your reputation. 
 
In light of Britney Spears conservatorship battle, the hashtag #FreeBritney has been trending in recent months. The Framing Britney Spears documentary also brought it to life and started conversations about mental health, misogyny, and abuse. Frontier Airlines saw this as an opportunity to develop a self-serving and tone-deaf promotion. 
 
Frontier Airlines developed a tone-deaf promotion where anyone named Britney flies free

 

Use your judgment.

Unfortunately, marketing decisions aren’t always black and white. Don’t contribute to a pop culture topic if it feels forced. Also, if there’s a chance your content can seem offensive, insulting, or insensitive, sit this one out. 
 
Burger King should have thought twice before inciting the wrath of Taylor Swift fans with this tweet. Many accused the brand of being sexist. They responded with a promo offer to “shake it off”. 
 
Burger King tweeting a sexist comment about Taylor Swift
 
 

Have a team in place.

When the perfect opportunity arises, speed and efficiency matter. You don’t want to be late to the party. Be proactive by assembling a team and assigning roles in design, copywriting, and community management. 
 
Joe Biden’s campaign team could never have predicted a fly would land on Vice President Pence’s head during the vice presidential debate. The team quickly swooped in and saw this viral moment as a unique fundraising opportunity. They shared this tweet with the perfect photo and a link to donate. 
 

 

Think bigger.

Without a doubt, great content can make a splash. Your post may garner thousands of likes, comments, or retweets, but ask yourself if you can do something more. Pop culture doesn’t only happen within the walls of social media. Can do you something bolder by stepping offline? 
 

A perfect example is when Nathan Apodaca went viral on TikTok for his skateboarding video, featuring Ocean Spray and Fleetwood Mac’s song, “Dreams”. The brand surprised (and delighted!) him with a brand new truck in cranberry red. That’s a way more powerful response than a tweet.

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Ocean Spray (@oceansprayinc)

 
 
Although participating in pop culture and trending topics can help you build a bond with your audience, it can also induce pressure to be “always on.” This is your reminder that sometimes the timing won’t be right. Evaluate each opportunity to see if it’s worth shifting your priorities. Trends come and go, and it’s okay to pass. Join the party only when it makes sense.  
 
Frontier Airlines Announces Tacky Offer Capitalizing on the #FreeBritney Movement

Frontier Airlines Announces Tacky Offer Capitalizing on the #FreeBritney Movement

There is a right way and a wrong way for brands to newsjack, and this time, Frontier Airlines got it completely wrong.

On Saturday, the airline announced an exclusive offer allowing anyone with the first name “Britney” to enter for a chance to fly for free. The now-deleted Twitter post featured a pink graphic, along with the hashtag, #FreeBritney, with a link to a landing page to enter.

Many are criticizing the offer for being tone-deaf and exploitative considering the explosive new attention on Britney Spears and her court-sanctioned conservatorship, which restricts her from making her own decisions. The brand is being accused of trying to turn Spears’ suffering into a marketing opportunity.

Spears has been under a conservatorship since 2008, but the details of her case are being brought to light due to a fan-led campaign called the #FreeBritney movement and a new documentary produced by The New York Times entitled Framing Britney Spears.

Conservatorships are typically reserved for those who are mentally or physically unable to manage their affairs, but those close to Spears claim she is very capable. While under this arrangement, managed by her estranged father, Spears has released several albums, embarked on world tours, completed a successful Las Vegas residency, and launched many brands.

Spears’ career took off in the late 1990s and early 2000s before the social media boom. At the time, her music was primarily promoted with traditional media including radio, magazine, and television interviews. The documentary shows how Spears became a target for the paparazzi and tabloid culture, and examines the media’s misogynistic narrative surrounding her career and decisions. 

Since the documentary’s release on February 5th, there has been an outpouring of support from fans, celebrities, and countless media outlets advocating for the 39-year-old’s freedom. According to Billboard, Framing Britney Spears has driven over 1 million tweets since its premiere, with more than 220,000 tweets containing the #FreeBritney hashtag.

This trending conversation has put pressure on public figures who have seemingly leveraged Spears’ fame and vulnerability for personal gain. Spears ex-boyfriend, Justin Timberlake, recently released an apology on Instagram after fans called him out for using their high-profile relationship to boost album sales and further his career.

The public’s overwhelming response in support of the #FreeBritney movement makes Frontier Airlines’ promotion even more insensitive. The eye-opening documentary illustrated that Spears’ mental health suffered due to others trying to capitalize on her lowest points. While the rest of the world is apologizing for these actions, Frontier Airlines is perpetuating the media’s shameful habit of exploiting Britney Spears to promote their own brand. These toxic agendas are what led to her downfall in the first place. 

 

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on Brand Storytelling

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on Brand Storytelling

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song is one of those timeless classics. In fact, I love it so much, I recently awarded it the top spot on a podcast where I ranked the top five ’90s sitcom theme songs. Whether you’re listening to it on your couch or at the bar, you can’t help but bop along. 
 
Most sitcom intros are set to a feel-good track, like Full House’s “Everywhere You Look” or Friends, “I”ll Be There For You”. But The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song takes us on a journey with a story. In fact, “story” is mentioned in the first line in the song.
 

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you, but it starts off like this:
 
Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped-turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute
Just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air
 
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air intro
 
This first verse sets the stage and the visuals in the opening credits illustrate the storyline.
 
But what if the Fresh Prince theme song went a little differently? What if the lyrics said:
 
Now, this is a story all about how
My life was perfect and everything was fine?
 
You wouldn’t have a story. There’d be no plot — nothing to hook in the audience or inspire them to stick around to see what happens next.  
 
Instead, we learned that Will Smith was facing a problem in his life that got flipped-tuned upside down.  
 

The Problem with “No Problem”

So what can marketers learn from a teenager from Philly who got caught up in some trouble on the playground?
 
In our industry, our job is to make ourselves or brands looks good, right? We want people to hire us, work with us, or buy from us, so it’s important to demonstrate you’re the perfect fit or solution.
 
But if you really want to build a bond with potential employers, clients, or customers, you have to share your full story — the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s not perfection, but imperfection, that will make them connect with you.
 
More often, marketers need to resist the urge to create flashy, sexy marketing, and instead go the more human route. Problems, struggles, and conflicts certainly aren’t glamorous, but they’re interesting. When you give the audience a story about a challenge you’ve faced, the more credible you’ll seem when you share how you overcame it.
 
A brand that is built on this foundation is Humans of New York. If you’re not familiar with Humans of New York, it began as a photography project by Brandon Stanton in 2010. He set out to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, and along the way, he started interviewing them. He then shared quotes and short stories about his subjects on his blog and social media. The Instagram account alone has 11 million followers.
 
Humans of New York isn’t popular because it shares fluffy motivational quotes or uplifting stories of success. No topic is off the table — from divorce, to suicide, illness, loss, homelessness, and racism. With every story follows a slew of comments from people who can relate. 
 
Now, I know what you’re thinking: stories like this are far too sad or serious to share with my audience. But these aren’t sad stories — they are triumphant stories. Every story ends with a message of strength and resilience.
 
You can capture that exact magic when telling your personal story, your company story, or your customer’s story. No matter what type of struggle or challenge unfolds in the story, the ending will foster a moment of celebration, connection, or pride. 
 
Here’s are some tips to help you share better stories and testimonials: 
 

Start from the beginning.

You think this would be a no-brainer, but more often than not, we skip right to the highlights. When your audience understands where you’ve been, the more they can appreciate where you are now. 

 

Include a photo of the subject or interviewee.

Your audience wants to put a face to the story, and a quote means so much more when you can see who said it. Also, research indicates that pictures increase trust.

Show vulnerability.

Do you think Will Smith LIKED telling the story about his mom kicking him out of the house to live with his aunt and uncle in Bel-Air? No, but the most compelling stories shine a light on challenges or the uncomfortable. 

 

Illustrate a transformation.

We always enjoy transformational content because it’s clear to see the full story of before and after or then vs. now. If you can, complement written stories with visuals to show growth or change.

 
 
Sometimes, to tell a great story, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. But it’s these raw and authentic moments that your audience will resonate with most. So take it from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and share more of how your life got flipped-turned-upside-down. It will certainly make your brand more memorable.