UGC (User Generated Content) is a powerful marketing tool. The ability to gather content from a multitude of social media sources and feed it back to people in a range of interesting ways is an incredibly effective way of generating a buzz around your brand.
This being said, if you neglect to properly moderate your engagement when producing an interactive campaign, especially one which responds or posts automatically, it can quickly backfire on you. I’m quickly going to highlight a couple of examples when unmoderated UGC went very wrong.
Walkers Crisps #WalkersWave PR Campaign with Gary Lineker
The premise of this campaign was simple enough. Tweet a selfie to Walkers Crisps and they would put automate your face into a video with Gary Lineker and their account would tweet it out to the world. A fun little idea, except for the fact that shortly after it launched, the Walkers account was tweeting out videos containing the likes of Stalin , Peter Sutcliffe (aka the Yorkshire Ripper), Jimmy Saville, Josef Fritzel and Hitler.
In a monumental error, Walkers had negated to ensure they moderated the content that they received, and in doing so inadvertently created a fantastic opportunity for internet trolls to 1-up one-another in a race to the “most offensive” person they could find. It took a surprisingly long time for the company to pull the now ruined campaign, but by that time the damage had been done.
#MicrosoftTay. Branded Bot error.
Tay was supposed to be an example of ground-breaking interactive UI created by Microsoft which would “experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding” and “learn from conversations and get progressively smarter”. In layman’s terms, you could tweet messages to it and it would tweet you back, and the conversations in engaged in would become more real sounding as it learnt how people spoke and the kinds of things people said.
Here’s the thing though – Twitter has a large number of people on it who are more than willing to take something like this, and drive it into the ground – and sure enough, the AI was soon spouting out tweets as a racist, anti-semitic, homophobic holocaust denier; directly calling celebrities offensive terms, agreeing with the ideals of white supremacists, and actively supporting genocide.
It’s worth noting that Tay in itself was not inherently any of these things, but a product of the data that it had collected from other people. It could have been an incredibly successful marketing campaign, but ended up as an algorithm gone awry; and though it didn’t take very long to be taken offline for “maintenance”, many of its tweets are still lingering on Twitter to this day.
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Our final lesson comes from McDonalds and their #McDStories campaign, which started innocently enough by describing a few nice moments that had occurred in one of their restaurants along with the aforementioned hashtag and the hope that other would share equally touching moments.
Obviously this didn’t happen, and instead the #1 trending hashtag at the time was people regaling each other in tales of their worst experiences at the chain. From plasters and fingernails in food, cases of explosive diarrhea, rude and incompetent staff members, through to some serious claims about the ingredients used in their food, no subject was off-limits for the hordes of disgruntled ex-customers, and it exploded into a worldwide PR nightmare for the company.
So what have we learnt?
Your customers are – for the most part – great. They’re the biggest fans and advocates of your brand and can help you produce unique, interesting, and engaging content; but if you negate to moderate the content you’re putting out there as a brand, especially publicly, then you’re potentially opening the floodgates for the bad eggs to take over your campaign and send it into disarray. Having someone on hand to manually approve content may seem like an unnecessary overhead, but not doing so runs the risk that your campaign doesn’t go in the direction that you want.
As UGC experts, we’re constantly developing systems that will automate and assist with a lot of this process, but until it’s infallible, more often than not it’s a process that is entirely worth doing in order to ensure your brand retains the reputation that you want it to.