25th - 26th SEPTEMBER 2019  |  OLYMPIA

User-generated conundrum? How advertisers can generate rewards, not risk, from UGC

Ad Age 02 Dec 2019 03:16

The numbers around user-generated content (UGC) are staggering, and so are the opportunities for advertisers. More than 330 million monthly users on Reddit, more than 200 billion Pins saved on Pinterest, and nearly 800 million reviews and opinions posted on TripAdvisor are just the tip of the UGC iceberg.

Equally important, UGC is a highly effective marketing channel, with 79 percent of consumers saying UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions, and it can also be a high-value way to turn customer endorsements into powerful creative. For example, advertisers can craft a high-impact, low-cost digital ad from a positive review, and in a social feed, this type of engagement is native.

The potential risks of UGC, however, are also well documented. No marketer wants their brand to be associated with hate speech, violence, pornography, bullying, illegal drugs, gambling, offensive language or illegal content, all of which exist in corners of the UGC universe.

In fact, a recent survey from the Trustworthy Accountability Group and Brand Safety Institute found that 80 percent of consumers would reduce or stop purchases of a product that advertised near extreme or dangerous content.

How can savvy advertisers navigate the hidden risks of UGC to reach the lucrative rewards of an impactful, engaged, authentic and brand-appropriate consumer ad experience? Three words mark the path: Focus on context.

Context is the key

What makes UGC so attractive to marketers is also what has the potential to make it risky: Its message is organic and not controlled by the brand itself. Looking at the context in which the content appears, however, can help advertisers ensure their ads appear in brand-safe environments.

Historically, UGC has presented obstacles for brand safety solutions, as many used keyword blacklists or other inflexible rulesets to categorize the huge quantities of dynamic content on the web. Keyword blacklists may sound good, but in practice they can be accidentally triggered and block unrelated and brand-safe content, particularly in a UGC environment.

For example, “shooting” is one of the most common blacklist terms. While it may identify some content about violence, that term will also block content by astronomy buffs (shooting stars), sports fans (shooting hoops), technology users (troubleshooting), photographers (shooting a photo) and card players (shooting the moon). Worse, UGC content about an actual violent shooting may not actually include that specific term, instead using slang, misspellings, links or images.

More advanced context-based solutions, however, evaluate not only the words on the page but the context in which they appear, so advertisers can ensure their brand-safety solution blocks content about actual violence, not brand-safe postings by a group of grandmothers playing hearts.

There is also a difference between safety and suitability. Just because ad-related content does not trigger traditional brand-safety concerns doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for your brand. A forum on vacation horror stories might be brand-safe but not brand-suitable for a major hotel chain, for example.

The specific parameters for brand safety and suitability are something that each brand has to define for themselves. 

Once you define which attributes and categories are safe for your brand messaging, you’ll be able to actively seek out both safe and suitable environments to find content that aligns. This process can sound daunting, but the good news is that technology is here to help. 

Reddit is one example of how advertisers can use context-based tools to unlock UGC opportunities. As a massive network of more than 100,000 digital communities built around passion points and specific topics, Reddit is home to conversation, commentary and engagement that’s almost entirely user-generated. And with hundreds of millions of monthly active users, Reddit communities are ideal for brand engagement. That said, the sheer volume of unique content produced every minute makes brand-controlled moderation complex.

“Reddit’s value for advertisers is our many thousands of informed, interest-based communities that drive culture, conversation, ideas and purchases,” says Jen Wong, Reddit chief operating officer. “Our approach to brand safety is comprehensive and dynamic, so marrying our internal tools and processes with contextual intelligence solutions backed by AI is a natural fit. This approach delivers a layer of control that's third-party verified and real-time, providing more control for individual advertisers.”

Unlike solutions that leverage keyword blacklisting, contextual intelligence solutions that are backed by AI can determine safe and suitable environments in real time at the page level. These solutions consider the context of the content when determining the safety level of each environment. 

This gives advertisers the opportunity to capitalize on a user-generated moment and avoid content that may be unsafe for their brand delivering the best of all worlds for digital marketers: safety, suitability and reach. 

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