User-generated content (UGC) is an increasingly popular brand marketing tool for many enterprises today. It provides a fantastic opportunity for businesses to connect with existing customers and prospects with relatively little financial impact.

For UGC to be effective the brand must retain credibility by exhibiting a relaxed attitude to submissions, especially critical ones, while taking care to avoid alienating its online community through heavy-handedness in moderation: it is the prospect of performing such a delicate balancing act that discourages many organisations from initiating social networking initiatives.

Perhaps it's a brand's worst nightmare to discover that the brand they are responsible for is associated with inappropriate, politically incorrect or even abusive content online.

But steering clear of engaging in such initiatives altogether means companies could be missing a trick in terms of reaping the rewards of well managed UGC. So how can businesses harness the real benefits that UGC has to offer while protecting their brand in the process?

  • The inclusion of UGC to a business' website can bring with it many benefits. Namely, it provides a platform upon which the company can keep in touch with its customers on a regular basis. It allows customers access to interactive, frank and honest feedback
  • UGC is another way of raising brand awareness and improving online visibility via increased click-through activity and higher natural search engine rankings
  • Encouraging an evolving dialogue amongst your customers also creates new online content which will attract more traffic to your website. There is little appeal for a user to visit a static website where content rarely changes but they are likely to revisit more regularly if they are likely to see new entries
  • Having an interactive discussion area, forum or picture gallery which is managed correctly can be a powerful way of attracting customers outside of your usual target audience; you may find you can reach those prospects that you haven't been able to locate using other marketing tactics
  • The management of UGC is a crucial element to its effectiveness. If managed correctly, it can bring many business benefits, if not, businesses could be laying themselves wide open to risk of brand damage
  • Managing UGC, and its occasionally troubling authors, means putting in place real people to read and judge submissions; people who've been trained to work frequently, regularly and consistently, seven days a week. These people could be in-house or from a specialist agency
  • Moderators will need to know the basics of the laws of defamation, contempt, copyright and for some audiences, child protection too
  • Once you've settled on your objective, you'll be well placed to choose which platform for UGC will suit you best; for example social networking profiles/comments, blogs, story comments, forums, chat rooms, picture galleries
    For UGC to be effective the brand must retain credibility by exhibiting a relaxed attitude to submissions, while taking care to avoid alienating its online community through heavy-handedness in moderation
  • Choose software that supports your budget and capabilities; perhaps hosted solutions for low-budget activity and open-source based bespoke software for higher budgets and where you have access to technical competence

  • Assess software not only from design and user interface perspectives, but also from data mining and moderation ones

  • Work out a detailed set of rules in advance, and publish a simplified version of them clearly on your website

  • Escalation procedures will need to be established early on. The ‘what if' scenarios do occur from time to time and you need to know in advance how to handle them

  • Who will judge the judges? Appointing moderators is usually important, but who will check the quantity and quality of their work?

  • How prescriptive are you going to be about the content you are happy to publish on behalf of your customers and prospects? In many cases, the tighter your brief the less attractive it will prove to your audience

  • Invest time early on in actively engaging with your first contributors

  • Come down fairly, but swiftly and heavily, on trolls
  • It might be your party, but your guests will determine whether it's a success or not. You must put the right infrastructure in place to encourage the kind of UGC you want

Rob Marcus is a director at Chat Moderators. For more information visit