By Joe Pulizzi published April 12, 2011

The Biggest Mistake in User-Generated Content (Learning from LEGO)

Most marketers we work with want to develop a content marketing program driven, in part, by user-generated content (UGC). They believe that if they can only get their prospects and customers to talk about their brands online in blogs, forums and review sites, all their woes will disappear.

And in almost all cases, marketers start out in this quest the wrong way.

But let’s begin with a story.

LEGO on Community Building

LEGO opened a new store in Beachwood, Ohio (just east of Cleveland) this past Friday and we were on hand for the grand opening. Just outside the store, the folks at LEGO set up an exhibit where they were building a larger than life R2D2 out of LEGOs (the image below is the model that the LEGO master builder started with as a guide).


To the right of the image you can see the bottom of the much larger R2D2 that was being assembled, which ultimately grew to over eight feet tall.  Now that’s a lot of LEGOs.

Here is the genius of LEGO: Each block of LEGOs that were to be part of R2D2 were built by LEGO fans (including my two sons, their friend, and yours truly). Each fan turned in their LEGO super blocks to receive a certificate of completion, noting that we were a part of building R2D2.

8 foot R2D2

The Legs of the 8-Foot Super R2D2

True genius.

It would take quite a long time for LEGO personnel to put those blocks together. Instead, the community built (with enthusiasm) ALL the LEGO bricks for the master builder.

The Biggest Mistake of User-Generated Content

LEGO has something that many brands don’t – customers who are truly passionate about the brand. Brands that have loyal fans like LEGO can and should find ways to engage user participation in online content.

So, if this kind of passion isn’t present in your brand or products (think Coca-cola or Harley Davidson) are you out of luck?  Luckily no, but you might have to do it a different way.

Passion for an Idea

Some of the greatest websites are built on the back of user-generated content.  Look at Copyblogger or Social Media Examiner for example. The majority of the content on these sites is contributed by the community. Today, both sites have raving fans, but it didn’t start that way…it started with an idea. For Copyblogger, it was the idea that copywriters could make an outstanding living online, but had to think differently about it. For SME, it was the “How-To” of Social Media.  Both these sites:

  1. Began with excellent, original content, drawing people to the site
  2. Were active in social media sites where their prospective users were hanging out in.
  3. Made it easy for others to contribute (simple form or email)
  4. Offered an incentive (in both cases, self-promotion was the biggest incentive)

NOTE: Both the founders of (Brian Clark) and Social Media Examiner (Michael Stelzner) will be keynoting at Content Marketing World.

We did the same thing at the Content Marketing Institute. We would have loved it if the community was passionate about Junta42 or CMI. Some were, but not enough to build a community. What makes CMI go is having over 75 contributors to the site that are passionate about content marketing.

Some questions to think about before looking into user-generated content:

  • Are your fans passionate enough to contribute to your marketing goal?
  • If not, what are the pain points of your customers?  What keeps them up at night? Is it something worth talking about or worth sharing?
  • What incentive would customers have to share?  Is that incentive strong enough to keep them coming back?
  • Where are the influencers that can help you build your online community? What is the plan to get them involved?
  • Do you have enough original content to get started?  Is it the best content in your niche?
  • Do you have a clear understanding of what the ultimate goal of your UGC content plan is (lead generation, engagement, sponsorship, sales, etc.)?

If you enjoyed this post, check out this one on content curation.

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Mark Mathson


    Great post here on what I’d label in the title as Building A Passionate Community.

    It is true that as a website grows, and is looking for user generated content, they might want to simply offer the bone to people to grab, but its not until the true passion, which is the value in itself, is shown no one is going to grab hold, at least not tightly.

    Great post thanks!


  • Megan Getter

    Thanks for a great post! I agree with Mark that this post is really about what it takes to have an outstanding community. Sometimes companies get so excited to find the tools that they forget about the people. Sally Hogshead wrote a book called “Fascinate” that brands who aren’t seeing a lot a passion could use. She does a great job of breaking down the traits that can be used to generate brand loyalty.