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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.