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In the first edition of Key Concepts in e-Commerce I, like most - if not all - others, considered Consumer Generated Media [CGM] and User Generated Content [UGC] to be two phrases that mean much the same thing - any differences being in semantics of the words used. Whilst I don't think things have changed with regard to titles, I think it has got to the stage where we can identify different categories of web site content that is generated by amateurs - that is, folk who have not been paid to do so - whether they are 'consumers' or 'users'.

I think there are five distinct categories. They are:

  1. The review site - where the contributor has experience of a product or service and so offers a personal opinion of their experiences with, or of, that product or service. This kind of site is normally product, market or industry specific and can be published by independent third parties or industry insiders.
  2. The social media site - where the content is anything from wannabee pop stars strutting their stuff, through amateur videos, to clips of paint drying [or equally boring events]. The social element of this kind of site is in the way visitors not only 'virally' pass the content on to their friends, but vote on things they find most interesting.
  3. The social networking site - a close relative of the social media site [indeed, one site can serve both purposes] these are sites such as Facebook where members have their own 'pages' where personal details are presented.
  4. The personal site - this includes all chat room or bulletin board-type sites, as well as the 'sucks' type anti-site and individual opinion sites such as the one you are reading now. Blogs are also included in this category.
  5. The community site - where contributions are invited from visitors as an integral attraction of the site. Such sites will have a specific subject that attracts people to it - perhaps related to sport, hobby or health. It is the community input that segregates these sites.

So why is the categorization necessary? We need it to help out the marketers - in particular, those of us who have to teach, train or advise others.

And the reason lies in how marketers can use the different categories.

All four can be used as business models in their own right as they all have the potentially to carry content that attracts visitors - and so can sell advertising to gain revenue. From a marketer's perspective, most of these sites are good hosts for advertising in that they are self-segmenting.

The review site can be used as a source of market information. Market research is expensive to conduct - these sites cough up information for nothing. By simply accessing these sites [software is available that informs the organization every time their name/brand/product appears on such a site] the researcher can see what customers are saying about the brand or product. A bad idea - but I think one practiced regularly - is where the marketer adds positive comments to third party review sites that include their product.

The social media site can be used in a number of ways. As a conduit in a viral marketing campaign. To host selectively released video clips - of a forthcoming event perhaps [the 'Lost' TV show used this tactic], or old clips to prolong a brand. You might also use social media for guerrilla marketing. Call me a cynic - but I think these bedroom-singers-to-pop stars stories are too good to be true and detect the hand of some clever marketing going on.

The personal site - like the review site - can be used not only to gather market intelligence, but also more direct marketing efforts can be practiced by overt or covert involvement in any online exchanges that are taking place. Overtly - the better option - is where the marketer enters the conversation and immediately identifies their bias. This could be to contradict an incorrect statement by a participant [the X56 can be used with the Z27] or offer advice in a generic conversation [we make a product that might solve your problem ... ]. Covertly - and this is so risky I would never recommend it - involvement is where no bias is declared and marketing messages are delivered surreptitiously [I had that problem once and used the Z27 ... ].

The community site is also primarily a source of research data. As with the personal site, marketers can join in with any conversational or review-type content, but perhaps the greatest opportunity for marketing on these sites is to seek a sponsorship deal - a seed supplier sponsoring a gardening advice site [for example] seems to me like a plan that suits all parties.

signature - Alan Charlesworth

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