Introduction to User-Generated Content

User-generated content (UGC) is pretty self-explanatory: it refers to all content created by a site’s users, rather than by marketers, administrators, or other professionals associated with the site. The category encompasses discussions in forums and on social media sites, but I use the term to refer to consumer reviews posted on retail sites, on Amazon, and on Yelp and other rating/review sites.

User-generated content has attained what amounts to celebrity status in ecommerce. (The Tuscan Whole Milk review caper may or may not have had a hand in its beginnings.) By the mid 2000s, marketers were trying to harness the power of user-generated content with write-your-own-ad campaigns and similar crowd-sourced marketing schemes, with limited success. The real value of user-generated content lies in its segregation from professional content. Consumers value what other consumers have to say far more than they do company-produced content, and retailers have had to accept this fact and make space for in their online presence.

As e-commerce becomes more dependent on unique content generated by shoppers themselves, the line between amateur and professional content is blurring. This raises several questions. How can retailers interact with user-created content without losing consumer trust? Will sites without a strong review component lose their foothold in online retail? How are reviews currently gathered and organized? Is user-generated content headed for professionalization?

This series on user-generated content, which includes two articles, an interview with Emily Pearce, Expedia’s manager of UGC integration, and an interview with Professor Panos Ipeirotis on the topic of negative reviews, and Professor Bing Liu on the topic of fake reviews, takes a look at the process of review creation in search of answers.