DM News' Essential Guide to Interactive Marketing Technology: Consumer-Generated Media Connects People

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Jim Nail is chief strategy and marketing officer at Cymfony Inc., Watertown, MA, a media measurement and research firm.

Blogs and podcasts grabbed the headlines last year, exploding in volume and diversity, firing marketers' imaginations with new ways to package and deliver their product messages. The term "consumer-generated media" quickly became attached to this new genre. But what exactly is it?

Consumer-generated media is content in any form - text, audio, video - created by anyone who is not a professional journalist and is made available to other consumers through digital technology.

This definition is broad on purpose. Forms of consumer-generated media have existed since the early days of the Internet: usenet, discussion boards and consumer reviews. And new forms are evolving that may supplant some of today's forms: video blogs, mobile blogs, etc.

Though the form may change, there is a consistent underlying trend driving this shift in the media landscape. The most compelling benefit for consumers of the digital technologies at their fingertips is not shopping at midnight or instant news.

The power of these technologies lies in their ability to connect people. Just as e-mail was the "killer app" that made the Internet a must-have medium, this power of expressing your opinions on a blog or finding other like-minded people who share your passion for 1964 World's Fair memorabilia drives the growth of consumer-generated media.

Marketers can benefit in two ways. Their first instinct is to become content creators themselves. Well-known examples like Microsoft's Channel 9 blog and Whirlpool's podcasts demonstrate how innovative companies can be successful by breaking out of the confines of 30-second television spots and full-page magazine ads.

Companies like Lego have even been successful participating in message board and online communities, and by being open and honest about their affiliation with the company and giving the community valuable information, news and ideas about the products the love so much, they spend their precious free time in front of their computer screen talking about them.

And this leads to the second opportunity: the ability to gain real-time insights into consumer attitudes and behaviors, in high volume, continuously over time, without the bias of a moderator or the wording of a survey.

Some of the older forms of consumer-generated media like discussion boards and consumer reviews contain the most valuable information for marketers. There are boards on every conceivable topic, from digital photography to which tires to buy for your Toyota Prius. Consumers on these sites have thought deeply about - and usually experienced - the product they are discussing and so provide an X-ray into their decision criteria and process.

Marketers should include both aspects of consumer-generated media in their strategies: listening in on consumers as they swap opinions, facts and experiences as well as creating their own content to amuse, entertain and inform their audiences. n

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