Author Archives: Rebecca Bell

Online marketing and UGC for financial services – some expert advice

A way of defining UGC is any content not paid for by the organisation. There is rarely any money in UGC for the user, but what about the website? Good online marketing, use of social media and UGC can be very lucrative for businesses. Otherwise, why would they spend millions trying to get it right? I approached Craig Freeman to find out how this works for financial services.

Craig Freeman is the Digital Account Manager at Fwd Marketing. Since graduating with a BA (Hons) in Business Adminstration, Craig has worked with a number of B2B and B2C brands to build their online presence. As a digital consultant at FWD Craig is working to highlight opportunities and implement strategic campaigns to maximise their online potential using new media and Web 2.0.

Here’s what he had to say…

Online user generated content and financial services have not traditionally gone hand in hand. In fact, I have been in meetings when just the mention of a blog, Twitter or online community is enough to send a Marketing Director running for the hills. From what I have observed there are a number of drivers behind this reaction.

1. The fear of the unknown

Financial service organisations include banks, insurance companies, hedge funds and everything in between. If you were to profile the senior management teams you would discover that the majority would be made up of the baby boomer generation. This generation have had computers and the internet somewhat thrown upon them. Lets just say that understanding and participation in this digital world does not come naturally to a large percentage, meaning that social media and digital marketing is not a priority when budgets are divided.

2. The fear of public opinion

Reputation, brand recognition and recommendations are essential to financial service organisations for keeping customers and drumming up new business. Therefore marketing departments and senior management are fiercely protective of the company’s image. So much so that compliance departments that sign off processes are more important than innovation and free thought within these organisations.

There have been some very high profile cases of brands being damaged, not just on confined to one website, but globally. Habitat spamming Twitter is a prime example of how vocal the public are willing to be online. A marketing campaign costing £3million was needed to repair the damage done. Therefore until a financial services brand is sure that efforts across social media will provide a return on investment, they are not willing to risk their reputation.

3. Financial service brands choose to be laggards

Marketing campaigns within financial services will rarely win awards for innovation. Due to the fear of the unknown and fear of public opinion, brands in this sector will only adopt marketing practices that are tried and tested. Websites are more often than not low functioning, non-transactional and little more than an online business card or brochure. This is especially true when it comes to business to business brands as they place little weight on digital efforts for generating sales. The bigger the organisation the less likely they are to enter into the online world. They will wait until mistakes have been made and learnt from by lower level players within the industry, and until large brands in other industries have moved onto the next Facebook or microsite tool.

Playing without the fear

Luckily though, not all financial service organisations let the fear override their desire to grow and social media adoption is beginning to take off. Some have early adopters and innovators at their helm, others give it a go out of curiosity, and the rest then follow suit because their competitors are doing it. And what is it they are doing exactly?

Some brands are using user generated content as a tool for enhancing customer and client communication. Aviva is a shining example of this as they have opened Twitter up for publicly viewable complaints. They have made the decision that it is better to be seen to be actively addressing issues than trying to hide them away.

Other brands have realised that social media offers a clear route directly into large numbers of their target markets. It is not just the pure volume of users on social media but how they use the sites and how they are willing to interact with brands that attract financial services. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are still finding new ways to provide relevance to brands in this sector. Access to data, targeted advertising, corporate profiles and sponsored posts are all being used to varying degrees of success.

Rewards for good behaviour

The financial service brands that have embraced user generated content and social media have found some added benefits. By consistently providing timely and valuable information they have cemented a loyal group of followers, increased sales, demonstrated their expertise and thought leadership, got ahead of the competition and enhanced their profile in the eyes of the press. Journalists from national publications to trade specific publications use social media now as part of their hunt for stories, opinions and sources. For this reason, and to avoid damaging their brand it is essential that financial service brands proceed with caution, understand the technology and always behave with grace, politeness and a cheery complexion.

To do this requires a clearly defined strategy, realistic objectives, a well trained resource and continual monitoring of activity. This will ensure a return on investment is achieved but even then this will not happen overnight. Digital marketing requires prolonged engagement with the whole range of stakeholders and eventually the rewards will come.



The Budget 2011 Online

Budget day always creates a flurry of excitement in the news. The press hype it by trying to second guess what’s going to change, journalists are desperate to work out what the headlines are and the House of Commons is packed for the most important speech of the year from the Chancellor.

With the speech starting at 12.30, lunchtime TV news cut to it live with summaries rolling across the bottom of the screen and some special programmes. Online, it was tackled in different ways and here are a few examples.

Channel 4

Titled LIVE BLOG: Budget 2011 – this newsite wanted to stress just how up to date they are. The page had a mixture of content, tweets from those using their hashtag, summaries of what Osbourne was saying and videos. I was impressed with the speedy upload of videos as the speech was happening. The one that stood out to me the most was the video below, featuring their Economics Editor, Faisal Islam.

The use of Twitter and the live speech in the background was a good move. The video stream again gave the page an edge, kept it current and gave it a feel of live TV. Without actively encouraging viewers to tweet, the likelihood of them doing so is increased by the fact that Faisal is addressing them visually via the video – the audience feel as though he is talking directly to them. Its great to see UGC at the forefront and I was glad to see it wasn’t all just commentary and the live blog included lots of users’ views.

The Guardian also provided live coverage. Perhaps a more traditional take, with short bursts of commentary from the senior political correspondent, Andrew Sparrow, interspersed with the pinpointing of new topics as they came up in the speech, such as….

1.09pm: Osborne is on education now.

1.12pm: Osborne is talking about pensions.

I was pleased to see that later on they did include some UGC in the form of a summary page of comments and reactions.

The BBC made a budget calculator designed to show you if you would be worse or better off. The interactive element was good and twitter was full of people moaning/boasting about their results. Can it really be taken as accurate though? Surely there are too many individual financial variables?


Crowdsourcing: Make it fun and get it done

Digitalkoot is a crowdsourcing success story. At the Finnish National Library, the team need to find a way to get volunteers to digitise their archive material.

“We have millions and millions of historically and culturally valuable magazines, newspapers and journals online. The challenge is that the optical character recognition often contains errors and omissions, which hamper example searches. Manual correction is needed to weed out these mistakes…” Kai Ekholm – Director of the National Library of Finland

So the task is to transcribe millions of pages of old script from the 19th century, which seems vast and also pretty dull. Making the ‘microtasks’ interesting or fun enough for volunteers to repeatedly participate is a critical part of the challenge. The way they achieved this was to create two cartoon games where you rescue moles by correctly typing in the script.  Kai said they were partly inspired by popular iPhone game Angry Birds. Click here to play, let me know what you think of it.

You might assume that you need to speak Finnish to do this but that’s not the case. I had a go at both games and discovered that you don’t need to understand what the words mean, you just have to retype the letters in front of you. The game is not held back by language barriers as it is made of pictures. There are a few characters that you need to check from the help list but you quickly learn when you see the same ones over again. The homepage also has both a Finnish and English language version of explaining what it is all about.

Each time you complete a game, a score pops up to tell you how many points you scored and how many words you got wrong. This is an incentive for users to come back again to beat their previous score. They also publish the top six players everyday. Launched in February 2011 jointly by Microtask and The National Library of Finland, there have already been more than 25,000 people taking part, with more that 2 million microtasks. The site says users have spent more than 1,845 hours playing the games.

There are so many books and articles that could be fantastic online resources once they have been digitising. I’m sure these kind of projects will grow exponentially over the coming years, particularly when programmes are open and shared. For me the key part of designing the tasks or games is remembering that these volunteers are giving up valuable time to take part. If it’s interesting or fun to do, then half the battle is won. When it isn’t, it will not work.


The Virtuous Marketplace: Scribd, UGC and academic utility

After reading Sam’s post about UGC and getting paid for it, I’ve been thinking about sites that allow for this and who uses them. This guest post is about and is written by one of its users, Kris Grint. He’s a DPhil researcher at the Centre for Intellectual History, University of Sussex.

Lessons from the French

In contemplating writing an article on the usefulness of to my specific academic context, I could not help but appropriate the title of Victoria Thompsons’s book, The Virtuous Marketplace, as an analogy for explaining what I feel is this UGC-driven site’s modus operandi. In her 2000 book, Thompson describes the virtuous marketplace as essentially the cumulative product of free market forces impacting upon French culture.

Pont Neuf - Paris by Nicolas Guerard

In the eighteenth century, the advance of a free market was a critical tool against absolutism, because it allowed people to develop arguments against the state and distribute them without fear of reprisal. Think of this in the same terms as the potential capability of the internet to transmit ideas to those residing in autocratic regimes. By the 1830s, however, this particular freedom came to be associated with licentiousness and a distinct lack of quality control. Think of this as the same as how one finds, in the West at least, the written word on the current web. A significant portion is useful but perhaps the majority is fodder, rubbish, or static noise. How can you tell the good from the bad? Particularly when a piece isn’t found on the website of a large publishing corporation or media entity? We can place our trust in a virtuous marketplace, where markets sort the wheat from the chaff.


This concept is behind the document hosting service Scribd. On Scribd, users (which comprise individuals, collectives, and companies) upload their documents for viewing by the public – a YouTube for writing. Other Scribd users vote, share and respond to documents depending on their quality, with higher-rated works rising to the top of charts which can be refined via genre, description or keyword search. So far, so good. The market element adds a further index to the quality of writing on offer however, and is introduced into Scribd by virtue of uploaders being able to price their documents – be they articles, magazines, or short stories – as they see fit. If users are buying certain publications – voting with their wallet – it gives a good (but not failsafe) indication that the item in question is of a certain quality, repute or usefulness.

This process, in turn, creates a revenue stream for Scribd, with profits shared between the the author (for being the wordsmith) and the company (for providing the means of delivery) in an 80:20 split.

Scribd turns a significant number of its userbase into producers, and profits accordingly from the commercial success of whatever its users choose to peddle. This selling of content on a marketplace marks a shift from typical UGC-sites, where it is not usually necessary to make a purchase to access the content generated by the site’s users, although it is certainly not a unique selling point (see, for example, the commercial technical support website Expert’s Exchange).

Academic Benefit

The specific academic benefit of Scribd springs from this arrangement, and that’s why I find it such a useful service. As a researcher, my motivations are not to make money from publishing documents, instead I need to find a reliable, non-expensive way to share large swathes of primary documents online.

Because a significant portion of Scribd’s activity is given over to a profit-making enterprise, the company can afford to offer practically unlimited, free document hosting to its users, regardless of whether they participate in the marketplace or not. In one of the most recent projects I’ve worked on, I used Scribd to make publicly available a 15,000 page manuscript archive relating to research on the English political economist T. R. Malthus, which includes several personal letters that had never been transcribed before. The applet provided by Scribd to display the documents is embeddable on my institution’s website, works with a minimum of fuss, and allows for text-searching, printing and bookmarking.

Scribd may never replace a bestsellers list as an index for establishing the most widely-read texts of our time, but its spirited attempt to create a virtuous marketplace for writing on an burgeoning and increasingly unwieldy web has a very welcome offshoot – the provision of space to host archives of material that researchers had previously found cost-prohibitive to share. That, in itself, is an incredibly virtuous offering.


What kind of UGC are you most likely to contribute?

Your2Pence want to know what your favourite type of UGC is.


Your2pence is headline news in Springfield…

Kent Brockman on Sky One - My Two Cents ©Sky


Little Gossip – when UGC turns ugly

When you have the advantage of the anonymity of the internet – you can be anyone you like. You could reinvent yourself to be someone totally different or perhaps bring out  a particular facet of your personality.

UGC contributor in disguise. Image: Karin Leperi

Some would argue the anonymity of forums or discussion pages allows for UGC contributors to freely give their honest opinions without fear of being judged. But equally, without having to take personal responsibility for comments, perhaps people will think less before they type. Joseph Stashko asked if we are the same people online as offline and suggested that he is an idealised version of himself online, by leaving out the mundane/ unattractive details of his life offline and just promoting his best bits.

One of the possible problems of anonymous posts is the opportunity it leaves for online bullying. One site that has got a lot of attention for this is Little Gossip. The site allows users to log on to a page about their institution and post gossip about people without assigning their name to it. Many schools have criticised the site and Mumsnet have asked for it to be taken down.

Mumsnet is critics of Little Gossip

In response to this criticism, the site said that it would not allow under 18s anymore. The homepage asks you if you are over 18, but that clearly isn’t enough to stop schoolchildren being involved and defying the ban, as reported in the Daily Mail. When you read the nasty comments on Little Gossip, it is easy to see why the site has attracted so much criticism. Whilst the premise of the internet is that it has total freedom, it is hard to argue what useful contribution this site was making, if at all.

So, it was no surprise that in the end Little Gossip closed the site down last week, with the following message….

Voice without ownership means that a person’s worst side can surface.
It is with considerable regret that we are closing the site down, despite taking extensive measures to prevent malicious and unwanted comments a minority of irresponsible people have continued to abuse the site, something that we can not support.

Thank you to all those who did enter into the site and contributed positively to our community. We have not been forced, it is solely our decision to shut down.

Until next time,
LittleGossip Team
contact (at)