What Makes You Say “I Want That”? A Look at User-Generated Content

Laura Petrolino (here she is on Twitter) and I have been friends online for five years but never actually spoke face to face (via video conference) until when we were putting together this post!

It’s a miracle we were able to coordinate a time, given our mutual inability to tell what day it is. Case in point from a 2016 Facebook message exchange:

User-generated content examples

How Does Our Experience of the World Compare?

As communications professionals, Laura and I are both interested in user-generated content (UGC) — messages and images created by consumers rather than brands — that help tell a brand’s story. In fact, Laura wrote a post, The Magic of User-Generated Content, for Spin Sucks on the topic back in 2014.

For the #BridgingTheGap Campaign, in which 100 Millennial and 100 Midlife Influencers are coming together to blur boundaries, we each decided to share examples of favorite pieces of UGC, and let you see how the perspectives of millennials and fifty-somethings compare.

We needed some kind of structure, so I chose to use the four categories described in this analysis by Kantar Added Value: discovery, fun, status and wellbeing.

Discovery

Meet my canine friend, Rocky. Rocky has quite an active life on Instagram, and watching him since he was a tiny puppy has been a discovery adventure. What matters for an image like this as UGC is that it clearly shows the brand of bed he is using, but it doesn’t scream “YOU SHOULD BUY THIS PET BED.” It’s more of the kind of thing that would be in the back of my mind if I were in the market for a pet product.

And because I know Rocky, I feel a connection. It’s not the brand saying “you need a Snoozzy bed because your dog will like it.” It’s Rocky’s family saying “here’s a day in Rocky’s life and he’s on Snoozzy because he clearly deserves the best.”
user-generated content examples

Fun

What would you wear to spend a day at the park with your toddler (or, given my generation, perhaps your grandchild)? You would want to be comfortable, prepared for changes in temperature, and look decent enough that it wouldn’t be embarrassing to run into a friend.

This post from MommaInFlipFlops accomplishes all that in its display of a Prana product. (Note: I participated in the same campaign, but her toddler is way cuter than the jar of catnip I held up in my UGC!).

Here’s why this works as UGC for me. The main thing I am drawn to is the relationship between the mom and the toddler, and the beautiful setting. When I scroll through the hashtags, I can see that she’s wearing prAna and can choose to pursue it.

user-generated content examples

Status

Is there anything more affirming that the start of a new married life? Although my niece Olivia had a fantastic photographer at her wedding, this shot is one I grabbed with my iPhone from my perfectly positioned seat as her sisters toasted her and her new groom.

Why is this effective UGC for Hayley Paige? It showcases a bridal gown and two bridesmaids’ gowns in a genuine moment, not an artificial pose. It could appeal to a potential bride OR a mother-of-the bride, all depending on the consumer’s perspective.

user-generated content examplesWellbeing

This is just a simple selfie (and it sort of bleeds over into the bonus category I’ll be adding…) but it’s so much more as UGC goes. The Charity Miles app is used by runners, walkers and cyclists to generate donations to favorite charities.

The app is designed so that the user can add a picture of himself or herself that can then be shared on social media.

Like I said, this isn’t just any wellbeing selfie, it’s Charity Miles founder Gene Gurkoff and running legend Bart Yasso.

From a UGC standpoint, it makes me say, “gosh, if Bart Yasso is staying healthy anhelping a great cause at he same time, maybe I can too.”

user-generated content examples

BONUS: Causes

It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t add a “causes” category. I adore advocating on behalf of causes, and hopefully my UGC shows it.

Team RWB is one of my favorite causes. It’s an organization that supports veterans in various ways.

This image of a Team RWB supporter doing the Old Glory Relay evokes the sense of the journey, the walker’s purpose, and the unifying point of the organization.

It works for me as UGC because it makes me say, “hey! I could do this and help veterans like this guy,” rather than “you should care about this and sign up now.” It’s a subtle but powerful difference.

user-generated content examples

Bridging the Gap

Are Laura and I totally different from each other when it comes to how we view UGC?

The New Jersey American Marketing Association writes:

There are clear differences in how millennials and baby boomers consume and trust branded content. Millennials enjoy images of real people using a product, whereas baby boomers care more about the quality of the product or service. Boomers also enjoy written and video content just as much as images.

Judging by the images I chose, maybe the difference isn’t actually that big after all.

Take a look at Laura’s post and let me know what you think.

It’s something we can discuss the next time Friday rolls around, if we can figure out what day it is.

 

MedalGate

I ran the Springtime 10K race here in Tallahassee yesterday. It was my fourth time running the 10K race. It was also my slowest time running this race, not because I am inadequately trained but because I am in the middle of figuring out what is going on with my cardiac health.

After my friend Betty and I crossed the finish line, we walked past a lady standing there with a box of medals. Frankly, I had forgotten that there were medals for the 10K race finishers. When we saw her, I kind of said “oh yeah, medals,” and she explained that those were last year’s medals, that there were no more 2015 medals. I started not to take one, but since I often send my race medal to Gareth, who I run for, I went ahead and took one. Betty followed up on the woman’s admonition to “ask someone” about getting a 2015 medal and through Betty’s inquiries, we figured out that there were no more medals.

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I didn’t really think too much about the medal situation. I was happy to enjoy a gorgeous day, to be wearing the TeamRWB emblem as part of RunAs1, to find a compromise between the all-out runner I really want to be and the “keep things moderate” runner I have to be right now.

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TeamRWBTally

 

I did jokingly post a picture of my 2014 medal on my Facebook page, jesting that “And if you time things JUST RIGHT and finish toward the end you get to get on the race time machine and retrieve yourself a medal from the 2014 race from the special time traveler box.”

As it turns out, another runner who finished later than me along with her son was very unhappy about the 2014 medal situation, because she had paid race fees for four people, and it was her child’s first 10K. She posted that concern on our track club’s Facebook page, and what I deemed “medalgate” ensued. The entire thread has now been deleted but the categories of comments were roughly:

70%: people offering their medals to her and reassuring her that it would get handled

20%: people telling her to be grateful for the beautiful day and gracious to an all-volunteer operation

8%: combinations of the above

1%: responses from the race directors providing a brief explanation and instructions for how to pursue a resolution privately

0.5%: a response from the original complainant sharing a screen shot of a negative private message from someone who, to put it politely, disagreed with her stance

0.5% a meme

Our track club still has a members only Yahoo list (remember those?). After reading some of the chatter on there, I drafted a lengthy response. I am sharing it here.

Everyone, I have read every single word of the Facebook conversation started when [name] commented about being given a 2014 medal when there were no 2015 medals left today at the Springtime 10K. Some thoughts …

First of all, I think it is incredible (but very typical) of our club that so many people offered to donate their medals (and someone offered to refund her family’s entry fee).

Social media does make it possible to fire off a concern rapidly and publicly without giving an issue time to be resolved more privately. That pattern is here to stay, and I am writing to encourage you to remember that these situations present opportunities to bring someone into our fold.

I can absolutely understand the logic behind responses in the thread encouraging her to appreciate what a beautiful day it was, to cut volunteers a break (amen!), to use this as a teachable moment for her child, to focus on the positive. I agree with all of those statements.

But by the same token I encourage you to remember a time when you were a running outsider. If you are a back of the packer, the time(s) you wondered if you would be the last person finishing a race and therefore wondered if you should even show up at all. It may not be a medal but I am positive for all of us there have been days when we had to incentivize ourselves to get our butts out the door … maybe it was the thought of a glass of wine, the knowledge that we had to report in to our coach, or the hope that we would PR an upcoming race.

I am not a person who really cares about medals that much. I have kept a few from the races that are most special to me. Most of my others I give to the child I run for or donate. BUT for some people it really is “the thing.” For some parents (rightly or wrongly) they may have spent the last few weeks talking excitedly with their child about the anticipation of getting a medal. Adults, too, may  have seen the medal in their mind’s eye when they forced themselves to push one more mile, lift one more weight, pass up the second slice of pizza.

I do understand the challenges of an all volunteer operation, and how a plan which seemed failproof re: medal quantity didn’t work out that way. This year can help us better plan for next year.

I do think if we advertised the fact that every 10K runner would get a medal, we should try our best to make that happen (and I know the many offers to donate will undoubtedly take care of that). In the same way you wouldn’t ask for filet mignon at the grocery store and say “sure” if they said “you’re getting ground beef instead” it is reasonable for people to expect to get a 2015 medal.

I commend the directors on a FABULOUS and well-managed event. I haven’t ever directed a race but by now I am pretty familiar with the moving parts. As a volunteer, I have been chewed out by people when I didn’t have their tshirt size even though they pre-registered (it happens!).

I have been that obnoxious parent advocating too aggressively for my child. I have been the runner sending single spaced two page emails of “feedback” to race directors. Over time I got a broader perspective and learned a) how to give more succinct feedback b) when to give feedback and c) to remember to say thank you.

Do I wish [name] had held off on her negative post until she had tried to get a private resolution? I think it would have been in everyone’s best interests. For all I know, she is one of those people in the world who approaches everything from the negative, and no amount of offers to donate medals, refund her fees, or prove our goodwill can change things.

But I walked away from yesterday’s incident wishing that it had gone differently.

I want [name] and her family to come back to a track club sponsored event. The purpose of this lengthy reply is to remind us all that we can have a role in making that happen, via our words AND our actions.

Happy Running!

Bringing “Trailahassee” Alive: Summer Trail Series 2014

This summer, I participated in the Gulf Winds Track Club’s Summer Trail Race Series 2014. The series was first held in 2013, and I did not participate. I spent much of that summer seeing other runners’ posts about the trail races, a combination of victorious and “wow can’t believe I survived in that heat” sentiments and wishing I had been part of it. Since the series sells out early (like, in April) I made sure and secure my spot when the opportunity presented itself this year.

One of my regrets about the trail races is that it was utterly impossible to take pictures of the trails since I was so focused on survival. That’s why you’re getting pictures of me instead of nature’s beauty. But I do have this one on the Cadillac Trail that I took one day while on a training run:

Summer Trail Series

Cadillac Trail

Before I recap my memories of the trail series, a quick look at each race:

redbug

The first race, on June 21, was a 4.5 miler on Tallahassee’s RedBug Trail. It began at 6 p.m. I ran my Charity Miles that day for the Alzheimers Association in conjunction with the date of the annual Summer Solstice “the longest day.” (The connection with Alzheimer’s is also why I wore purple.) Finished 113/114 in 1:26:45.

swamp forest two

The second race, on July 12, was at the Swamp Forest Trail. It was a morning race, which meant cooler (relatively) weather. I was excited that this race included me crossing the 750 mile mark in my running for Gareth through I Run for Michael (my green shirt represents awareness of mitochondrial disorders (what Gareth has)). I ran for Feeding America via Charity Miles. Finished 108/109 in 1:04:42.

magnolia

The third race, on July 26, was at the Magnolia Trail. One of the challenges of this race was the time (6 p.m. and HOT), the fact that I had been in New York City for the week prior, and my trip earlier that morning to my family reunion (and all that good southern family reunion chow!) I ran for Team RWB via Charity Miles in honor of Anna Runs America (Anna was running cross country in support of Team RWB as well as the Wounded Warrior Project). The “train” is my favorite memory of this race (the “train” is the small group of us who remained together for a significant portion of the race … toward the end I stepped aside and the others went ahead … but I loved the comments from everyone behind me about us being a train and “in this together.”). Finished 107/108 in 59:03.cadillac

The final race, on August 9, was on the Cadillac Trail (5.5 miles). I was so happy to be debuting my Idiots Running Club singlet. I was running for Team RWB (and Anna) again, also in memory of Murphy, one of our I Run for Michael children who had passed away (and for Gareth, as always…). Finished 86/88 in 1:40:31.

Takeaways:

Choo Choo. As I mentioned in my recap of the Magnolia race, the little “train” of runners we created during the Magnolia race (and replicated to some extent during the Cadillac race) was so meaningful to me. The positive vibes from the runners behind me who liked the pace and were counting on me to keep it consistent made me feel so great. I have so often been last or next to last (which is fine!) but once in a while to feel like I am helping another runner hang in there is the best feeling.

HR Issues. During the two evening races, I came to a point in the race where I was struggling mightily with a very elevated heart rate. Far above my Zone 5 (and I rarely run at Zone 5 on purpose). After the RedBug race, I deactivated the beep that tells me I am above my max HR because it was disturbing to hear and I figured the other people on the trail with me didn’t want to hear the constant beeping either. I know (from conversations with other runners) that I am not the only one who struggled with HR issues during these races, but I found it frustrating (and worrisome).

Trail Beauty. I lost count of the times I thought “I wish I could take a picture of this to share” (mostly this was about beauty but other times I wanted people to see how darn technical and difficult some of these trails are because [wait for it…..] I AM NOT ACTUALLY A MOUNTAIN BIKE! (The races were on Mountain Bike trails.)) Pretty beats hard but these trails had plenty of both.

Trail Etiquette. One aspect of this race series that I loved (and that perplexed me at times) was the emphasis on trail etiquette.  I can’t find the original email, but the parts I remember were: no earbuds, respect the trail, don’t leave anything you don’t take out, and pass on the left. There were other etiquette tips, but those are the ones I recall. I appreciate how much care was taken to respect the natural balance of the trails (including capping the series at 150 participants so as not to overestress it). I must admit I was frustrated to see a runner with earbuds (maybe (s)he had missed the instruction). It was a different set of rules than I was used to and I appreciated the way it made me think about running in this environment.

Popsicles and MoonPies Rock. You won’t see me complaining about the post-race spread (and there were healthy options too). I didn’t miss an opportunity to wolf down a post race Moon Pie. Yum.

Working Harder Than Ever. With the exception of a few ill-advised mid-summer runs I took without adequate (i.e., ANY) hydration before I got a hydration belt, this series was the single hardest running endeavor I have ever undertaken. Of course, the fact that it was the hardest makes it the most valued!

Sponsors. We were so fortunate to have the support of some generous sponsors (and props to the Race Director Bobby York for securing all of these donations). Salomon Running came out to all of the races, and at several of them let runners use their shoes for the race. Other sponsors included: Gulf Winds Track Club, Trail & Ski, Trail Runner Magazine, Earth Fare, Power Bar, Smart Wool, Buff Headwear, CamelBak, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Road ID, MoonPie, Damn Good Bikes, and Reflekt.

Volunteers. We had the best volunteers for this series! It takes some dedicated people to work through the sweat and keep us a) from getting lost b) hydrated c) encouraged and d) happy. These volunteers did all of that and more. They were incredible! The diligence taken to make sure the course was well marked is much appreciated. Don’t think I will ever forget “flags on the right”! Those who planted the flags are much valued!

FRIENDS. Many of our Moms Run This Town Tallahassee members participated in this series. There’s nothing like sharing this experience with friends. Thanks, ladies!

mrtt cadillac

Moms Run This Town Tallahassee Cadillac Trail, August 9, 2014

FINALLY. To close things out, I have a few thoughts on the trail series that elude any type of categorization. I am so glad I did this (I think that shows in my words and pictures). The experience made me explore how I really feel about my perennial back of the pack status. The trail environment put me even farther back than a road race would. As much as I jokingly say to people (frequently!), “oh I can’t tell you the number of races I have finished last in, with the law enforcement saying into their walkie talkies ‘hey do you think she’s the last one?'” I don’t take finishing last lightly. I work hard at my running and there is a competitive fire beneath this relatively calm exterior. Am I glad I never finished last? YES. Would I still be happy if I had? YES. Do I find it amusing that the race director said as I headed out for the final race, “My mountain biker isn’t here so when you pass the aid station, let them know you’re it?” YES (And in fairness I had sent him a message the night before imploring him to proceed with the end-of-race awards even though I would probably still be slogging my way through the 5.5 miles (as long as someone noted my time because Lord knows I wanted it noted!)). There were so many times I asked the people behind me “do you want to pass?” Why did I ask them instead of waiting for them to tell me they needed to pass? It was like a microcosm of my southern-bred polite girl life. I think the trail isn’t the place for that! I am also pleased as punch that I never fell down! These trails were tremendously technical (remember, we were runners not mountain bikes!) and I came close to falling many many times. I am grateful I didn’t (but of course I would have gotten back up and persevered!).

Our Gulf Winds Track Club singlets have the word “Trailahassee” on them in small print.

That small print got magnified in the prism of my own sweat this summer.

I am glad we spent the summer together, TRAILAHASSEE.

trailahassee