Audience Engagement Guest Columns
5 mins read

The power of user-generated video for publishers

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Let me take you back to December 2010, when Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest outside a government office in the town of Sidi Bouzid. In a matter of days his act of defiance set off a revolutionary movement, which became known as the Arab Spring, that rippled across the Middle East and North Africa, toppling several long-standing authoritarian regimes. 

For me, this was also a defining moment that demonstrated the power of user-generated video (UGV) in communicating to the rest of the world what was happening on the ground. Videos published on social media began acting as a megaphone or rallying cry for the cause. It was also perhaps an eye-opening moment for publishers, coupled with the realisation they must evolve alongside their audiences, who were increasingly turning to the internet for information. 

Fast-forward to 2021 and UGV has become an invaluable source for publishers, and an ever-more important component in newsgathering, storytelling and entertainment. 

UGV has changed newsgathering

Some of the most important stories of recent years have largely unfolded thanks to UGV.  Evolving from its roots in the reporting of the Arab Spring, it’s increasingly become a vehicle through which human rights, gender, and environmental issues are made public. Perhaps most notable being the video of the murder of George Floyd, which ignited a movement that was waiting to happen. That movement gained momentum with countless other videos of protests and even rioting across the world.  Follow the video and you follow the story. 

Frequently now, a journalist starts researching a story with a video. Eye-witness video offers the opportunity to deliver stories grounded in a moment. It allows publishers to not only cover a story, but to show the actual moment the story took place. It plays an important role in the verification of the facts that support a story, as well as adding a level of credibility to reporting in an era of disinformation. It also provides speed and access to tell stories in real-time. A great example of this was the recent coverage by Sky News of the Sarah Everard vigil in the UK. Using entirely UGV, Sky News presented an incredible timeline of the story as events unfolded.

Most importantly, UGV is a powerful storytelling tool, that brings us closer and fosters a deeper understanding of shared struggles, greater context and comprehension to reporting. It’s no longer enough to simply report the news.  Audiences crave a sensory experience when it comes to news consumption. They want to feel the story. 

The light and the dark

2020 was a year when movements and events around the world, including the pandemic, Hong Kong riots and Black Lives Matter, gathered momentum from UGV more than ever. When the world outside was lost to us, our desire for emotional connections, community and to be close grew exponentially. Increasingly audiences want to participate and interact with the stories happening around them – let them do so, and you grab them from the noise of a crowded newsfeed and keep them engaged. But let’s be honest – there is only so much distressing content people can take.  Successful publishers in 2021 know that it is critical to maintain a healthy balance of ‘the light’ and ‘the dark’, and nothing provides the breadth of content to achieve this than UGV. 

Content creators are capturing the happy, the sad, the weird and the wonderful on a range of devices. It’s these unvarnished, unbiased, authentic moments that audiences crave, and publishers need. UGV offers publishers more than just the ability to create attention-grabbing news; it provides them with a vast quantity of really compelling content that resonates with audiences and can hold their attention for longer periods of time, even on perpetual-scroll platforms. 

The long and the short of it

It’s a paradox of the social media age that audiences desire immersive storytelling, and yet attention spans have reduced to that of a newborn puppy.  We are operating in the attention economy. Human attention, as a measure of success, is fast becoming a unit of trade and publishers are not immune – they are competing for the attention of users with the likes of TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts as well as Candy Crush and Fortnite. 

Publishers must invest in providing content that ‘kills time’ and entertains – be it the latest adorable pet video, celebrity tweet or ‘break the internet’ moment of the day. Capturing UGV from all over the world ensures publishers can remain relevant and make themselves impossible to ignore when competition is at an all-time high for people’s attention. 

But it’s not all about clicks, it’s also about reputation.  The fake news and click-bait phenomena have put the publishing industry through a crisis of public confidence.  To retain attention, and even push audiences through the paywall, publishers must also invest in unique, distinctive content that provides readers with a perspective, angle, or reporting they can’t find anywhere else. 

Long-form video offers publishers the opportunity to build beautiful, immersive stories quickly as well.  For example, South China Morning Post’s ‘China’s Rebel City’ video is an hour-long piece of documentary-style video journalism about the Hong Kong protests, that previously would have only been the realm of documentary producers. 

It’s about building an ecosystem of content that’s responsive to the non-linear nature of the audience journey. Audiences want to be entertained, but they also seek to understand, and demand greater context.  By combining long-form and short-form video publishers can maximise their appeal to the largest possible audience, providing them with what they are craving at any given moment in time, and content that’s hyper-relevant to their lives. 

And finally, monetisation…

As audiences began pivoting attention even more in the direction of digital channels, so too did advertisers. Audience trends over the last few years have shown that time and again UGV is the content they most want to see – a trend that only accelerated in 2020. If that content relates in whole or in part to a product or service, then it’s the perfect opportunity for publishers to monetize the content with advertising and affiliate marketing. 

The average editorial site will convert approximately 3% of its audience, whilst one featuring UGV will convert as much as 10%.  

Jon Cornwell, CEO, Newsflare

Looking ahead to the future, social commerce will become an increasingly significant component in publisher revenue streams. They must act now to innovate and grab a slice of the pie from the social platforms, but that means doing more than simply embedding affiliate links and delivering branded content. Publishers must build huge, highly engaged communities, and they must be seen as relevant to audiences on every platform, be it Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Snap or Twitch. Once again, UGV offers the fastest, most cost-effective, and importantly the most engaging format for growing audiences quickly and maintaining their loyalty. 

Jon Cornwell
CEO, Newsflare

Headquartered in London and with offices in Los Angeles, Newsflare is a global leader in licensing user-generated and eyewitness video to TV producers, brands, advertising agencies, and publishers. Its unique model, which combines tech-driven optimization with the expertise of seasoned editorial and production teams, sources UGC from a diverse partner network and 40,000 strong content creation community. With viral video and breaking news from around the globe uploaded daily, a back catalog of nearly a quarter of a million videos, and an ability to crowdsource content, Newsflare ensures the stories buyers want to tell are easy to source and quick to license.