The Power of User-Generated Content

User-generated content (UGC) is the lifeblood of online marketplaces and communities. Businesses like Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Airbnb, and Indeed are built around UGC. That means if they can’t entice people to contribute to their site, then they simply don’t have a business. And when a company’s future is in the hands of its users, the risks and opportunities are equally great.

UGC can include comments, blog posts, videos, marketplace listings…anything that a user might contribute to a website. It’s easy to see why it’s so powerful. In just one minute, people post 455,00 tweets, watch over 4 million videos, and post half a million Facebook comments. Users — potential customers — spend about 5 and a half hours a day interacting with UGC. Businesses that can harness this power stand to gain customers and revenue; businesses that can’t are doomed to fail.

The Dark Side of User-Generated Content

But content abuse can have an equally powerful, albeit negative, impact on your bottom line. Content abuse occurs when fake or malicious UGC is created or shared by scammers, to defraud the business or another user. Any company that considers content to be a core part of their customer experience is at risk for content abuse.

How pervasive is this problem? Gartner predicts that by 2022, people will be exposed to false information online more often than they’ll see factual information. This dramatic shift will fundamentally change the way we interact online. People will begin to approach UGC with the expectation that it might be fake.

Content abuse impacts both your top line and bottom line. It hits your user base that you’ve worked so hard to acquire, delight, and retain. Good users who experience (or even see) abusive content will feel reluctant to engage with the community and are likely to churn. They’ll tell their friends about it, too.

Unlike credit card fraud or chargebacks, which are clearly defined problems, content abuse can feel like a moving target. It’s is difficult to fight partially because it can take myriad forms.

The Many Faces of Content Abuse

Spam  – Most internet users are all too familiar with spam. It’s any unsolicited advertising or other message that’s usually sent to a large numberof users. While it used to be primarily sent via email, anti-spam filters have gotten so effective that spammers have turned to social sites and messaging apps to get their message across. Whether it’s a promotion for someone’s website posted in a comment, a notification prompting you to “like” a phony page, or a malicious link hidden in a chat message – spam shows no sign of going away. 

Fake listings – Scammers sometimes post fraudulent listings or counterfeit goods on online marketplaces, promising goods or services that they have no intention to deliver. The listing may be counterfeit, or it may not even exist.When an unsuspecting user tries to transact with the fraudster, the fraudster might trick them into giving up their personal information, or paying for the good or service off-platform, where they are not protected by the marketplace. When buyers on two sided marketplaces purchase a good and don’t get what they paid for, they are less likely to return to that marketplace. When they do return, they’re more likely to be skeptical of listings, and therefore get less value from the site.

Phishing – Fraudsters often pose as legitimate users to trick their victims into giving up personal information, such as their bank account info or credit card number. For instance, by posting fake job listings, scammers can gain a wealth of personal information from unsuspecting applicants.

Catfishing – A big headache on dating sites, catfishing occurs when a scammer impersonates someone to gain a victim’s trust. For example, on dating sites, many fraudsters pretend to be an attractive figure like a soldier so that their victim will engage with them. They then scam the victim of their credit card info, login credentials, etc. In 2016, imposter scam complaints surpassed identity theft as the most common type of consumer complaint. The Federal Trade Commission received 400,000 complaints that year – and those are just reported instances of imposter scams.

Fake reviews – Consumers rely on reviews to make spending decisions. As of 2016, Yelp had about 121 million reviews; Goodreads had 50 million. Bad actors use fake and malicious reviews for phishing, malware distribution, spam, and other harmful ends. These users often haven’t even used the service, but that doesn’t stop them from making an impact.

Toxicity – Sites that rely on UGC will inevitably attract rabble-rousers. Hate speech, profanity, or other inappropriate content can be detrimental to a business’s brand. Ultimately, users want to trust that they can engage with a website without being subjected to uncomfortable content. If a business can’t make that promise, then potential users will turn elsewhere.

What if you could stop content abuse before it even happened? Download our content abuse ebook to start fighting back today!

 

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Roxanna "Evan" Ramzipoor

Roxanna "Evan" Ramzipoor is a writer on the marketing team at Sift Science. Her fiction is represented by Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary. To see more of her work, check out her blog: http://just-three-words.tumblr.com/