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How blockchain will be tied to user-generated content marketing

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Add amateur model and Instagram star to the occupations set to face blockchain tech disruption.

Businesses spend a lot of time and money chasing the zeitgeist and trying to reach their consumers in a way that resonates with them on a personal level.

One of the more telling examples might have come when the Internet was in its awkward adolescent age and certain edgy demographics were getting increasingly disillusioned with upbeat advertising.

This gave the world Coca Cola's OK Soda, which had the following tagline: "What's the point of OK? Well, what's the point of anything?" Brand-image experts were probably relieved to see social media take off shortly after, and quickly grow into an effective vehicle for advertiser-friendly self-affected bubbliness, driven largely by user-generated content.

The age of user-generated content

User-generated content (UGC) was a natural development for advertisers. It might have begun with contest entrants and photos of winners holding giant novelty cheques, but the advent of social media quickly scaled it up.

One of the best examples of successful UGC marketing came from Coca Cola in the form of the "Share a Coke" campaign. The idea was just to print people's names on bottles drawn from a pool of the 150 most popular names in Australia, instead of the usual coke logo. It was initially released as is, without any prodding for users to share photos of themselves or the product. But share they did, and the campaign took off dramatically and mostly organically.

The first six months of the campaign are credited with over 12 million media impressions, and some fairly staggering figures like an 870% increase in Coke's Facebook traffic, hundreds of thousands of tweets and a measurable increase in sales. Clearly, there's some merit to letting users do the legwork.

There are also downsides, with some companies being sued for using UGC. Regardless of whether the lawsuit is won or lost, and whether the company took appropriate steps to make sure they were allowed to use the UGC, this can be an expensive downside. It's possible that the user is counting on the company settling just to avoid the legal expenses, and if left unchecked the entire concept of UGC marketing could get bogged down by legal trolls.

Vaguely similar patterns of user contributions have emerged in other areas. For example, major news is often broken with photos on Twitter before anywhere else. This is often followed by news outlets awkwardly and publicly tweeting a request to use the news breaker's photos, occasionally while they're still in danger or witnessing an unfolding disaster. It's not a good look, but waiting any longer means the material will just start circulating anyway as it gets stolen and circulated by individuals and less credible outlets.

Like other newly emerged digital systems, UGC has taken off and started running ahead of the framework needed to effectively manage them. This is bad for businesses that can't cost-effectively leverage that wonderfully effective marketing tool, and bad for the users who can't get appropriately credited or compensated for their efforts.

User-generated content management is an entirely new industry that's sprung up to offer a solution, serving as the management bridge between content-producing users and the businesses that want to leverage it. According to ShareRoot, one of the movers in this space, the customer-identity management market is expected to top $14.8 billion by 2021.

"ShareRoot's User Generated Content (UGC) Legal Rights Management platform is a direct result of the wider use of user-generated content in marketing," said ShareRoot CEO Noah Abelson-Gertler in an email to finder. "At the time that we created our UGC LRM platform, there were no legally secure routes for companies and brands to access UGC, making the platform we created a necessity. Without it, companies and brands were being sued for using UGC without a contract attached to each piece of content."

The general public's growing concerns around personal data security, and tightening regulations around customer data management such as EU GDPR, are adding new risks for businesses that want to use their users.

A matter of identity

The idea is that in the future everyone will have complete personal control over their data, and the ability to convey individual data points, rather than entrusting the full contents of their driver's licence to a shady website every time they buy liquor online (for example).

These data points can also include user-generated content, such as photographs of oneself drinking a refreshing and prominently-branded ice cold Coca Cola on the beach, proof of ownership of creative works, medical records and plenty of things that haven't occurred to anyone yet.

ShareRoot's recent creation of the MediaConsent platform was designed to get ahead of this shift and to offer a UGC management solution that can integrate with it.

There is "100%... no question that personal control is the future for consumer and data privacy," Abelson-Gertler says. "In regards to ShareRoot's MediaConsent platform, our team knew that digital marketing was going to experience a shift in terms of who controls consumer data, from companies to consumers. The MediaConsent platform will help usher in that change, with a focus on protecting consumer data and privacy in marketing for companies and consumers alike."

Customers are ushering in that change from their side of the fence too, in the form of rapidly developing expectations of privacy and data security.

According to Abelson-Gertler, this development can be largely credited to a growing awareness of the value of data.

"Consumer expectations around privacy and data are evolving due to a mix of factors," he says. "Perhaps the most pertinent being that in a technological and information age, a person's personal data has become increasingly valuable. Individuals are now waking up to this reality and starting to take ownership of their data by holding businesses to account when it comes to the appropriate use and disposal of their private details."

Enter the blockchain

The holistic solution might inevitably come down to distributed ledger technology. Most immediately, because it's simply the most effective option for a system that simultaneously lets an individual personally secure and manage their personal data.

There's a reason it has already been established as something of a default framework for personal identity management going forward.

That naturally means it needs to play a role in the MediaConsent platform.

"In MediaConsent's case, blockchain technology will ensure consumer data cannot be modified without a consumer being aware and approving the modification first," Abelson-Gertler said. "We will roll this technology out alongside the advisory of blockchain and crypto consultancy ASX listed company, Digital X."

However, the benefits might go slightly beyond its technical suitability, and Abelson-Gertler predicts that growing use of the technology might help empower customers to grab hold of their own box of personal data, and start using – or not using – its valuable contents for themselves. And the contents really are valuable as the thriving black market for user data and incidents like the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal can attest.

There's also a push towards more unified data handling standards across industries, Abelson-Gertler notes.

"The variance in compliance and solution requirements are actually moving in the direction of more parity than we have seen in the past," he says. "The reasoning behind this is that the sweeping legislation throughout the world, which cover all industries, are looking more and more similar to what the standards of the most restrictive industries have been, like medical, scientific, pharmaceutical – all of which The Social Science [a ShareRoot acquisition] has been compliantly working with for years."

If this trend continues, then the likely eventual outcome is probably a broad new set of stringent cross-industry standards for customer data management.

Those "personal data boxes" that everyone will carry around in the future can be designed to plug into solutions like MediaConsent to provide data at the user's discretion – for example, a bubbly ad-ready photo of them drinking from a bottle of Coke with their name on it, along with a price tag if desired. If Coca Cola wants to use it, then the data can be sent over with a legally-binding signature on a digital permission slip.

All these transactions and communications can be immutably and securely logged to create a reliable paper trail and demonstrably performed in line with required data and identity management standards.

Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author holds ETH, IOTA, ICX, VEN, XLM, BTC and NANO.

Disclaimer: This information should not be interpreted as an endorsement of cryptocurrency or any specific provider, service or offering. It is not a recommendation to trade. Cryptocurrencies are speculative, complex and involve significant risks – they are highly volatile and sensitive to secondary activity. Performance is unpredictable and past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Consider your own circumstances, and obtain your own advice, before relying on this information. You should also verify the nature of any product or service (including its legal status and relevant regulatory requirements) and consult the relevant Regulators' websites before making any decision. Finder, or the author, may have holdings in the cryptocurrencies discussed.

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