Democracy in a nutshell is a system by the people and for the people. It works relatively well in the context of a nation. But how will it perform when put in the Learning and Development context? Can L&D be prepared by its users and for its users? How can this democratic approach of L&D benefit the company?
Don Draper’s Alternate Ending
Mad Men ended the seven-season run on a high note, depicting the series’ fictional protagonist, Don Draper, on the verge of creating another fantastic advert. In a scene that contradicted his constant erratic behavior, Donald Francis Draper was seen sitting a hilltop among a commune of meditating people. He closed his eyes and a smile grew on his face. The scene then cut to the non-fictional and popular “I Want to Buy the World a Coke” advert from the 70s.
But what if Mad Men took another setting of time? What if Don Draper lived and breathed the air in the 2000s? How would his arc end?
The best bet is that he would likely end up with the same note, possibly be the one who proposed the “Share a Coke” campaign that took the world by surprise in 2011.
Yes, Don Draper would likely come up with mother of all UGC campaigns. He would not settle for less.
Pleasing the Crowd
“Would you like to have your name printed on a plastic bottle of commercialized beverage?”
That was pretty much the line that the team from Ogilvy and Mather Australia pitched on their early meeting with the Coca-Cola company. Not long after, “Share a Coke” campaign was born.
And people rejoiced.
Johns and Lindas from all corners of the globe felt appreciated. Not just them. Eugenes. Roberts. As long as your name has a vowel in it and that you share your name with some other people on planet earth, you have the chance to see it on a refrigerated display at the nearest convenience store.
Even better, you can customize your own bottles!
It was phenomenal. A report by Marketing Mag Australia, published a year after the campaign’s kick off in Down Under, wrote that the company’s Facebook traffic experienced an 870-percent rise. Sales-wise, young adult consumption of the product also rose by 7 percent in a summer period.
How’s that for a successful marketing?
Not only that it managed to bring home sizeable profit, it also became a point of reference every time people mentioned about User-Generated Content. Coca-Cola started it first.
Work Smart, Sweat Less
UGC is about playing it smart. In the context of marketing, UGC is like secretly employing users to market the brand. And in the case of “Share a Coke”, the company managed to employ its customers without figuratively spending a dime.
Now nine years after the sensational advert, UGC has become a common practice in the marketing business. Retweets, mentions, testimonials, and anything in between have practically been a duplicate of Coca-Cola’s campaign. It was so effective that it has become a new doctrine for successful marketing – be it for major or minor enterprises.
Understanding how precise and effective UGC is, the question is then:
Can we utilize elements of UGC to other corporate divisions?
Yes. In fact, the Human Resource Department has attempted to utilize UGC in its Learning and Development efforts. The aim is simple: to provide L&D materials that the employees like and enjoy while breaking less of a sweat.
In other words, UGC in L&D seeks to create a more flexible content delivery.
But what is the catch?
The What and Why
Essentially, UCG-based L&D activities are a set of activities facilitated by L&D specialists but delivered by the users. This means that, in practice, it is from the users and for the users. The democratic approach. This sort of approach benefits the company in many ways. The followings are just several arguments on why UGC-based L&D activities can prevail (and what prevents them from being executed optimally).
- The first argument goes to the fact that most of the company’s population is millennials and Gen-Z. These two age groups are generally considered to be open to participate, primarily because they grew up in the era where traditionalism is an outdated notion. With the right and subtle motivation, these employees can be driven to create constructive learning contents for the benefit of others and themselves.
Yes, it can backfire. Too much freedom will yield unpredicted outcomes. Participation in generating learning content should be strongly encouraged, but also slightly limited. Excessive creativity might end up endangering corporate core values, ruining what could have been a perfect chance of utilizing employees’ insights in L&D.
- Secondly, having UGC-based L&D activities can mean that the company encourages professional development. For example: a certain employee who happens to excel at public speaking can share his or her experience in a dedicated session. Although it might not be 100 percent suitable for the kind of business that the company runs, it can certainly benefit other employees as it can enrich their knowledge. Knowledgeable employees inevitably lead to well-functioning company.
Of course, not everyone in the company has an extra set of skills that can be shared for the benefit of many. But not everyone has to participate, either. Forcing a reluctant and/or passive employee to contribute to the cause of UGC-based L&D activities will be a grave mistake because it can demotivate the said employee and discourage others. That being said, those who run constructive extracurricular activities must be encouraged, if not obliged, to share.
- The last argument on why L&D activities can benefit the company goes to the HR sector. Encouraging employees to generate contents will not only save HR time and energy, but also endorse employees’ sense of belonging. Accepting and facilitating participation is a form of appreciation. Everybody likes to be appreciated. This can indirectly result in stable retention rate. An appreciated employee is a long-term asset. Hence, it goes without saying that appreciated employee is one of the keys to sustainable business.
There is a ‘but’.
(…) but a good management of learning content is required. It is necessary to prevent the content from diverting from L&D objectives. In order to do so, L&D trainers need to understand two main elements of UGC keeping, namely screening and moderation.
L&D trainers need to see and understand the content first, before releasing it to the users. A certain audit and standardization system are required to keep the content in line with the company’s track. What can be displayed? To whom should it be displayed? How would it benefit the intended audience? At the end, (content) editorial is a must. Otherwise it might derail L&D purpose when such content is misinterpreted by the users.
Moreover, moderation is the next step. When a UGC-based L&D activity is delivered, L&D specialists must be present to assist the presenter in delivering his or her content. Delivery – be it live or pre-recorded, visual or textual – should be monitored. Feedback should be noted, so that future delivery can show improvements. In addition, the presence of L&D specialists can also prevent content delivery issues as they have the necessary skills and experience to ensure seamless presentation.
This is pretty much why HR department is still at play, despite running the what-so-called as “by user, for user” approach – the democratic way.
Don Draper Approves!
“Change is neither good nor bad. It simply is,” Don Draper said.
To say that UGC-based L&D activities has its flaws is correct. But it does have some advantages. It is a new approach, a change that can refresh L&D activities. L&D does not have to be constrained to a set of activities created and delivered by the HR. A bit of change will not hurt the outcome. It might as well improve it.
And with that, the alternate Don Draper approves!