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The Hidden Marketing Lesson in the Citizen Journalism Movement

YouTube is now a force in the delivery and reporting of news. Any doubts about this were cleared yesterday when the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism  (PEJ) issued their research on the popularity of news on the video-sharing site.

When an earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated Japan last year, the 20 most watched videos on YouTube for a week were related to the disaster, earning a total of 96 million views. What’s interesting is that ordinary citizens, eyewitness to the scene, captured much of the footage as it unfolded.

This is not a unique case. PEJ analyzed the top news videos on YouTube for 15 months and found that were clear cases of “citizen journalism.” Plenty of other footage branded with a news logo co-opted footage from amateurs. Clearly, the citizen journalism movement is having an impact on the news industry.

And there’s a lesson here for marketers. As the influence of having a big brand wanes in the marketplace, organizations need to allow, even encourage, their customers, prospects and employees to generate their own content. And give that content a place to live.

The case of YouTube is a stark reminder that “the brand” is becoming less influential on the Web. Viewers are less likely to seek out a trusted corporation, and more interested in finding footage that is close to the action. More often, that is coming from ordinary, average citizens.

The marketing world has been seeing a similar movement. As trust shifts from institutions to individuals, brands have less influence on buyer behavior. Buyers are turning to peers, colleagues and friends instead. Businesses of all shapes are getting Yelp’d.

If a business wants to survive in this changing paradigm, they need to capitalize on customers and employers desire to create and share content. How can they do this?


  • Establish online communities where customers and employers can share their experiences with prospects. Whether you choose to make this an open space or not, you need to give members enough freedom to post honest information. At times there may be criticism. The best response isn’t to whitewash the content, but to respond openly and promptly.

  • Encourage and incentive your community to create content. The reason citizens upload news footage to YouTube is because they believe it will be seen. Reach out to your brand advocates and the internal experts within your company and ask them to share their knowledge and feedback. Be honest about how this content will be used.

  • Grow internal editors that can make the most of this content. Many marketers know how to “stay on message.” Fewer understand the intricacies of curating and re-purposing under-generated content. Find (or hire) those internal editors within your organization and let them work their magic.

Citizen journalism has shaken up the news industry. A similar movement is at work in business. But if marketers can loosen their type grip on the “brand”, they’ll be well prepared to get more value from their customer and employee community.

How are you encouraging content creation among your customers and employees?

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photo credit: Axel Bührmann via photo pin cc

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