For companies looking to change consumer perception of their products, user generated content can be an excellent route of outreach. But asking people to submit content and spreading positive word of mouth is not always synonymous.

At the CMSummit in New York this week, Cisco demonstrated a way that the two can work together —  through a guided user generated contest.

As the company learned last year, only 60% of homes in the U.S. enabled with broadband have installed home networks. And that's not for lack of money or technical skill. According to Ken Wirt, Cisco's VP of consumer marketing:

"The number one reason for not having a home network is confusion. People say: 'I don't know what I'd do with one.'"

That is a problem Cisco set out to fix with its Digital Cribs initiative.

The first thing the company did was create a consumer site that highlighted the benefits of home networks. They also created a few professional quality videos that highlighted ways that professionals and celebrities use technology in their daily lives.

Included in the videos were the band Paramore, perhaps best known for its contributions to the Twilight film soundtrack, German DJ Paul Van Dyk, NBA star Shane Battier and video artist Lincoln Schatz.

The three minute videos spanned a range of different kinds of professionals and use cases. According to Wirt:

"We wanted to create a template for what came next."

Cisco then opened up its Digital Crib initiative into a semi-professional contest. Over 800 filmmakers worldwide submitted videos outlining how they use home networks.

Brazilian musician Robin Glass, Japanese wildlife videographer Patrick Smith and Mike Cotton, a surfer who runs his small business wirelessly from the beach, all submitted videos.

The trick in this round of the contest was reach — contestants contributed both video and audience. Enlisting their friends and acquaintances to the site, contestants helped spread Cisco's message.

Next came a user generated contest where people submitted videos explaining "heaven and hell" home network situations. Users either documented their excellent networking solutions or explained why they needed a new home network.

Cisco used a smart trick in this phase — they worked with film schools to generate submissions. The schools they reached out to made the contest part of their curriculum and delivered about eight videos per school. In addition, students leveraged their social networks and spread the word about Cisco's initiative. Wirt was pleasantly surprised with how thoroughly the school's followed through on the company's request:

"We wouldn't have aspired for them to do as well as they did."

In the end, the company received more than 135 high quality submissions and chose a winner — a Philippines based art student — to receive the $10,000 first prize.

Wirt reiterated the importance of the templates and videos the company produced in house:

"If we had just asked for two minute videos, we might have gotten some things, but most of the entries followed our basic structure."

In addition, the company leveraged the contest from an international perspective.

Over 167 videos from 15 countries were submitted in this phase, with more than 23,000 comments. They also received hundreds of social media mentions. Most importantly, the proejct quadrupled traffic to the company's consumer website, with 350,000 views. Of that number, 67% were new visitors to Cisco.com. During the contest, search results for "digital cribs" increased from 4 searches total to 34,000 per week.

According to Wirt, Cisco learned an important lesson:

"Real stories drive consumer engagement."

Meghan Keane

Published 10 June, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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