The concept of is to develop a community existing both on an island in Fiji and online.

The project’s success is due entirely to promotion via social networking, but this could also be its biggest risk of failure.

The BBC One series ‘Paradise or Bust’ broadcast its first episode on 22nd January and begins by meeting with co-founders Ben Keene and Mark Bowness at the start of their project.

Episode 1 follows the hunt for a Fiji island to lease for three years with the aim of creating a sustainable development that can be handed back to the island’s chief at the end of the three years.

The aim is a social experiment to develop a community (or tribe) exisiting online and on the island, with members deciding how the island should be developed.

Over the course of the three years, the island will be visited by the 5,000 members of the online community (or tribe), each having paid £120 to participate.

The cash raised will pay for the lease, building work, transport and supplies. All members will be able to vote on key decisions on the island, such as materials to use and facilities required.

Ben and Mark started the website back in April 2006 with the online community at the heart of their strategy. Without any money for marketing, they believed the community would generate word of mouth awareness to make it a success.

Members could exchange messages on the website, share ideas, input into the direction of the project and arrange social gatherings. Members would also help spread the message virally to attract other members.

The strategy was successful. By the summer they had recruited the first 1,000 members from all corners of the world, each parting with £120. This gave the founders enough capital to lease the island and begin development in preparation for the first visitors.

But then an unexpected change in mood threatened to end the project. A small minority started spreading rumours that the project was a scam, the island didn’t exist and members would lose there money.

There was no truth in the rumours but they caused enough concern and doubt that the number of new members signing-up began to dwindle.

This highlights a growing issue for all brands. Companies should not underestimate the power of user-generated-content.

Comments made by individuals on blogs, forums and social networking sites become credible sources of information and can play a big influence.

What consumers are looking for is confirmation of their decisions.

You may read a review in What Car? magazine for a new model of car. The article is very positive and recommends it as a good purchase. As a credible source of information, you trust the content of the magazine and consider buying the car.

You turn to the web to look for further reassurance you are making the right decision. However, you find a number of personal blogs from owners of the car who detail a range of faults and concerns.

The decision has now become a lot more complex. You have conflicting opinions and have doubt in your mind about purchasing the car.

But who do you trust?

The magazine, as a long established source of expertise in the market with years of experience in reviewing cars? Or the individual, who claims he or she has owned the car and experienced problems, but you have no way to verify the information? experienced both the benefit and the pitfalls of user generated content. When the news is positive, the viral effect can lead to overnight success. But a negative story can be disastrous.

Thankfully the project has gone on to be a great success and I look forward to the next episode.

But this highlights the need for companies to appreciate the power of user generated content. The traditional media are still a big influencer on customer thought, but the guy sat a home expressing his personal opinion now has a global audience of readers, all willing to take note.

Matthew Finchview blog