User-generated content (UGC) platforms have historically focused on the individual, but content creation is increasingly collaborative. Each contributor can play one or more unique roles — not unlike a film crew with writers, directors, producers, and actors. Creators collaborate with each other or may even involve fans directly in the creation process.
The lines between content and communication are also being blurred. And whether you describe either as collaborative, social, interactive, multiplayer, or something else, the “user” isn’t just an individual but a group. The collective creation of a “group user” — group-generated content (GGC) — has uniquely compelling attributes for creators, consumers, & platforms.
1️⃣ Lower barrier to engagement
Tl;dr — groups can distribute effort needed to engage. Discord servers and Houseparty make it easy to activate people in groups.
The barrier to engagement can be lower for group members than for individuals. A solo creator has to handle concept, planning, production, and deliver the end result. When a group creates together, while there’s coordination needed by a leader, efforts can be distributed across individuals.
In groups, members can take turns just being “present” or “participating” rather than “performing” continuously. This can unlock a new class of creators (i.e. contributors) who may not be willing to lead an effort but will play a supporting role. Hence for the “median” group member, effort required to engage can be less than if going solo.
Discord make it easy for a ‘leader’ — an individual (or a small core team) to quickly set it up a server and manage it, letting everyone else join and engage with low prep or commitment. Houseparty also did this well, letting one person quickly initiate a live group video chat.
2️⃣ Greater authenticity
Tl;dr — groups encourage going off script. Instagram Lives and Clubhouse conversations demonstrate authenticity in groups.
We’ve seen rising backlash against the “Instagram aesthetic” of social media — the carefully-staged, curated images, environments, and lifestyles. The new wave of aspiration is unfiltered and imperfect — authenticity in public. Group-generated content often comes across more authentic than individual UGC.
There’s no way to prove the authenticity of something, but group-generated content tends to feel less scripted and more serendipitous. In a group, no one person controls all the inputs or outputs and each person has to react and adapt to others. With a live group element, it’s even more difficult to script.
In my personal experience with Clubhouse, authenticity shines when a group of interesting people assembles in real-time and unscripted topics or situations come up. When celebs do an Instagram Live especially with one or more guests, it tends to feel more authentic than a static, individual post.
3️⃣ Larger potential audience
Tl;dr — groups have someone for everyone. The All-In podcast and TikTok creator houses have ensemble casts that increase reach.
GGC appeals to a broad audience, especially when it features a diverse “cast” of characters. This could be an intrinsically diverse creator group or a solo creator with a rotating slate of diverse guests. Individuals in a group can even be unremarkable yet the group dynamic still compelling (e.g. reality shows).
We hear about audiences developing parasocial relationships with traditional celebs, and it’s no different with digital creators. Groups might make it even easier to form a connection because they tend to have someone for everyone — think multi-persona boy bands and movies with ensemble casts.
Group creation and collaboration can also increase reach through cross-promotion to each member’s communities. The All-In podcast is a good example of a multi-persona show that increases its reach. Members of ‘creator houses’ are incentivized to work together for a similar benefit.
4️⃣ Winning outlier content
Tl;dr — groups are greater than the sum of their parts. Meme culture and Tiktok show how multiplayer creation makes winners.
Group-based creation means more interactivity and serendipity which means more potential permutations of the end result. For creators and platforms, more shots on goal can of course unlock popular or viral “outlier” content.
There’s also an intangible element that makes GGC compelling — the rare “chemistry” possible between one or more participants — when 1 + 1 can magically equal greater than 2. This is one reason why “casting” is so prised in tv / film and pairs or groups with outsized success are often repeated.
Take memes — arguably a type of decentralized GGC. Good memes become familiar templates for anyone to build on and the best iterations go viral. Collage simplifies meme-making and offers a multiplayer mode with ‘remix’. Similarly, TikTok’s duets feature and “original sounds” serve as templates for collective iteration.
5️⃣ Interest-based discovery
Tl;dr — group-based content represents a topic, not just the people. YouTube channels and Clubhouse clubs help groups create and be discovered by theme.
With group-generated content, the collective creation usually represents a theme, topic, or format — not just an individual person, personality, or brand. Each person can have many diverging interests, but a group comes together around a shared interest or context.
As a result, the “container” of group-based content is usually distinct from the individuals and is defined by topic for organization and discovery. You see this for example with a channel (YouTube), an album (Dispo), or a club (Clubhouse). Hence, units of GGC (e.g. streams, videos, rooms, photos) are naturally suited to building an interest graph and not just a social graph.
The barrier to engagement can also be lowered by the focus on topic or theme. Individuals in a group may have a loose affiliation with each other yet a strong affinity to or expertise about a topic, making them more comfortable engaging or collaborating with each other in a specific topic-based context.
Traditional user-generated content platforms cater to the ‘individual,’ but some of the most compelling formats and content is group-generated. And groups aren’t just unique content creators, they’re also curators and consumers. Hence platforms that can help people overcome the activation energy needed to find, assemble, and engage in groups will thrive.
While this post focuses on broadcast GGC, there’s a lot more I’m exploring with regards to serving the “group user.” Gated or private group interactions are at the center of social and professional experiences (e.g. Slack, Discord, group chats). And momentum behind decentralization and web3 supports more group-based constructs at its core (e.g. DAOs). The shared theme is the need to understand the “group” or community and not just the individual.
My goal is to start publishing more regularly from my drafts folder — on consumer, media, community (and other stuff). If you’re thinking, building, or investing in similar themes, send me feedback, stuff to read, or let’s just riff.