The Value of User-Generated Content, Part 2

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (27-Mar-2006)

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People tend to feel a greater sense of pride when they're active participants in something rather than mere spectators—rowdy face-painting sports fans aside. When users contribute their own content to an official corporate intranet they have a stake in the system and might go that extra mile to ensure the overall integrity of the system. But this sense of pride can be easily lost if intranet owners become overly controlling of what users contribute. Users might end up regressing to the days when their mother told them to put their hat on before going out to play in the snow.

In order for user-generated content (UGC) to be taken seriously users have to assume responsibility for what they submit. And if your organization chooses to integrate user-generated content into its official intranet, the best way to avoid having to implement an overly controlling content submission process is for users to show that they can be responsible for their own content—and not to give intranet owners cause for concern.

No, Seriously...

The biggest detriment to the adoption of UGC as official intranet content is credibility and author bias. Unlike user-generated content on the Web where anyone with an Internet connection can become a content provider and write about anything from the war in Iraq to the existential views expressed in Weekend at Bernie's. In a corporate environment, however, users assume that all intranet content—regardless of the source—is objective and has been heavily researched and verified. After all, everyone's an employee of the company and are paid to provide facts and not opinions, right? The problem is they were human beings before they were employees of the company. And as human beings, we all have a natural tendency (whether consciously or subconsciously) to express our own views—it's only a matter of how loudly we do it.

One of the past companies I worked for had implemented an in-house NNTP server with several company-related newsgroups for its employees. Out of the thousands of posts, you could count on one hand the number of work-related posts—that's if you were actually able to find them among the mounds of nonsensical ramblings from those with too much time on their hands. The difference there was that users knew those newsgroups were not part of any official system and that much of what's posted there must be taken with a grain of salt.

When intranet owners choose to integrate UGC on an official corporate intranet, they must place a lot of faith on users and trust (or hope) that they will be responsible enough to differentiate between objective business content and biased editorializing. Regardless of the individual components of an intranet, users will see the system as a whole. Applications, engineered content, and UGC are all seen as simply "the intranet." One piece of inappropriate user-generated content posted by an inconsiderate user could put a black eye on the rest of the intranet.

Peer-Based Content Governance

Governance is perhaps the trickiest part of UGC integration with an official intranet. If intranet owners become overly controlling—placing strict regulations on what users are allowed to post—they will end-up discouraging users from participating. But if they allow users to have free rein over content submissions with little-to-no oversight, they run the risk of having inappropriate content pollute the system's official content.

The surest way to maintain content integrity while still promoting user participation is to allow users to have relative autonomy to govern their own, and their peers', content. Intranet owners and UGC providers can find a middle ground between autonomy and oversight by implementing one of the UGC moderation methods described in Part 1 of this series. Intranet owners can provide a general framework and submission guidelines, but it should be users who govern their UGC. Implementing an overly restrictive top-down content submission process will make it too inconvenient for users to participate.

UGC Etiquette and Tips

If users want to maintain relative autonomy with their UGC initiatives they must be responsible for their own content as well as that of their peers. This is crucial in a corporate environment. UGC authors shouldn't be viewed simply as independent content providers, but rather as a cooperative community where each author helps to maintain the overall integrity of the user-generated content base.

Users who wish to be regular content contributors should observe a proper etiquette and content submission guidelines:

In the Next Part...

Although users should be responsible for UGC, intranet owners have their part to play as well. There still needs to be some amount of oversight—especially in a corporate environment were users might find it difficult to distinguish between engineered content and on-the-fly UGC. In part three of this series I'll be discussing what official intranet owners can do to encourage UGC while still maintaining content order and integrity.

Copyright © 2006 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of this article in whole or part in any form without prior written permission of Paul Chin is prohibited.