The Value of User-Generated Content, Part 3

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (26-Apr-2006)

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Proponents of user-generated content (UGC) consider it a grassroots movement, and like many grassroots movement nothing will kill it faster than excessive bureaucracy. Coming from Quebec, a Canadian province well known for its red tape—requiring you to fill out a form in triplicate in order to get access to a second form so that you can get permission to stand in line to make a request for a third form—I can truly appreciate how bureaucracy can discourage and frustrate people to no end.

User-generated content is so popular because it allows the users to become content providers, giving peers access to one another's knowledge (and in certain cases, opinions). UGC also has more of a "face," or personality, when compared to officially engineered intranet content. And while it might be more entertaining for users to read UGC, intranet owners have mixed feelings about it. Using user-generated content in a corporate environment can be tricky without some level of content oversight, but you have to know how much control is too much. Weighing UGC down with excessive rules and regulations will deter many users from providing content. In effect, user-generated content with an overly restrictive approval process will simply become another form of engineered content.

Balancing UGC Freedom and Content Oversight

The success of user-generated content in a corporate environment is dependent on users' participation, but things can easily get out of hand—especially when some contributors might not be as conscientious as others with their content. Intranet owners must ensure that UGC complements officially engineered content and doesn't pose a threat to the overall integrity of the system. To accomplish this they need to promote open user participation while still maintaining some level of content oversight.

Intranet owner and moderator participation in user-generated content should be kept to a minimum or at least be made as transparent as possible. Even if intranet owners need to place tighter restrictions on what users can post, the trick is not to give the appearance of being overly controlling. UGC contributors need to feel as though they're in control of their content. And it's in the best interest of the UGC community not to give intranet owners reason to have to become overly involved or restrictive by ensuring all its members conduct themselves in a professional manner.

Tips for Intranet Owners and Moderators

Dealing with Problem UGC Contributors

Users tend to view things as a whole regardless of the various parts that make up a system. All it takes is for a minority of unprofessional UGC contributors to undermine the efforts of a majority of productive UGC contributors. To make matters worse, intranet users' perception and faith in the system can be ruined. Every member of an intranet's UGC community has a vested interest in ensuring the overall integrity of UGC content—even if it's not their own since other's content might reflect on theirs as well.

To discourage UGC abuse, all contributors must be required to log onto the system before they can make any content submissions or changes. This ensures user accountability, and will help minimize carelessness or any unprofessional conduct afforded by user anonymity. Those who regularly abuse UGC mediums—using inappropriate language, showing a lack of respect for other UGC providers, trolling and/or instigating flame wars—should be given a warning by intranet owners and reminded of UGC etiquette. If they ignore the initial warning and continue to break etiquette, their account should be locked and restricted from future participation.

A Note on Podcasting

Since starting this series on user-generated content I've received numerous e-mail messages asking me why I didn't mention podcasting as medium for UGC. While podcast usage on the Internet is growing, productive enterprise implementation is limited.

Podcasts differ from text-based UGC mainly because of contributor perception. Because podcasts are vocalized rather than typed, contributors who aren't natural speakers might become overly self-conscious about their podcast "performance" and end up doing multiple takes as though actors in a movie. They might end up spending an hour or more for a simple 10-minute podcast. This will cause podcasters' supervisors to doubt the productive nature of UGC regardless of the medium.

Another reason podcasts might be difficult to adopt in a corporate environment is the annoyance factor. Podcasters working in an open space or don't have access to an enclosed area like an office or conference room will likely irritate those around them when they record their podcasts. This also adds to the problem of feeling overly self-conscious, since podcasters will be hyper-aware that others are listening to them. And on the listeners' side, not all subscribers will be courteous enough to use headphones when listening to podcasts in the office. Pumping a podcast through PC speakers in an open workspace will surely annoy the listeners' neighbors—especially if more than one person is doing so at the same time.

Final Thoughts

User-generated content is a great way to tap into the knowledge of corporate users who aren't official intranet content providers. But in order for this to work, the content must be relevant and reliable—who provides the bulk of this content oversight will depend on those very same contributors authoring the UGC. The more involved the UGC community is in ensuring content integrity, the less intranet owners or moderators will have to get involved.

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.