For the past few years I have been involved with projects that rely heavily on user-generated content. These include the Ulwazi Programme, which users community journalists and the general public to create a hyperlocal database of community knowledge and local history; Sprig blog, which encourages readers to send in queries, photographs and comments related to gardening; and eNanda.co.za which is a cultural heritage initiative with content sourced (and translated) by the Inanda community.
So, what are the benefits of using user-generated content, as part of your online publishing strategy?
Free, regular content
This is the first and most obvious. Free content, that is regularly submitted to your website, resulting in increased readers and interaction with your content, benefiting your Google ranking and possibly generated buzz on social media networks.
Interesting perspectives and a wider spread of reporters
By having numerous, diverse contributors, you get a number of different voices contributing to the overall flavour of your online publication. This could potentially include a range of different geographic perspectives, that you couldn’t achieve with a traditional content production strategy.
As the web moves mobile and becomes more pervasive, the need for hyper-local content increases. User-generated content solves this need in part, by getting people to write about the areas they live in and the issues that affect them, something an outside journalist would have difficulty in doing.
By getting readers of your website to contribute content, a sense of community is created. These core contributors will generally also make comments on other content you publish and will become fans and followers on your social media accounts.
Tied into the last point on community engagement is the idea of ownership. By contributing to a website and having their names and articles published on the website, users feel a sense of ownership and will be the first to share and promote their own content among their networks.
And now for the cons …
Editing, editing, editing
Most contributors to your website won’t be professional writers. This puts pressure on the web editor to make sure content is of a certain standard, with regards to grammar, spelling and punctuation, before it can go live on your website. It can be time-consuming!
An increase in user-generated content means an increase in content management. Articles need to be categorised and tagged, images sourced and content promoted through social media channels.
Not all is created equal and not all content received will be usable. This means you have to manage the expectations of contributors as well as mange the rejection process.
Creating an online community around your website takes time, particularly when you want them to do something for you! Despite the best FAQs and help-pages, users are often more comfortable sending an email and receiving personal support.
Even with using email verification and Captcha functionality on our websites, we still get spammers submitting content. Another management task to add to the list!
All in all though, if you can set up a successful user-generated component to your website, the long-term benefits outweigh the cons, and the search engine ranking received can be better than many targeted content-marketing campaigns.
In the next blog post on this subject I’ll explore ways to get people involved and submitting content to your site.