By Joe Pulizzi published November 25, 2009

The Pros and Cons of User-Generated Content

 


Thanks to Dara Solomon, Community Manager at FunAdvice.com, for putting this timely piece together on user-generated content. More and more, marketers are asking how or if user-generated content should fit into their overall content marketing strategy. Dara provides a good overview below to help you in your decision making.

As the Internet continues to sprawl, entangle with, and seemingly overtake many aspects of our lives, different issues also begin to reel us in. Something interesting to think about is the debate on websites using “user-generated content” (UGC) versus “traditional” content.

The concept is simple: user-generated content includes any site where the user (that’s you or possibly your customer) can write and publish content, whether it is video content, blog posts, advice websites, and the like. No Rupert Murdoch involved there. Contrarily, “traditional” content includes pages run by local and national media, business pages, and any website where the content was professionally written, edited and published (your content marketing).

Working for a site, FunAdvice.com, that contains almost entirely UGC, it’s starkly apparent in my daily life that UGC has both pros and cons.

Pros of UGC:

  • Voice:  As we all witnessed, the Internet played a huge role in the 2009 Iranian election protests. Whereas without UGC, much of the protests would have been peripherally covered (through Iranian traditional news only), UGC allowed blogger Joe Schmo in Iran to post his protests for the world to read. It’s not debatable that UGC gives people around the world a voice, whereas traditional content does nothing of the sort. As for the inherent debate on Democracy, maybe later. For now, a definite pro.
  • Upcoming: The current teenage generation uses the Internet. According to a late 2007 Pew study, 94% of American teenagers polled use the internet/email. As this occurs, teens are watching TV (traditional content) less. UGC seems to be the way to go if trying to hook the future generation.
  • Simpler: It could be argued that UGC is easier from a site owner’s perspective– considering content is written for you rather than by you. I’ll leave you a minute to ponder that; it’ll come up again later.
  • Self-policing: Not only is it possible to not have to write much content, there are ways to get the community to actually police themselves. Over at FunAdvice, we use volunteer moderators to help keep abuse and spam at bay.

Sounds good and dandy, right? So why isn’t every website based on user-generated content?

Cons of UGC:

  • Credibility: For anyone who has asked a fairly simple question on an advice site and received a myriad of different answers, this issue comes up immediately. Who are these people generating this content, and what makes them experts? How much wrong (or even dangerous) information are they disseminating to the world through their blogging and incorrect advice?
  • Bias: Also seems to be a no-brainer. Unless the site is a specifically-stated political party site, bias isn’t explicitly told in UGC. It’s up to the reader to gauge which information doesn’t hold bias. And many people aren’t capable of this determination.
  • Moderation: Unless using self-policing options (see Pros), there is an issue of moderating UGC sites (especially advice sites). How much work is involved with making sure illegal or abusive activity isn’t published on your watch? And is the work worth it for the possibly biased and incredible information?
  • Ownership: When examining traditional content, it’s easy to see who the owner is (Rupert Murdoch). Ok enough of those jokes. In all seriousness, who actually owns the content on user-generated sites? The host? The user who wrote the content? Both? Intellectual property laws regarding the Internet have a long way to go to catch up with us today.

So where do you personally stand on this debate? Is UGC the wave of the future and a possibility for your company, or just a way to spread junk en masse? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute , Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, including best-selling Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill) and the new book, Content Inc. Check out Joe's two podcasts. If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • http://marketingtechnews.com Geoff Caplan

    Excellent post. Dara’s analysis of UGC is dead on and the points she makes should be taken under serious consideration by anyone responsible for content and overall online marketing strategies. This is a forward thinking approach to Internet Best Practices. Sound Internet marketing principles should aways be built on a core foundation of objective, relevant content, across the board.

  • http://www.sdiglobalsolutions.com Larry Kunz

    UGC is the wave of the future. If we miss this wave, we’ll be swamped.
    My brand is enhanced if I have a skilled content strategist who can manage the UGC and integrate it with traditional content. My brand is damaged if I don’t manage UCG effectively — or if I try to ignore UCG, because my customers and potential customers will perceive (fairly or not) that I’m not interested in them.
    Anne Gentle’s book, Conversation and Community (http://xmlpress.net/publications/conversation-community), is a great resource. She explores the issue from the context of technical documentation, but her comments are relevant in other contexts as well.

  • instant sales system

    Thanks for the Great Post.

  • http://rbeale.com Ryan

    Interesting Read. You bring up excellent points on both sides of UGC. I am a UGC advocate, but think in the long run will be most beneficial to “entertainment” type websites. We’ll see how it all plays out.
    @RBeale

  • Sara

    I would add one more point to your “cons.”
    From a communications perspetive, you also don’t “control” the message with user generated content. Although this method is fun and egaging, the message you hope comes across could get lost – either because the UGC leaves out your company’s perspective or because the content is poorly executed.
    Now, I know we often don’t have “control” anyway, but UGC is a often a sure-fire way to muddle your message and confuse your audience when you have something clear to say.
    I counsel my clients to steer clear of UGC if they have a clear message they want to deliver. If that’s not the case, then we open it up to others to help us share the message in a fun and authentic way.

  • http://www.funadvice.com Dara

    Sara,
    Good point, with UGC you give up control of the message. From how I see it, if you are running a site with a specific viewpoint/stance you want to portray, commercial-based content would be the way to go…