By Joe Pulizzi published November 25, 2009 Est Read Time: 3 min

The Pros and Cons of User-Generated Content


Thanks to Dara Solomon, Community Manager at, 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,, 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 is the bestselling author of seven content marketing books including his latest, Content Inc. He has founded four companies, including the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), and his newest venture, The Tilt. His podcast series, This Old Marketing with Robert Rose, has generated millions of downloads from over 150 countries. He is also the author of The Random Newsletter, delivered to thousands every two weeks. His Foundation, The Orange Effect, delivers speech therapy and technology services to children in 35 states. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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