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User Generated Content

It’s a bit of a hot topic these days in the multimedia world – there were a number of sessions on the subject at Streaming Media East this year, and some discussion of it at the Communications Media Managers Association (CMMA) meeting I attended last month.

(Incidentally, both of those fine organizations are linked on the blogroll to the right – highly worth checking both of them out.  Dan Rayburn over at streamingmedia.com is a one man industry monitor/guru/genius, and the CMMA folks are an extremely gifted bunch of people in the trenches at the enterprise level.  SM sessions are online from all of their conferences, including my celebrity debut at a panel on Webcasting Tips & Tricks for the Enterprise [/shamelessplug].)

The theory of UGC is pretty straightforward – you’ve got a body of knowledge and a wealth of talent in your organization, and allowing them to produce content provides an outlet for them and an instant knowledgebase for the organization as a whole. The reality has been a little different, I think, and as usual it’s a complicated story.Tools are not really the issue – there are a number of packages out there to allow the enterprise to rollout a corporate YouTube.  I think there are two main issues for a corporate environment, both of which are psychological rather than physical or resources.

First, since there are still C-level execs that haven’t bought into the video as a business application universe, there’s a perception out there that allowing users to create and upload video is a waste of employee time.  Why are accountants recording themselves on webcam instead of reconciling our finances? Why would we want a technical writer producing a video instead of editing manuals? These are legitimate questions, and it’s the main reason that a business case needs to be made for encouraging this kind of communication.  I think it’s actually a fairly easy case to make – the UGC allows ideas to be shared, contacts to be made within the organization, and builds a sense of belonging and ownership amongst the employees.

Which leads to the second barrier for a lot of executives – there’s a noticeable concern that something posted by a user within such a system will reveal confidential information, cross the bounds of good taste, and of course, open the organization up to legal action. These are legitimate concerns, but all are mitigated with some basic best practices.

First, do not under any circumstances allow anonymous posting.  Most people understand when they work for a company that some of their privacy is surrendered; most corporate policies on computer and email use make it clear that they can be tracked or audited as needed.  Establish policy before you roll out the platform, and make it very obvious that they will be identified as the owner of their content.  Most employees are decent people, and will abide by the rules; those that won’t behave will either self-censor, or out themselves very quickly.

Second, it’s essential in an enterprise setting to develop and implement workflows that ensure some method of content moderation and review.  That’s a big task in a large organization, but it’s really critical if you want to protect the company from some of the risks.  Watch folders and approval chains provide the safety net to make sure someone has looked at content before it’s posted.  The reality is most people who take advantage of a UGC system will probably post only occasionally.  There will be some heavy users, and if they develop a track record of appropriate, topical content you may be able to relax restrictions on them somewhat, which will lessen the approval burden.

Which leads to point three – you can do an awful lot for a UGC program by partnering with those active posters.  They become both evangelists and (to a degree) local moderators or community standards watchdogs.  I don’t mean they become Big Brother, but as key stakeholders in the technology, they will work with you to make sure the tool gets used appropriately.  More importantly, they’ll provide a regular source of engaging content that makes the entire exercise worth the time and effort.

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