Done right, user-generated content can be a great thing for your brand. Involving your fans, readers and the general internet population with your online profiles is a great way to interact with customers and potential clients, but letting people create your content, or even just allowing content that has been generated by users, can lead to big problems.
Polls are a great way to get interaction from your readers and followers, but they should always be taken with a pinch of salt. These days everyone knows that most polls can be voted in multiple times if you clear your cookies, which can lead to manipulation of results. Normally this happens in cases of fans of musicians or sports teams who are desperate to push their favourites to the top, but it can also affect bigger issues. Melbournian Russell Phillips recently proved that with a tiny bit of code you can vote thousands of times and sway results however you want — which is not great if you’re a newspaper and you’re basing articles solely on the results of these polls.
The 4chan effect
There’s a lot that 4chan is responsible for online, including memes, crusades for justice and general havoc-wreaking. Some of it’s good, some of it you really don’t want to get into, but mostly it’s the result of bored teenagers wanting to one-up big corporations. With their huge numbers and dedication to getting things done, they’ve ruined many a public competition. Over the past year or so they’ve created a McHolocaust burger for McDonald’s in Germany, named a new Mountain Dew product ‘Hitler did nothing wrong‘ (and voted it to #1) and tried to send Justin Bieber on a tour of North Korea.
Anon doesn’t always try to destroy competitions negatively – sometimes they just want to honour their founder, moot. Recently they’ve tried to send him to an astronaut training camp, but their biggest success came in 2009 when he topped TIME’s list for World’s Most Influential Person.
People outside 4chan also like to have their antics in the spotlight. When Skittles turned their website into a Twitter feed of #skittles in 2009, they soon saw the public enjoying tweeting things about the sweets being made out of people and plenty of others things you’d probably rather not read about.
Lack of trust
A great way to take a load off your shoulders is to let your users do the work. The most well-known example of this is Wikipedia, a site that enjoys a mixed reputation. Often cited as untrustworthy – the site even states that it doesn’t expect to be trusted and that some of its articles are “completely rubbish” (although, if I needed to, I could’ve just edited it to say that) – it’s still used by many as their main source of information.
Journalists and students are told to be wary of it, but not all heed those warnings. While some widespread mistakes are minor and can be rectified easily, others, such as the Asian Football Confederation mistakenly using a racist slur as the nickname for the UAE team, are not so easy to shrug off.
As well as these minor edits, corporations use sites like Wikipedia as a promotional tool. One study found that 60% of business entries on Wikipedia contained errors, meaning anyone using it for research would repeat these mistakes.
The difference between Joe Bloggs and someone with a bit more nous can have huge ramifications for your company. Once you let anyone create content, post images or upload data, almost anything can happen and it can land you in hot water. Many popular websites of this ilk face regular court battles to remain afloat: YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest have all been taken to court over content submitted by members.
Just as your content shouldn’t be a one-way stream to a passive audience, you can’t let user-generated work be a one-way stream back. Having someone keep an eye on what’s coming in, making sure nothing is published that shouldn’t be and working with your users is the way to best make this tactic work – for you and for them.
Oliver Gaywood – Content Strategist