25th May 2012
Top 5 Frustrations of User Generated Content (and How to Come to Terms with Them)
User generated content always seems like a good idea, after all: "content is king", right? Who better to write that content than those who are, hopefully, most engaged with your brand and those who use it regularly? On top of this, it's free, can make your offering more enticing to new users and often creates a ton of great long-tail pages in Google! What could possibly go wrong?
Whether you've got a blog with comments to manage, a collection of active social accounts, a forum, a niche social platform or even a Q & A site there's a few frustrations you'll run into along the way. So, without further ado, here are our Top 5 Frustrations of User Generated Content:
1. "They're Not Using The Site Properly!"
When designing, redesigning or improving a website which contains a large amount of UGC you're likely to take into account the way information is structured and represented in the Google SERPs. You may think, for example, that subject lines could be used as title tags and appear as the titles of links on Google - after all, if niche/long-tail pages are likely to be created, we might as well make sure they're effectively ranked. Maybe you've also got a clever system of categories or tags which inform URLs of your pages and almost certainly would help improve rankings of these pages.
It doesn't matter*. While you can carefully craft what might be a perfect system for your UGC to rank effectively it doesn't mean any of your users will indulge you by using it correctly. Spelling mistakes will occur in title tags, content will be placed in the wrong category and you'll be forever sighing at the missed opportunities where great content will never be picked up just because it's just not been filed properly.
How To Deal With It: Firstly, deep breath - believe it or not, users are human. Not all of them are going to type perfectly, be willing to double-check their work or even be sober while using your website. Take solace in the fact that these people will also search with mis-spellings.
Secondly, reassess why this might be happening. Remember, these are invested and important human beings who actually enjoy your product, not your human-powered-long-tail-Google-rankings-machine. Maybe you need to take another look at your usability - does your help text actually help? Is it obvious what you can do on every page? Is there a part of your service "missing" which causes users to use your site in the way they do? Maybe it's time to plug that gap.
2. You May Become Pen-pals With A Lawyer
Occasionally someone might use your site for the purposes of venting their anger at a company. If your site is large enough it's likely the content passed you by without much notice - especially if the complaint seemed a legitimate venting of anger at poor service.
Almost inevitably you'll receive a sternly worded letter from a lawyer representing the company. It turns out it's all your fault. Also, if the content isn't removed and you don't visit the company director and give him a foot massage you're going to court.
Many members of your site may be under the illusion that their rights extend to the internet from the real world. The burden of their free speech in fact falls on you, the publisher (in the UK at least).
What To Do: Check your moral compass and see if you think the right for this disgruntled person to speak their mind is worth fighting for. This check can be efficiently carried out by opening your wallet and seeing if you have thousands of pounds to throw into a fairly pointless legal case. Our suggested protocol is to 1. Ask the claimant which elements in particular they find defamatory 2. Remove these and 3. Cross your fingers they won't sue you anyway.
While this may seem like you're not standing up for some notion of freedom of speech you have to remember that in the UK, as the publisher, it is as if you have said these things. Can you truly say the comments in question are ones you can stand your name by, would you have made them? Take some time to assure the "censored" parties that their opinions are important, but explain the legal situation of the company.
3. Is It Bullying? Banter? Or Freedom of Speech? (Or Just, Like, Your Opinion Man)
You're forced to make judgements about anonymous human communications in their written forms between (usually) highly engaged and invested parties. Naturally, while attempting to take an even hand you would like to avoid alienating your core user base while also ensuring individual and usefully dissenting voices do not feel completely marginalised. Sounds simple enough, right?
Identifying bullying is difficult as the variety of human tempers means that you may be faced with a situation where some are happy to offer criticism, but are unable to receive it in return - and cry “Bullying”, while in another situation those who rightly feel victimised simply go quietly and disappear from your UGC community. Separating these kinds of interactions can sometimes seem impossible.
Dealing With It: Bullying online has taken prominence in the online safety concerns of the general public - especially of minors. If minors use your site often then you really do need to have a good, anonymous and fast-reacting system for reporting and dealing with inappropriate content and bullying online. With more mature members of society there's plenty of scope for really annoying people, many of them willing to let you, and others, know about it.
To deal with this the best policy is have a clear set of rules, ideally defined by the community, which can be applied rigorously. As long as the rules are consistently applied a set of expectations for how to act will emerge from your communities and it will, to some extent, become self-policing.
4. It's Not My Brand?
Anyone having to work with UGC will soon find that they're dispossessed of the brand identity. While, yes, steering conversation is part of your job, those who interact with your brand will end up owning it. This can be great, there's nothing like a good community atmosphere for growing that community. However, negativity or closed communities can be off-putting to new users and even damage your brand.
Ultimately it's about association, if visitors feel like your brand is for "those kind of people" (who they happen to not get on with) they're going to be turned away.
What To Do?: As mentioned above, steering conversation around a brand should be part of any UGC strategy - but an even better way to steer conversation is to attempt to bring certain key contributors "on side". You can offer privileges in exchange for their "on message" content. While this sounds like buying favours it needn't be so, you just need to make sure you're always promoting and rewarding the UGC of key contributors who are either representative of your target market, or aspirational to them. Remember, nothing looks better than having your brand defended by its users (as long as they don't rip the throat out of those with reasonable criticism).
5. Site Updates May Be The End Of The World
We've all seen it on Facebook, your friends who don't immediately begin to think of the SEO, usability and privacy implications of Facebook updates (i.e. normal people) join, create or "Like" a group along the lines of "I HATE THE NEW FACEBOOK LAYOUT CHANGE IT BACK!!!!".
That's just for big sites right? Changes and redesigns to your brand's communication channels don't matter quite as much as that, do they?
Of course they do. Every minor change will be decried as the end of the site as you know it.
How To Deal With It: First, you should take a moment after all the hard work of the redesign and getting the thing launched to have a cup of tea and have a look at this image:
A lot of the time the reason users complain about changes to a site is not only because they're used to how it works but because they really feel they own it! This should be considered a good thing.
To minimise the "backlash" it's advised you once again go to your most trusted users. If it's possible setting up a beta environment for these respected users can be enough to get them on side. Not only is it great for user feedback (you can find usability problems and fix them before they can even be complained about) it's perfect for having advocates who can help form future opinion.
User generated content can be the thing which makes the difference between a successful site and an inelegant belly-flop - it adds colour, flavour, traction to sites which might otherwise feel "stale". It's not just about "brand management" either, for example: can you now fathom a world where Amazon-style reviews aren't present? That's UGC too and without it many visitors find it hard to buy-in, let alone buy!
If you're considering using UGC on your site, just remember that it's not about your customers doing your work for you - it's about collaboratively making the experience better for everyone.
And remember, if it all sounds too complicated, we're always happy to help.