While some may say user-generated content is out of control and taking over, I disagree. It’s like some people look at UGC as a new, clever idea or something. Having users generate content is not new. It’s been around since the good ole’ days of newspaper editorials. Once the web came about, it certainly has increased. Blogs have virtually taken over cyberspace. When I search something online now, often I am taken to some random and obscure blog or forum whose content was created by an external user. Now that we have the time-waster known as Twitter for microblogging, we can now get “users’” information without even blinking–with updates straight to our mobile phones.
But when is UGC appropriate and not? Where do we draw the line between the appropriate and inappropriate? How can user-generated content be used as a useful tool? What problems does UGC cause and what problems does UGC solve? When it comes to user-generated content on digital signage, what mediums work the best? YouTube? Hulu? MySpace? Twitter? Mobile marketing of some sort? Hopefully, we will address these questions as this post progresses.
Benefits of User-Generated Content
Allowing for others to generate content has many benefits–regardless of what medium we’re using. Some of them may include:
1. Users feel akin and part of the overall experience. When you’re locked out of a discussion, when you feel you have something to say that would most likely contribute to a more beneficial conclusion, it can be frustrating. I’m sure many can assuredly say this about politics–regardless of your “leanings.” The same basic idea follows in UGC. When content can be created by the user, they feel they have some stake in the entirety of the experience. Think about Wikipedia for instance. I realize much of Wikipedia’s content has been created by Wiki professionals, but how many of you have actually edited a mistake on Wikipedia? It’s gratifying to be part of the contributory audience.
2. Some of the content creation headache is taken off the shoulders of those whose job it rightfully is. Content creation can take a great deal of work. Anyone who has tried to create content knows this. Those who realize the importance of interesting, refreshing and engaging content realize not only how important it is, but how time consuming refreshing said content is and will continue to be. When users are creating the content, there is somewhat of a respite for content creators.
3. Content will include much more variety, flare, and interestingness. This can be seen as a perfect example of two heads are better than one. As the size of the content contribution audience grows, the variety also expands accordingly. Text-to-screen gaming on digital signage in Times Square can be much more effective for getting content variety than something similar installed at a local hardware store.
4. The content will be more sticky. Think for a moment about the editorials section of the newspaper. Who does not enjoy reading the editorials section? Sometimes we read it because there is some on-going discussion taking place, while other times we participate because it’s unique enough to grab our attention. Think of some of the largest websites on the internet. Sites like Wikipedia, Vimeo, and YouTube take advantage of the principle of sticky UGC.
5. Having users generate the content can help with metrics, measurement, and targeting. I will discuss this more in detail later in the post.
Negative Issues Relating to UGC
While UGC can be very beneficial, in many instances, it can pose quite a problem–especially in digital sign displays.
1. The issue of a filter. User-generated filtering for user-generated fluff is often very difficult.
2. Content quality can be down-graded. Not only can it be downgraded, sometimes content can become overtly inappropriate. And those who truly know content know that good content is what separates good networks from bad networks. Regardless of what type of engine you have under the hood, if it don’t look good it’s worthless. Sign networks need to think of their digital signage more like a horse and pony show, rather than a day at the tracks. This is where user-generated content–unfortunately–can fall painfully short.
3. It’s seen as less reputable. Rightfully so. UGC could just have easily been created by a 15-year old hacker as it could by a grizzled college professor. You may never know. I remember reading an article a couple of years ago speaking on this very dilemma. It referenced literally thousands of Wiki articles which had been created by just a couple of people without college degrees. While Wikipedia has done a good job in recent years at mitigating this issue, it still crops up now and again. Similarly, UGC on a digital signage display can be quite the headache
4. Rights. This is somewhat of a subcategory of the filtering issue. Content rights can often be ignored when external users are generating the digital signage content. This was as much as an issue with YouTube as it is with place-based operators today. It is always a struggle to ensure credit is given where credit is due.
UGC and Electronic Signs
The cross-over is somewhat plain between how UGC effects other forms of media as well, including digital signage. There are some differences which need divulged, however. The first type of user-generated content for DOOH that comes to mind is the integration between it and the Internet. When an electronic display can show UGC that has been generated using some sort of Internet portal like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook etc. then content creation is not the issue–content filtering is.
Other forms of UGC on a digital display could include content created using a mobile device. This could include a simple SMS text message or something more dynamic and interesting created on a smartphone like a iPhone or Droid. This content tends to be a bit less quality than other forms of content, but it can engage bystanders in the display. Engagement of this degree can also be jointly coupled with “calls-to-action” and ROI measurement heretofore untapped.
Other applications for UGC can also include interactive gaming using mobile phones. While the content in this instance is not created using the mobile device, it certainly does allow for interactivity with the display.
UGC and Metrics
While I mentioned metrics already, I think it vital to delve into this issue more granularly. User generated content on digital signage is something that can greatly enhance a network operator’s ability to measure the metrics of the display. It needs to remain evidently clear that while interactivity can help enhance measurement, it certainly does not mean that the ROI of your digital signage network will be greatly improved. Hence, the conundrum here is this: does it make sense to pour more money into your digital display just for some interactive feature if this feature is not going to give more return?
I hate to say it, but this–as always–is dependent on what your objective is. If you are more concerned with increasing ambiance or giving people a cool factor, then it is certainly worth the wow–even if the “wow” costs a great deal more. However, if you are doing this on a network of scale that will cost your organization bundles more for something that cannot be measured in dollars and cents, then it makes no sense. Making the choice on whether to use a user-generated display or not may be highly dependent on whether a pilot outperforms with UGC vs. a standard digital signage display. If that is the case, then UGC all around!