The y2p panel judges “Readers’ Tips” at The Sun


You might not think The Sun, with all its reliance on puns and tits, is the right kind of place for UGC. But hidden away in the dark corners of the website is the Readers’ Tips page, a brilliant example of all that UGC can be – good, bad, ugly and funny.

So the y2p team chose tips to explain what works and what doesn’t – you can click on the images to see an expanded view.

This perfectly exemplifies the Sun’s attitude – a bit cheeky and thoroughly down-to-earth. This is something that journalists would never have the inventiveness to come up with, and it’s a nice insight into the slightly peculiar lives that the readers lead. But I don’t think I’ll be taking their advice on this one…

This made me literally laugh out loud because 1) it sounds ridiculous 2) it’s the type of thing I would do and think is perfectly sensible and 3) I’m kicking myself I didn’t  think of it first. Don’t worry though, I’ll be doing it from now on. What I like about this page is that the postees aren’t afraid of sounding silly and the readers obviously like picking up the tips. Just remember to turn the straighteners off.

This is such a practical suggestion, the kind of which you’d only get from another punter who’s not trying to sell you anything. I can’t imagine DIY websites suggesting it. This UGC works for me, freely sharing information and not expecting anything in return.

This UGC is pants! These white-knickered buttocks could only appear on a website for the toosh-loving Sun. They’d be considered too bad taste for a more sober news platform, and they’re right. Secondly the suggestion is utterly useless – why would you stick your post-it note somewhere you can’t even see it, why not post on the fridge? I’ve got a feeling we’re witnessing the more exhibitionist UGC here – Karen seems confident enough about her bottom to want to show it off.

This typifies the best and worst of UGC. While there can be no doubt of the deterrent effect of a snake in one’s flowerbed, Roy’s effort lacks the key details which a professional journalist would give. For example, to say nothing of potential ethical conundrums, is the breed of snake a determining factor? Ought the snake to be on duty full time, or would the aroma of a part time snake be sufficient? Oughtn’t Roy to include a more expansive discussion of the necessary fencing arrangements round the flowerbed? In short, this tip is a clear indication of UGC’s questionable reliability.

UGC is about making your readers feel like they are a part of your publication and share in a community of readers. The value of the tips is not in the suggestions themselves, but the sharing process. I think it’s important that we see pictures of the readers and their families on the page. You might not bake your flapjacks in a bun tin, but it’s hard not to be touched by darling little Katie.

The UK vs. USA – can StreetLife step up to EveryBlock?


EveryBlock.com is the answer to every American nosy neighbour/journalist’s prayers. It keeps them up-to-date with all the news and civic goings-on happening in their city, neighbourhood and block. It covers everything from building permits, restaurant inspections, local blogs, and photo-sharing to local business reviews. Launched in 2008 the site has grown rapidly – last month it brought in around 220,000 unique visitors.

Screen-grab of EveryBlock.com - what's the latest in Manhattan?

But what about all the nosy neighbours/journalists in Britain?

We have OpenlyLocal, JournalLocal and even FixMyStreet, which allow us to access valuable local governmental information or to moan about the rife potholes after the big freeze. But we’re losing out on the sociability of Everyblock.com, dubbed the social network for the neighbourhood. On this site users can update their status, “follow” specific locations and share posts on Facebook or Twitter.

But this might all be about to change now that StreetLife.com has hit our hoods… Like Everyblock, StreetLife is a social network based on local communities. Users can talk to individuals, groups and even local buinesses with the aim of sharing advice, skill sets and resources (Big Society eat your heart out). You have a news-feed, local chat function, private message facility, and incase it all gets to much, you have control of how much information you receive.

A screen-grab of the StreetLife Welcoming

But will it work?

I asked Paul Bradshaw if there was a UK answer to Everyblock, and he responded:

The same sentiment applies to StreetLife.com. The Freedom of Information Act in the UK is far more limited that the US, where there are no restrictions on who may access government information under the FOIA. The only requirement is that the requester must be a member of the public.

This is what social media journalist and hyperlocal blogger Joseph Stashko had to say:

Are we too saturated by social media as it is? Do we need another account to check and maintain? Or will the fact that, like EveryBlock, we can link up and share with Twitter and Facebook enhance our social networking experience?

In Joseph Tartakoff’s recent review of EveryBlock he said: ‘there’s lots of potential for abuse; a search for “conversations” in my neighbourhood brought up only two entries, which were both essentially advertisements’. StreetLife could rapidly become less about ‘community spirit’ and more about promotional plugging.

I looked up my local street on StreetLife and was pleasantly surprised to find lots of interesting posts. I know that Felix, just opposite, has had his bike stolen, where my local optician and pharmacist is, who’s having a loft conversion and who’s selling up. I’m excited by this, it’s nice to feel part of something local and as a journalist it’s  a great source for stories.  I’m not sure I’m ready to abandon StreetLife yet, it’s in it’s early days but it could grow into something interesting…

EMILY ARCHER

Tweeting in the Commons?


The journalist’s pot of UGC gold looks likely to be enlarged after the Commons Procedure Committee decreed that MPs should be allowed to tweet in the Commons chamber. After they were initially banned in January, the committee recommended that smartphones and tablets should be allowed (but not laptops as they take up too much space), provided that they are on silent and used in a way which does not ‘impair decorum’. The Commons will vote on the measure within the next two months.

Objection!

The move hasn’t been without controversy. James Gray, Tory MP for North Wiltshire, argued that excessive use of electronic devices would lead to a ‘worrying change of atmosphere’ in the chamber, in which members weren’t properly concentrating on the debates. But the potential effects for MPs and journalists (who can tweet from the public gallery) could run far deeper than that.

Where does it go from here?

According to the report, 225 MPs now use Twitter. One of the committee’s main supporting arguments is that it will bring parliament a whole new audience, in the form of hundreds of thousands of MPs’ Twitter followers. Moreover, it seems likely that many more MPs will feel compelled to begin tweeting; if so many are communicating with their followers/constituents directly, those passing up the opportunity will appear increasingly distant.

Rich Pickings

This means that a huge new source of UGC material becomes available – MPs may tweet their reaction to others’ comments, and conversely may respond to journalists’ tweets questioning their behaviour. Useful too will be the large amount of constituent-MP tweeted discussions during an actual debate which might have a significant influence on the MP’s vocal comments and eventual voting.

Potential Pitfalls

An example of Twitter hosting co-debates was seen in the Australian parliament, where MPs have always been unrestricted. Back in 2009, a row flared up between the Speaker and MP Peter Dutton, in which the latter tweeted criticisms about the Speaker’s apparent favouring of the opposite party. (The Speaker warned that tweets were not covered by parliamentary privilege).

Shifting the Debate

This shows that Twitter has the power to lift a debate from the chamber and into cyberspace, allowing anyone – MPs, lobbyists, journalists – to join in.  Again it is another example of the traditional top-down media role being undermined. Should the committee recommendations be adopted, parliamentary reporters will have to pay as much attention to the cyber debate as to the Commons floor itself. This raises tricky issues for a Speaker trying to adjudicate without looking at his/her own device. But as a whole new world of co-debate, involving anyone and everyone, is invited into the chamber, there are rich UGC pickings indeed. Truly democratic, and virtually uncontrollable, no journalist worth their salt will be able to ignore this new dynamic.

CARON BELL

Getting a grip – Incentivising UGC


Incentivising can at times be a complex concept but when done well it transforms everyday interaction with a site into a game or a competition. You gain points for greater engagement, which gives you access to extra levels and features.

In this way, sites can effectively lure you into doing things you’d otherwise consider terribly boring – such as filling out surveys or reading and commenting on articles.

There is an element of this season’s Internet buzzword, ‘gamification’, about it. At the SXSW Interactive Festival, a lot of attention was given to this shiny new idea, where the principles of gaming were applied to ordinary tasks like work. Again, one advances through ‘levels’ as tasks are completed, gaining extra skills as obstacles are overcome. It’s just that in this scenario, the obstacle isn’t a jackal-headed god from the Underdark – it’s a Monday morning staff meeting.

Even social networking sites have cottoned on. Chinese Facebook-alternative Renren is heavily game-based (according to bilingual users – my Mandarin’s a little rusty), which combines the social aspect of a Facebook with the cut-throat competitiveness of Call of Duty.

The basic principle is one of loyalty. Incentivising retains a community – something called a ‘sticky’ experience where first-time users are encouraged and interested, but not overwhelmed by information. Hence Renren’s considerable success, as the games aspect pleases those who aren’t content with a simple social network.

Not that kind of badge! image: Alan_D

The reason this all springs to mind is the ‘social rewards and analytics platform’ Badgeville.  Launched only last year, Badgeville has recently announced that they’ve got fifty new clients signed up to use their widgets in only their first two quarters.

The principle behind it, as I understand it, is along the lines of the Facebook ‘like’. Users click on ‘Like’ buttons attached to website content, particular product-orientated Facebook pages and are rewarded on leaderboards, with the eponymous badges and various other treats. This will then result in a company-loyal community of followers, whose interests (gleaned from Badgeville’s analysis of their ‘likings’), can direct the company’s efforts.

Devious indeed, your2pencers – but it’s worth it for a badge.

SAM BRADLEY

Citizen Journalism vs. Professional Journalism


Is Citizen Journalism treading on the toes of Professional Journalism?

Here are two extracts from recent theatre reviews of the same production of Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle. One is written by a Citizen Journalist, the other is written by a professional critic. Can you tell which is which?

Extract A. The weight of expectation on this production is immense chiefly because, on paper, it’s a combination of talent and ideas that feels simultaneously fresh and defiantly classic. In short, it seems to represent exactly what the National does so well and what it set out to achieve back in the 1970s. Sadly, like the Creature itself, Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein is somewhat inconsistent: prone to flashes of greatness, but ultimately a flawed masterpiece.

The sense of palpable disappointment is particularly heightened by that fact that, at the centre of the show is a towering performance from Benedict Cumberbatch. Whilst I was a fan of his recent work I did have Cumberbatch pegged as someone with little range beyond the proud, the haughty and the academic; I therefore relished the opportunity of seeing him play Frankenstein opposite Jonny Lee Miller’s rough and ready Creature. As it was the roles were reversed at last night’s preview and Cumberbatch proved just what a versatile, hypnotic stage actor he is.

[…]

This is not the triumph everyone expected but a muscular production that, I imagine, will be remembered for individual triumphs such as Cumberbatch and Miller’s performances, Underworld and Ed Clarke’s innovative sound design and Tildesely’s stunning set. Things will no doubt improve as the run continues but, as a whole, Frankenstein fails to reproduce the power of the text it adapts; much like Victor’s experiment, it feels like Boyle is only half in control of his creation.

Extract B. In Danny Boyle’s eagerly awaited production of Frankenstein the show’s stars are alternating the roles of the scientist and the deformed Creature in Mary Shelley’s great gothic tale, first published in 1818.

On Tuesday we saw Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature, cobbled together from dead body parts and conjured into life by the power of science, with Benedict Cumberbatch as his appalled creator, Victor Frankenstein. Last night the roles were reversed.

For those who have tickets — and if you haven’t you will have to queue for day seats or attend a performance due to be screened live in cinemas on March 17 and 24 — I can report that both versions are well worth seeing. Miller, however, strikes me as the more disturbing and poignant monster, while Cumberbatch undoubtedly has the edge as the scientist who is ultimately revealed to lack the humanity of the unhappy creature he has created.

[…]

The play doesn’t disappoint when it comes to gory horrors – the fate of Frankenstein’s bride is particularly grisly – while the final scene is as bleak as anything in Beckett.

The production may be intermittently hobbled by dud dialogue and second-rate supporting performances, but at its best there is no doubt that Frankenstein is the most viscerally exciting and visually stunning show in town.


Thanks for voting, stay tuned to find out if you were right…
We can now reveal that the correct answer was Extract B, but more than 1/3 of you were April fooled! Journalists will have to keep their wits about them…
Extract A was written by Citizen Journalist Will Hunt

Extract B was written by Professional Critic for the Telegraph Charles Spencer
EMILY ARCHER

UGC – The Rules and Regulators


your2pence spoke to Stewart Purvis, former Content and Standards Partner at the UK regulator Ofcom, about how UGC is monitored and regulated.

y2p: How is UGC regulated by Ofcom?

SP: The crucial point is that the only regulation of UGC by Ofcom is when it is rebroadcast by a licensed broadcaster because then it has to meet the Broadcasting Code. In its regulation of licensed TV services Ofcom does not recognise any difference between UGC and any other content. It all has to conform to the Broadcasting Code.

“These standards [section 319 of the Communications Act] apply to all broadcast material whatever its origin: whether material is user-generated content or derived from more traditional sources.” Ofcom

y2p: Have there been any interesting cases when Ofcom has had to step in?

SP: There was an interesting test case when a mostly online content service called Sumo transmitted some of their content on Sumo TV and got into trouble. I think Sumo TV is the only case.

(Read More)

y2p: Should there be a regulator of non rebroadcast online content? Ofcom/PCC etc…

SP: There is a regulator of online content which is deemed to be ‘TV-like’. The regulator is called ATVOD [which regulates the editorial content of UK video on demand services].

SP: For content which is not ‘TV-like’ and that is most online content, there is no official regulator although some sites have their own standards requirements e.g. the ‘explicit’ warnings on i-tunes.

y2p: Will we see any changes in the future?

SP: The next Communications Act expected in 2015 will have to address the issues raised by media covergence.

EMILY ARCHER

Online marketing and UGC for financial services – some expert advice


A way of defining UGC is any content not paid for by the organisation. There is rarely any money in UGC for the user, but what about the website? Good online marketing, use of social media and UGC can be very lucrative for businesses. Otherwise, why would they spend millions trying to get it right? I approached Craig Freeman to find out how this works for financial services.

Craig Freeman is the Digital Account Manager at Fwd Marketing. Since graduating with a BA (Hons) in Business Adminstration, Craig has worked with a number of B2B and B2C brands to build their online presence. As a digital consultant at FWD Craig is working to highlight opportunities and implement strategic campaigns to maximise their online potential using new media and Web 2.0.

Here’s what he had to say…

Online user generated content and financial services have not traditionally gone hand in hand. In fact, I have been in meetings when just the mention of a blog, Twitter or online community is enough to send a Marketing Director running for the hills. From what I have observed there are a number of drivers behind this reaction.

1. The fear of the unknown

Financial service organisations include banks, insurance companies, hedge funds and everything in between. If you were to profile the senior management teams you would discover that the majority would be made up of the baby boomer generation. This generation have had computers and the internet somewhat thrown upon them. Lets just say that understanding and participation in this digital world does not come naturally to a large percentage, meaning that social media and digital marketing is not a priority when budgets are divided.

2. The fear of public opinion

Reputation, brand recognition and recommendations are essential to financial service organisations for keeping customers and drumming up new business. Therefore marketing departments and senior management are fiercely protective of the company’s image. So much so that compliance departments that sign off processes are more important than innovation and free thought within these organisations.

There have been some very high profile cases of brands being damaged, not just on confined to one website, but globally. Habitat spamming Twitter is a prime example of how vocal the public are willing to be online. A marketing campaign costing £3million was needed to repair the damage done. Therefore until a financial services brand is sure that efforts across social media will provide a return on investment, they are not willing to risk their reputation.

3. Financial service brands choose to be laggards

Marketing campaigns within financial services will rarely win awards for innovation. Due to the fear of the unknown and fear of public opinion, brands in this sector will only adopt marketing practices that are tried and tested. Websites are more often than not low functioning, non-transactional and little more than an online business card or brochure. This is especially true when it comes to business to business brands as they place little weight on digital efforts for generating sales. The bigger the organisation the less likely they are to enter into the online world. They will wait until mistakes have been made and learnt from by lower level players within the industry, and until large brands in other industries have moved onto the next Facebook or microsite tool.

Playing without the fear

Luckily though, not all financial service organisations let the fear override their desire to grow and social media adoption is beginning to take off. Some have early adopters and innovators at their helm, others give it a go out of curiosity, and the rest then follow suit because their competitors are doing it. And what is it they are doing exactly?

Some brands are using user generated content as a tool for enhancing customer and client communication. Aviva is a shining example of this as they have opened Twitter up for publicly viewable complaints. They have made the decision that it is better to be seen to be actively addressing issues than trying to hide them away.

Other brands have realised that social media offers a clear route directly into large numbers of their target markets. It is not just the pure volume of users on social media but how they use the sites and how they are willing to interact with brands that attract financial services. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are still finding new ways to provide relevance to brands in this sector. Access to data, targeted advertising, corporate profiles and sponsored posts are all being used to varying degrees of success.

Rewards for good behaviour

The financial service brands that have embraced user generated content and social media have found some added benefits. By consistently providing timely and valuable information they have cemented a loyal group of followers, increased sales, demonstrated their expertise and thought leadership, got ahead of the competition and enhanced their profile in the eyes of the press. Journalists from national publications to trade specific publications use social media now as part of their hunt for stories, opinions and sources. For this reason, and to avoid damaging their brand it is essential that financial service brands proceed with caution, understand the technology and always behave with grace, politeness and a cheery complexion.

To do this requires a clearly defined strategy, realistic objectives, a well trained resource and continual monitoring of activity. This will ensure a return on investment is achieved but even then this will not happen overnight. Digital marketing requires prolonged engagement with the whole range of stakeholders and eventually the rewards will come.

REBECCA BELL