Category Archives: What the experts say

We’ve spoken to industry experts and bright young trailblazers to see what UGC really means, and how to do it best.

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.



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.


TwiTrips – What the Tw***er?

I was at school with a bit of a bright spark who later at Manchester University set up the (now defunct) crowdsurfing website youngineurope, a UGC site for young backpackers, who might well have been broke but who still wanted to explore Europe.

After being snapped up by the Guardian in his final year Benji Lanyado is now by his own admission  a 27 year old ‘travel journalist for (mostly) the Guardian and (sometimes) the New York Times‘ as well as a bit of a social media guru.

Over the past year Benji has developed the ‘Twitter trip‘ or ‘twitrip’ for short – where he is parachuted into a city and people suggest where he should go via twitter. So what better way to tell me all how the magic happens than to do a little interview over twitter…

And that is where technology failed us and twitter went down….sometimes it’s still worth meeting face to face. Anyway, it’s worth watching Benji and his movements.  The twitrips idea is so beautifully simple yet still so innovative and he’s got a lot more where that comes from.

A tea break with Ben Marsh

After looking at the Channel 4 cuts map i thought i’d just grab a quick chat with the creator Ben Marsh – the freelance web developer who has easyjet, Channel 4, vodafone among his clients…

Your2pence: Firstly who are you and what do you do?

Ben Marsh: I’m a freelance web developer who creates ‘mashups’ – which means extracting information from various (potentially unrelated) resources and putting them together in a meaningful way.

Y2P: Why did Channel 4 come to  you to create the cuts map?

BM: Channel 4 approached me after seeing my #uksnow Map over the winter. With all the spending cuts that are currently taking place they wanted to show this in an alternative visual.

Y2P:What’s the point of this map though? Why don’t we just keep it nice and old fashioned?

BM: Visuals and graphics are usually a better way of getting complex information across. Being able to see how spending cuts are taking place geographically and also on a month-to-month basis gives a different angle to what is happening.

Having the ability for a consumer to discover and understand content their own way can only be a good thing.

Y2P: How has the internet helped to shape your ideas and projects?

BM: There is a huge resource of open information on the internet, and it is getting easier and easier to pull these sources together and make something more meaningful. I’ve been creating apps and sites for quite some time, but the first one that caught the public imagination was the #uksnow map, which took locatable snow reports from Twitter and plotted them on a map.

You might like to check out Ben’s latest project which has just been launched for easyjet and the Royal Wedding. They are looking for…you guessed it Europe’s best Will and Kate look-a-likes…

Courtesy of Ben Marsh

Follow Ben and what he’s up to on @benmarsh.

The Virtuous Marketplace: Scribd, UGC and academic utility

After reading Sam’s post about UGC and getting paid for it, I’ve been thinking about sites that allow for this and who uses them. This guest post is about and is written by one of its users, Kris Grint. He’s a DPhil researcher at the Centre for Intellectual History, University of Sussex.

Lessons from the French

In contemplating writing an article on the usefulness of to my specific academic context, I could not help but appropriate the title of Victoria Thompsons’s book, The Virtuous Marketplace, as an analogy for explaining what I feel is this UGC-driven site’s modus operandi. In her 2000 book, Thompson describes the virtuous marketplace as essentially the cumulative product of free market forces impacting upon French culture.

Pont Neuf - Paris by Nicolas Guerard

In the eighteenth century, the advance of a free market was a critical tool against absolutism, because it allowed people to develop arguments against the state and distribute them without fear of reprisal. Think of this in the same terms as the potential capability of the internet to transmit ideas to those residing in autocratic regimes. By the 1830s, however, this particular freedom came to be associated with licentiousness and a distinct lack of quality control. Think of this as the same as how one finds, in the West at least, the written word on the current web. A significant portion is useful but perhaps the majority is fodder, rubbish, or static noise. How can you tell the good from the bad? Particularly when a piece isn’t found on the website of a large publishing corporation or media entity? We can place our trust in a virtuous marketplace, where markets sort the wheat from the chaff.


This concept is behind the document hosting service Scribd. On Scribd, users (which comprise individuals, collectives, and companies) upload their documents for viewing by the public – a YouTube for writing. Other Scribd users vote, share and respond to documents depending on their quality, with higher-rated works rising to the top of charts which can be refined via genre, description or keyword search. So far, so good. The market element adds a further index to the quality of writing on offer however, and is introduced into Scribd by virtue of uploaders being able to price their documents – be they articles, magazines, or short stories – as they see fit. If users are buying certain publications – voting with their wallet – it gives a good (but not failsafe) indication that the item in question is of a certain quality, repute or usefulness.

This process, in turn, creates a revenue stream for Scribd, with profits shared between the the author (for being the wordsmith) and the company (for providing the means of delivery) in an 80:20 split.

Scribd turns a significant number of its userbase into producers, and profits accordingly from the commercial success of whatever its users choose to peddle. This selling of content on a marketplace marks a shift from typical UGC-sites, where it is not usually necessary to make a purchase to access the content generated by the site’s users, although it is certainly not a unique selling point (see, for example, the commercial technical support website Expert’s Exchange).

Academic Benefit

The specific academic benefit of Scribd springs from this arrangement, and that’s why I find it such a useful service. As a researcher, my motivations are not to make money from publishing documents, instead I need to find a reliable, non-expensive way to share large swathes of primary documents online.

Because a significant portion of Scribd’s activity is given over to a profit-making enterprise, the company can afford to offer practically unlimited, free document hosting to its users, regardless of whether they participate in the marketplace or not. In one of the most recent projects I’ve worked on, I used Scribd to make publicly available a 15,000 page manuscript archive relating to research on the English political economist T. R. Malthus, which includes several personal letters that had never been transcribed before. The applet provided by Scribd to display the documents is embeddable on my institution’s website, works with a minimum of fuss, and allows for text-searching, printing and bookmarking.

Scribd may never replace a bestsellers list as an index for establishing the most widely-read texts of our time, but its spirited attempt to create a virtuous marketplace for writing on an burgeoning and increasingly unwieldy web has a very welcome offshoot – the provision of space to host archives of material that researchers had previously found cost-prohibitive to share. That, in itself, is an incredibly virtuous offering.


A SXSW panel on UGC and censorship, via twitter

We couldn’t make it to SXSW in Texas because we’re stuck in rainy old Blighty but when  we heard about a panel debate called The User Generated Revolution, Social Media Overcoming Censorship we followed the tweets compulsively. And we thought we should make it easy for you to do the same. Below are some hand-picked reactions from Josh Halliday of The Guardian, Joanna Geary of the Times, Jonathan Cohen, founder of Support Local Grow Together in Austin and panellist Sanam Dolatshahi.

Lots of comments of the importance of verifying the accuracy of UGC news

So it seems that

Those priorities winning support!/JRCohen/status/46956290173440000

But it’s not all that easy…

Especially given that

And important because

And finally, a perhaps unexpected insight that…

Here’s the background:

The panel featured 4 BBC journos, Abi Sawyer from BBC World Service Future Media, Julian Siddle, creator of the tech programme Digital Lifestyles, Raymond Li, head of BBC Chinese and Sanam Dolatshahi, presenter and producer on BBC Persia’s Interactive program Nowbat-e Shoma (Your Turn). Here’s the blurb for the event:

Social media is becoming an essential tool for activists in repressive societies. In 2009 the Iranian government expelled foreign media and jammed international broadcasts. For the BBC’s Persian TV emails, video, Twitter and Facebook postings from Iran became the main source of news. Groundbreaking stories were complied using material from viewers and listeners – often sent in with great personal risk to themselves. In the Xingjian province of China government censors were defeated by a tweet – news of a popular uprising amongst the regions Uighurs in this remote province leaked out to the world’s media. A military clampdown ensued, but not before foreign media got to the region and heard the Uighurs grievances. Conversely the oppressors use the same social media tools, partly to spread disinformation about their activities, but also in the cases of groups such as the Taliban, to push their beliefs. The panel will discuss how censorship and suppression is made more and more difficult to hide by the social media revolution, and the impact of this for traditional media organisations.


User-generated photo-journalism and how to build a lasting network

Tackable is the latest UGC smart phone app straight out of Silicon valley and the team behind it are being very smart about how they build their network. Your2pence spoke to its Chief Marketing Officer Luke Stangel, to learn a thing or two about growing UGC communities.

Luke Stangel

Tackable aims to be an essential journalistic tool and a fun destination. Journalists and publications have profiles from where they create photo “assignments” requesting images of news events. Users respond by uploading those images, but they can also post random photos of interesting things they’ve come across. They get to see their pictures in print and earn points as they collate photos on their profile. Users and journalists subscribe to each other’s feeds to keep on top of it all.

1.) Start small

Tackable’s main app is still in beta but will be ready in the next few weeks, in time for them to launch across  newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area.  In the meantime they’ve made a dedicated app for The Spartan Daily, a student publication at San Jose StateUniversity, as a testing ground.

The Spartan Daily app launched on the 24th January and now has 441 downloads and 111 active users. Although its not a huge number, Luke’s happy because ‘engagement in the name of the game’ and they’ve ‘developed a base of students who come back and check in day after day’. Spartan Daily has taught them a lot about how to engage with users and its an exercise worth studying.

2.) Give people reasons to join

Luke says this success is because people are encouraged to participate in 2 different ways. Although ‘everything you do on Tackable earns you points’ completing an official assignment gets you more than uploading a random picture. And when points add up, they turn into vouchers for things like tacos around campus.

"Snow Day" assignment asked students to "Check out this amazing event"

For some the drive to participate is reward-driven and the assignments are like ‘a real-world scavenger hunt’. These users make up the body of Tackable’s network so far. But there are others who are ‘motivated by social rewards’ – ‘when they witness something happening in front of them’ they think ‘”This is really cool. I want to share this right now”‘. Luke reckons the number of social users will increase as the platform develops.

3.) Know who, and how many

These motivations work well enough for the students, but will they stick in the real world where users have less free time, are less tech-savvy and live in a less defined community? Luke says that while the target audience is under-35, smartphone-owners used to social media, they want it to appeal to all ages. But it’s probably that core of young users that will get the ball rolling and create the framework for others to develop.

And he’s also being very careful with numbers. ‘Most user-generated content platforms operate on some variation of the 90/8/2 principle’ he says. ‘90% of your user base will consume media and do nothing else, 8% will get lightly involved with that media, either by commenting on it or sharing it elsewhere, and 2% will create the bulk of your content’.

He says a city of a million would be ‘well-served’ by a Tackable base of 1,000 active participants. But of course ‘at some point, you have to let go and let the community take over’.

4.) Make it relevant

It’s this hyperlocal approach that they reckon will win through. Tackable distinguishes itself from other UGC news sites like MaYoMo and iReport by being ‘bottom up’ – catching the smallest stories first and building up from there. Much of the pull for the user is the sense of ownership and belonging that comes with the “take photos for your local newspaper” impetus.

And that’s evidenced on the  Spartan Daily “tackboard” where you can see photos of sports events, protests and just kids around campus. Most of the material is ‘totally uninteresting to anyone living outside Silicon Valley, but intensely interesting to the students on the platform’.

Responses to the Snow Assignment

This is the appeal for publications too. As well as helping reporters gather information about what’s going on in their patch, Tackable will help publications directly relate to their readership. Users might not create the news agenda, but they do facilitate it, helping reporters on their ‘first draft’ of a story.

5.) Expand when you’re ready

In Tackable’s pitch video, Luke says they aim to eventually have global reach. But can a hyperlocal model such as this stretch that far? For the moment Luke is trying to create a ‘sustainable model that works on a small scale’ but is confident that if they can get that right, it can ‘go viral’ in good time.

We’ve got our eye on Tackable; you should do too.