Daniel Bower, creator of welovelocal.com, speaks from personal experience to give his advice on how to set up UGC content on a social media site.
In the summer of 2006 from our offices in London we were thinking about how social media might change the way people find small businesses: a plumber, a florist, a restaurant or bar. It seemed blindingly obvious to us that the Yellow Pages model of listing everything in your city from A-Z by sector and then asking the businesses themselves to pay for more exposure was not only a massive environmental issue, but frighteningly out of date. Our premise was that people want context, they don’t just want an ad. They want to know what their friends think of a service, they want to hear directly from the owner, and see other options that are nearby. Similarly businesses want to tap into the growing social media trend, they want a profile in the same way they could have one on Facebook and they want a way to interact with their customers; welovelocal.com was born.
Building the website was the easy bit, and like many people we quickly realised that you couldn’t just ‘turn on the social.’ Just building a site that allowed people to login, add reviews, mark favourite places didn’t mean anyone was going to bother using it. In the 9 months that followed we learnt a lot about building a business that centres around social media, here are some of the more intuitive points:
Make friends with the bloggers. No matter what your area of interest there are already bloggers out there having conversations with each other about the topics that interest them. These people are the connectors that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in The Tipping Point, if you can engage them you they’ll spread your message, but doing this isn’t easy. At welovelocal.com we kept lists of all the different bloggers that operated in our space, how they knew each other and the things they liked to write about. We were really delicate when contacting them and if we felt it was appropriate we offered prizes for their readers.
I’ve already alluded to this a bit. You shouldn’t be afraid to incentivise people to contribute. This doesn’t mean you hand out money in exchange for peoples input, obviously this would taint the quality of the contributions you receive; however rewarding people for their time, and making it clear that you do that only encourages your members. At welovelocal.com we ran a regular review of the week feature on our blog, the person with the best review that week was treated to something nice based on their profile information. That small gesture went a long way towards encouraging new people to join the site.
The users are revolting! It’s likely to happen. But try and think of it as a good problem: you can’t have a revolution without having members in the first place. Every large social site goes through times when it’s members jump ship. Facebook seemingly has them most weeks, Flickr after they sold to Yahoo and Digg as a result of their redesign. For us it was a number of users regularly posting joke reviews who then got annoyed when we took them down. For us, it was easy to know how to react to that. Does condoning this sort of behaviour affect our product? Yes. Then we need to take it down. More broadly we felt confident that we were providing enough of a service to that user, and our users at large, that they wouldn’t just abandon us because we gave them a slap on the wrist.
The above point brings me on to my final bit of advice. Set out some guiding principles for your project and reference them in everything you do. At welovelocal.com this was a style guide for writing reviews and included a variety of points that we hoped would make our reviews helpful for all. If a review couldn’t be held to this guide we took it down and told the user why, referencing our style guide as we did. We annoyed people, but it made the product better in the long run and created a self-regulating system for the website as members kept an eye on each others contributions.
We sold the site after only 9 months which meant we were able to see the project out to the very end. However in the short time that we did run the site we’d seen the points I’ve discussed above make some real strides towards building an active social media project – with any luck they’ll help you do the same too.