Tag Archives: identity

Engagement, identity and user-generated content

The undisputed winner of this year’s Guardian g2 calendar is a 17 year old called Hannah Porter. Her entry, a close-up photo of her face with g2 painted across it, is the front cover of the calendar and g2’s twitter profile picture.

The Face of G2 by Hannah Porter

The Face of g2 b Hannah Porter

She explains the image in a caption underneath:

“I chose to use my face as a canvas because g2 is about two things: what it is made up of and who reads it. And anyone can be a reader, from a middle-aged person to a teenager like me”.

A near-perfect summation of what UGC helps define and reinforce, namely, a media organisation’s identity arrived at through its audience. Building up that inter-relationship is crucial.

The task was to:

“send in your photographs on the theme of G2… You could show an issue on location, spot the letters in your lunch, or find G2 recreated in nature”.

The expectation on the user here is big – they’re asked to spend time, thought and artistic endeavour creating their image. It’s a high level of engagement,  a top scorer on the graph that measures how much effort is required in order for a user to participate. This is far above asking for a thumbs up or down.

And the respondents were true to this. One waited (maybe hours) for birds to settle on a snowy roof (then photoshopped the image into full obeisance). Another shaved the letters into their hair, and a third made the calendar the subject of a family discussion, kids included.

An image of a gravestone reading: Here lies Harriet Bird 1986 - 2011 She loved the Guardian's g2

A dedicated reader, deceased

This reinforces the point – UGC here is not about giving a new angle on a national issue. It’s about telling the story of g2, and building a brand identity that is open, diverse, democratic and creative. The aim of the calendar is to help g2 penetrate as far as it can into its readers’ lives,  make it something they think about, obsess over, define themselves through.

Not all UGC works like this, but the best helps establish a strong and faithful relationship between media outlet and audience.

Doesn’t that give you a warm glowing feeling inside? Happy Christmas.



Comment is Free: UGC to a T.

“Comment is free, but facts are sacred,” said former Guardian editor CP Scott back in 1921.

What he didn’t know then was that this would later become the blueprint for the launch of ‘Comment is Free’ (Cif), the Guardian and Observer Group’s way of giving their readership a stronger voice  in 2006.
Taking the website’s 7 existing blogs and adding together comment pieces from the two newspapers, Cif was born.

Screengrab of Comment is Free from The Guardian

Comment is Free set-up

It provides a platform for people and not just journalists to write articles on the current affairs of the moment. With a ‘pool of talent,’ some 700 contributors, from politicians, academics, journalists, to the ordinary man-on-the-street cif celebrates both diversity and inclusion, producing 30 new articles a day. It may not be the only newspaper encouraging us to contribute, but it is one of the best.
Comment is Free is much, much more than simply a comment’s page. It is a near perfect vehicle to encourage user generated content. Of course, commenting on articles plays a large part of Cif to foster argument, debate and opinion but the route from occasional contributor to regular writer is clear. The more you comment (and say something useful), the more well known you become on the Cif circuit, the better chance you have of being able to pitch your own ideas and getting accepted to play a more habitual role within the website.

And the incentives?
• As contributors you get to see your work published in a national newspaper.
• You get to call yourself a journalist (should you want to).
• For The Guardian they get to tap into a massive (and free) resource, important when many national newspapers are struggling financially.
• The Guardian gets to keep their reputation as innovative, progressive and community led.
• It’s cool! The sheer amount of people that write for Cif is a testament to just how well respected it has become; Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Shami Chakrabarti and Terry Jones to name but a few.
As media strategist Steve Yelvington said in 2006, “Editors, please listen. If you’re not rethinking your entire content strategy around participative principles, you’re placing your future at risk”.

The critics
Now of course there has been criticism leveled against Cif. When first launched established journalists expressed their distaste at what they saw as citizen journalism taking over. They argued that with Comment is Free contributors could remain anonymous while saying what they liked. Content wise, some see Cif as provocative because comment is moderated, but largely uncensored.

But this is the beauty of the whole concept, that debate is driven by free speech, “As editors we want to have a broad spread of views on the blog and as far as possible try to give bloggers leeway to express themselves as they want” says the site.
It is this commitment to expression that led to those in charge of Cif allowing contributors to become editors for the day, taking over both the commissioning and writing of the whole site for the site’s fourth birthday in 2010.
They say: “Our aim is to host an open-ended space for debate, dispute, argument and agreement in which users are able to comment on everything they read.”
We say: Bravo Guardian. UGC down to a T.

Click here to go to Comment is Free – Frequently Asked Questions

Movember: why it works for UGC

November plays host to Movember, a campaign cooked up by a bunch of Aussies in 2003. The idea is to grow a moustache for a month to raise money for prostrate cancer charities.

Moustaches have enjoyed a trendster renaissance recently – the youtube sensation ‘Being a Dickhead’s Cool’ recommends aspiring East London hipsters should “get a moustache and a low-cut vest”.

A Movember moustache

A Movember moustache

But Movember has also provided a perfect opportunity for media outlets to fill their pages with UGC.

The ‘him’ channel on msn.co.uk has a deep zoom gallery that invites users to upload photos of their moustaches’ progress, or just moustaches in general.

BBC Cornwall have been a bit more rigorous in their approach, a slideshow of developing ‘taches that all seem to be genuinely for the Movember cause.

Upmarket barbers Murdock’s is officially partnered with the campaign – their blog gets customers involved and keeps them coming back.

Across the pond they’re doing it too – in The Edmonton Journal, msn.com’s Today homepageThe ProvinceBest Health magazineLeader-post, the Calgary Herald and Sony Ericsson’s APPtitude lab.

Why is it so good for UGC?

  • Because Movember is a free ride!  It’s a user-led campaign that get as many people involved as possible. Your website or magazine can jump on the back on it and fill pages with photos of moustaches, all the hard work of getting people to actually grow them already done for you.
  • As numbers of photos in the galleries build up, the campaign gathers mo’mentum (haha). And after all, charity is all about sharing.
  • You know your audience. It’s definitely a man thing. Although msn.co.uk’s user profile is 57% female, 43% male, their ‘him’ channel sits alongside ‘cars’, ‘games’ and ‘movies’ channels that pull in a dedicated male audience. You know exactly who you are targeting and if you are a male-focused platform, you can be confident you’ll get a response.
  • It has a responsive audience. It’s young and fun and fashionable, fitting in perfectly with a plugged-in, technology-savvy generation who are happy to share details about their lives online.
  • It’s funny. Nobody really takes moustaches seriously – they’re an ironic gesture that everybody can enjoy. Sharing a photo of yourself with a silly handlebar moustache online shows you are laid-back and approachable – who wouldn’t want to join in with that?
  • It’s relatively easy. The popularity of Movember stems largely from the fact that it raises money without demanding too much from its participants. Not shaving for a month is hardly the same as running a marathon. So users can join the campaign easily, and share it easily, by simply uploading a photo.

The creators of Movember must be very pleased that so many media organisations have decided to trumpet their story. And media organisations must feel rather happy that they’ve got a load of fun content that people want to share filling up their pages.