Considerations Before User-Generated Content Heads South

Josh Buxbaum, WebPurify

User generated content (UGC) - from blog comments, to memes to videos - is exactly what it sounds like, content created by users that is shared online. Some industry experts are calling it "marketing currency," where marketing goals are shifting from likes and followers, to triggering/finding UGC. 

While UGC has been beneficial to brands and company websites overall, bringing new visitors and keeping existing visitors engaged, it also brings with it serious potential for brand embarrassment or worse, failure. That's when the marketing team turns to Web professionals to clean up the mess.

An open comment section on a blog or a well-meaning social media campaign can quickly turn ugly with one nasty UGC submission that ges viral online. With 3 billion people around the world expected to be online in 2015, the potential damage of a derailed UGC campaign gone viral is significant.

So, the concept of "content moderation" has evolved to help executives and Web professionals receive only the benefits of UGC, while keeping users and the brand protected. 

Content moderation is the process of scanning UGC for anything that might harm users, the brand or anything that des not align with company goals. While content moderation has made the implementation of UGC less risky for today's social-media savvy companies, marketing teams often treat it as an afterthought or forget it altogether - thus, even giant companies like McDonald's and Google get into trouble.

So, how can website operators ensure their new site or marketing campaign microsite is equipped for content moderation? 

Consider content moderation before building the site.  This is easier said than done, but when possible, consider whether the site will allow UGC, and if so, how much UGC will be received. Reaching out to a professional content moderation company early in the process can provide invaluable insight into potential vulnerabilities and solutions that may not have been considered. They can also help develop a comprehensive moderation plan and provide pricing early on, so website operators don't build something that is too expensive to protect. 

Consider the budget. The Web professional is in a great position to help manage the budget.  Depending on the budget, it may be necessary to sacrifice or limit some of the user experience.  For example, instead of providing open fields for users to type free form text submissions, provide drop down options with pre-selected text responses, decreasing the amount of content that must be reviewed. Specifying the acceptable length of a video submission also helps to keep costs down because a three-minute video takes less time to review than a five-minute video, for example. Other factors that will impact moderation costs include the overall volume of expected submissions, required times for coverage (is 24-hour moderation needed?) and finally how extensive the moderation criteria are. 

Consider whether to build an internal CMS or to use an external API. Some website owners may elect to integrate an outside content moderation company's application programming interface (API) to provide moderation. One advantage to this approach is that the professional moderation team can then utilize their own tools to moderate the content they receive. Alternatively, a website operator may choose to build their own content management system (CMS) and may provide access to a professional moderation team. Each option has benefits and risks, so website owners will need to choose the best option for the brand wisely.

Consider how to let users know their content is inappropriate. If a user submits UGC that des not meet the guidelines of the content moderation plan, how will the user be alerted? Will the content be erased with no notice, or will the user receive an email or other notification?  Will this be automated by the website or internal team - or, if an external content moderation company is reviewing the submissions, what language will the team use to alert the user? 

UGC can be a fun experience for both the website owner and users, but content moderation is key to ensuring the safety of the brand's website and reputation. Ultimately, there's no way to know what type of content will come to a website until the doors are opened. By ensuring that a website is well equipped for content moderation, a brand will be able to remain protected without hindering its users' experience.

Josh Buxbaum is co-founder at WebPurify. Josh also serves on the board of directors for United in Harmony, a nonprofit organization serving underprivileged children. Josh received a B.A. in Radio/Television Communications from The George Washington University.