Archives for category: Chapter 10: UGC

From feverbee on planning communities:

“They should apply Ramit’s two-qualifier rule . A community for shoelovers {qualifier 1} who who … {qualifier 2}

“This ‘qualifier 2’ should be either a demographic qualifier (young shoelovers, old shoelovers, shoelovers in San Francisco, budget-shoeshoppers etc…), a habit qualifier (who who love to go clubbing, who are shopaholics) or a psychographic qualifier (who believe in recyled materials, who hate shopping malls, are
introverts etc…).”


Pages 145-146 of the Online Journalism Handbook talk about the differences between online and offline audiences, and the need to remain aware that contributors to social media platforms, while providing valuable extra voices, do not represent all possible voices.

Dr David Brake’s presentation on “UGC and Digital Divides” provides further illustration of this point, particularly when it comes to accessing information posted in countries with low internet penetration (note: those statistics will continue to change as internet penetration and social media use develops in all countries). See also my comments at the bottom of the presentation.

Regional journalist Alison Gow makes a case for why journalists should be using Twitter and other social networks routinely for newsgathering, by comparing them to the Births, Marriages and Deaths columns that reporters routinely scour for leads:

“Twitter, Facebook and other social networks [are] the new BMDs – people take to them to announce major events in their lives, from livetweeting a birth to a Facebook status update announcing the death of a loved one – and in the same way those announcements, public notices and classifieds were seen as essential reading by everyone in a newsroom, Twitter should be as well.

“Lives are recorded on YouTube videos and sometimes they go on to become stories in their own right; when Seesmic offered video threads I used to talk to a fellow poster, who lived in America and who had cystic fibrosis. Two days after our last contact, I learned of his death via Twitter. I’ve seen the passing anniversaries of his death being marked by tweets from others as well.

“Lots of people post announcements of a very personal nature, from new jobs to lost jobs, engagements to separations, and they do it online, via blogs, forums, social networks, photo-sharing sites…

“It’s a rich vein of information and you don’t even necessarily need to be an enthusiastic user of Twitter to exploit it.

“Twitter Lists are brilliant for sources, as are the social ranking sites like Peer Index  (I’m less sure about the ranking usefulness of such sites than I am their ability to list topic or geographic interestingness). Geographic Twitter searches, sites such as Monniter and Twibesare just some tools that can help.

“If you didn’t read the BMDs and announcements it didn’t mean you were a poor journalist, just one who wasn’t exploiting your sources to the full potential. Same goes for social networks now – you are missing out, even if you don’t know it.”

World's largest photo libraries

The book’s section on user generated pictures focuses largely on Flickr. However, Facebook’s enormous role is worth mentioning. The chart above, viaSilicon Insider, illustrates just how much the social network dominates image-sharing:

“Facebook is hosting 4% of all photos ever taken, according to 1000memories. It estimates 3.5 trillion photos have been taken through history.”

Bas Timmers (see last post) also recommends a book to be added on the reading list around community management: The Art of Community by Jono Bacon. Done.

Q: How do you define UGC? 
User-generated content for BBC News encompasses any audience-based journalism or interaction we facilitate between our viewers, listeners and users and our various programmes and services.

Increasingly, it also reflects our engagement with the public via external social networks, and where appropriate, our sourcing of stories and content which people have already published on the wider web themselves as well as sending directly to us.

Q: What value does it add? 
It helps our newsgathering – finding out information direct from the scene of a breaking story before we can get reporters or crews there, or opening our eyes to different takes or updates on a developing or ongoing story.

It enriches our journalism, providing compelling human interest angles and true perspective on the stories and issues we are covering.

And it deepens our engagement with our audience, so they hopefully feel a more direct connection with BBC News, appreciate we are listening to them and reflecting the news that they want us to cover.

Q: What do the editors of the BBC’s UGC team look for? 

We look for people directly involved in the breaking or important stories of the day, as well as personal anecdotes or opinion on the wider issues in the news agenda that would help others understand the impact and context of any particular story.

We’re keen for people’s comments and may record our interviews with them or offer them up, with their permission, as guests for TV or radio programmes across our domestic and global output.

We also look for photos and videos that the audience have sent us or posted themselves that we may feel are appropriate for us to use or publish ourselves online.

Q: What should journalists be wary of? 
Journalists need to appreciate that working with UGC and directly with your audience can sometimes be labour-intensive and take time to do properly.

That’s because it’s important to authenticate and verify any content you are looking to use – especially if working with photos or video.

It’s also crucial to speak to those involved to corroborate what they have said or to get their permission to either use their material and potentially use them live on your own services.

Equally, you always need to be mindful – as we are in BBC News – about not encouraging your audience to put themselves in danger or take any undue risk in anything they are doing with a view to them contributing content or comment to you in some way, especially around certain types of stories.

Q: What’s the future for UGC?
UGC is vital for keeping BBC News relevant and in touch with its audience, not least to keep us thinking about how they can continue to help us improve our newsgathering and story-telling.

Our audience will continue to publish and share more of their stories and content themselves, so in BBC News, we need to make sure we are still able to get that content directly into us where appropriate while also increasingly monitoring and interacting with our audience in the spaces and communities where they already are.

In doing this however, social media can also, where appropriate, provide new environments within which we can distribute our best content, so that our audience can appreciate and interact with our journalists and journalism in these new networks as well as via the more traditional TV, radio and online platforms.

For more advice on verification and online hoaxes, see Content, context and code: verifying information online.

It is worth noting that the world’s biggest photo-sharing website is actually a social network: Facebook. In his history of the site, The Facebook Effect (2010), David Kirkpatrick describes how the photo-sharing feature was adopted by users:

“For every screenful of shots of girls there were only a few photos of guys. Girls were celebrating their friendships … Ordinary photos had become, in effect, more articulate. They conveyed a casual message. When it was tagged, a photo on Facebook expressed and elaborated on your friend relationships. “Pretty quickly we learned people were sharing these photos to basically say, ‘I consider these people part of my life, and I want to show everyone I’m close to them,'” says Sittig. Now there were two ways on Facebook to demonstrate how popular you were: how many friends you had, and how many times you had been tagged in photos … In Facebook, photos where no longer little amateur works of art, but rather a basic form of communication … A month after it had launched, 85 percent of the service’s users had been tagged in at least one photo.”

Page 153 mentions video conversation services, giving Seesmic as an example. has now closed, however (the sister service for managing social media accounts,, continues). For an alternative, try VYou.

Research by Marina Vujnovic (in Singer et al, 2011) identifies a tendency among journalists to talk of UGC in economic terms, as having three benefits: building brand loyalty, boosting website traffic and remaining competitive.

“In framing the value of participation at least partly in economic terms, our interviewees draw user contributions into the sphere of commodity culture that also includes information produced within the newsroom” (p143)

Singer et al (2011) Participatory Journalism, Wiley & Sons