‘User Generated Content’. A lovely phrase dreamed up by marketing people getting all excited about their website visitors creating fresh new content. This golden content would then propel them to the heights of Google with almost no effort required by them. ‘Building a community’. The Holy Grail of internet marketing.
Not so fast.
While this is a great idea on the surface, the reality is very different. Problems include moderation overhead, spammers and other people out to profit, the clueless and the malicious.
With a site getting any kind of comment volume, be prepared to spend hours of your life deleting spam, stupid comments and other nonsense. WordPress has Akisment, but other CMS’ don’t necessarily have that kind of spam trap. This is another liability on top of the regular software updates and creating decent content for your site, so think carefully.
Spammers and other sociopaths
Any kind of comment form or forum attracts spammers and other sociopathic individuals who think that their product or service is so important you should stop what you are doing and listen to their pitch. A classic form of interruption marketing, third world countries will batter your comment and enquiry forms pedding their wares with laughable offers and terrible grammar.
They often follow up asking why you haven’t responded, cranking up the annoyance factor. Whether automated or manually sent, spam is a tide of crap just waiting to flood your site.
See that link that says “CONTACT US”? No? Why not use a comment form on a blog article to contact us then! Seriously, this happens to my clients a lot. Asking how much something is or some other snippy, vague or ‘best-done-over-email’ question does not belong in the comments section.
As well as people just not understanding how to use their computer/the web/their brains, any short and anonymous ways of contacting people encourage abrupt, ill considered or inflammatory communication. Whether it’s a Facebook wall, text message or comment form, arguments are literally a click away. There is something Psychological about not having to say things to someone’s face that encourages bad behaviour.
It could be cheeky trolling or outright flaming, but a clash of ignorant and emotional messages in a comment section does nobody any favours and just leaves a mess for the website admin to clear up. Certainty seems inversely related to accuracy or relevance, so the only people talking are those looking for a fight or who like the sound of their own voice.
So Where To From Here?
I’d pretty sure we would all like to spend our time reading positive, worthwhile and considered things instead of sifting through user generated nonsense. Bearing in mind most people have very little to say that is important, positive or noteworthy (me included), maybe we should just not give people the chance to contribute. There are some Psychological techniques that can help.
At the very least, a strict moderation policy is needed. Weighing the possible business benefits of ‘engaging a community in conversation’ against the time needed and soul destroying nature of the job, it might be better to just focus on business and leave the grunting horde safely outside the gates.