5 best practices for user-generated content

The AP’s Eric Carvin, Pro Publica’s Amanda Zamora and CNN iReport’s Katie Hawkins-Gaar pulled together some excellent advice for anyone hoping to do a better job with content contributed by the audience.  In true UGC style, they crowdsourced many of the best ideas from the journalism community at large. Here are the Top 5 pieces of advice from their session at the Online News Association conference in Atlanta.

1.  Job one is to get it right.  Josh Stearns is a so-called verification junkie and he’s curated some concrete tools and apps for fact-checking social media on his blog. Another good suggestion from the New York Times’ Jennifer Preston is a reminder that Twitter’s advanced search lets you narrow tweets by geography and other parameters that can help you vet the content.

2.  Build a community first.  Jareen Imam from CNN’s iReport says it helps to create relationships with communities before you need them.  It’s also important to think about the way you ask for contributions.  Especially when you’re dealing with people following a traumatic event, don’t just say “Hey, folks, give us stuff” — instead you might try, “We want to hear your stories and give you a platform to express your view.”

3.  Reward contributors.  News organizations have to make it worth the audience’s effort.  Instead of rewarding people with money, you create a way to say thank you, by showing the participants what their contributions led to.  For example, NPR created an app that pinpointed accessible playgrounds for children with disabilities, and built into the app was a way for the public to identify more playgrounds and to share photos and other valuable information with those most interested in the issue.

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 8.52.21 PM4.  Know what you’re asking.  Before you ask contributors to send in a specific type of content, try it yourself — you’ll figure out what actually works and what doesn’t.  CNN’s Dorinne Mendoza says they’ve also found that the more boundaries you set and the more specific you can get about what you want, the more creativity you’ll get from the audience.  For example, iReport’s “Hurricane Katrina Then and Now” required a lot more effort than they first thought, since the the photographer had to “line up the old photo with the present-day view, linking the past and present in one frame.” The very strict guidelines led to a more powerful project.

5.  Tap into people’s passions.  PBS received more than 1,000 responses when they asked Phish fans to share their reasons for investing in the music.   Steve Buttry from Digital First Media also suggests that news organizations “prime the pump” — especially for “the albatross of annual stories” such as Mother’s Day or Halloween when you could just simply let people tell their own stories.