User-generated content: pros vs. average joes
Remember in 2006 when Time Magazine named "You" as the Person of the Year? This was perhaps the tipping point for the phenomenon known as user–generated content. "You" earned this honor:
for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game.
Nobody talks about user-generated content much anymore, maybe because of how ubiquitous it's become. A search for "most popular websites" brings back the usual suspects: social networking (Facebook and Twitter), publishing (Blogger and WordPress), as well as YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr, Craigslist – all powered by user uploads and comments.
Maybe it began when Amazon started taking comments. Or maybe it goes back to the dawn of... reality television? Bear with me. Because what is user-generated content, if not audience participation? And in the years preceding the Time article, TV executives realized that they could lower their production costs, without the risk of Seinfeld-ian salary demands, with user-generated character development and drama.
But if reality TV teaches us anything, it's that the pros haven't really been beaten at their own game. They adapt. From B-listers on VH1 recapturing lost glories, to pop singers making guest appearances on American Idol, to Donald Trump himself, television still runs on star power.
And so it is with the digital world. The outdated notion of a blogger sitting in pajamas in the basement has been replaced by Huffington Post and The Atlantic. Ashton Kutcher has led a celebrity stampede on Twitter. And as Mark points out, the pros are making their way onto Facebook as well.
What are the implications of this? The fact is that "You" still control your brand's destiny on the Web. Don't concede the space to users, whether in pajamas or not. Adapt. Be a pro.