JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

Find the full study report at here.

In late 2013, the Center for Information-Development Management (CIDM) conducted a survey of the solicitation, management, and incorporation of technical content developed by customers. User-generated content has become increasingly important to corporations who want to take advantage of the knowledge that customers have about their products, particularly knowledge accumulated from actual field implementations. They believe that user-generated content will be beneficial to the entire customer base, as well as the internal product and information developers. However, organizations understand that pursuing user-generated content is difficult and complex:

  • many customers are reluctant to devote time and energy to contributing content to the organizations from whom they purchase products
  • customers may already be contributing content in places that are not readily monitored by the internal information developers
  • customer content may not provide the best methods for solving a problem or using the product or may contain errors
  • information developers may lack scheduled time to monitor user information contributions
  • information developers do not know what methods or avenues might be best to encourage high quality content from customers

Forty-two individuals took part in the CIDM study, including individual interviews with selected survey respondents. Although the small number of participants reveals that soliciting user-generated content is still an emerging activity, the rich information that the study revealed provides best practices for managers thinking about starting an initiative.

Through the study, we learned much about

  • how companies are incorporating user-generated content into their information-development environment
  • what tools/applications/websites are currently being used by organizations to solicit and receive user-generated content and incorporate it into their information-development processes
  • what impediments exist and how they are being addressed
  • what motivates customers to participate in user-generated content initiatives for the companies whose products they use
  • what best practices have emerged that may be emulated by others

Survey Findings

In this summary of Findings, we present the key points that the survey revealed.

Participating organizations and companies
The forty-two participating organizations in the user-generated content (UGC) survey represent a strong cross-section of industries, corporate sizes, and business goals. The top four industries represented were enterprise software (63%), consumer software, (24%) telecommunications (21%), and enterprise hardware (18%). Respondents represented both major enterprises and small companies.

Figure 1. Industries participating in the study

Nearly one-third of the respondents have an active program to solicit content from product user. Nearly 50% are researching the possibility of a program. Interestingly, 5% of respondents indicated that they had tried to implement a user-generated content program but it did not produce the results that they had hoped for. These responses suggest that UGC is in the early adopter phase of implementation.

Participation rates and reasons for soliciting user-generated content
Ninety-five percent of the organizations with an existing user-generated content (UGC) program indicated that they implemented their programs because they believe that many technical questions can be answered more quickly and accurately if customers participated in the process. Building customer loyalty and developing more up-to-date and accurate content were also cited as important reasons for soliciting user-generated content. Notably, cost savings was the least important factor.

Figure 2. Reasons for soliciting user-generated content

The stated reasons for companies not to have a user-generated content program are also telling. Over two-thirds indicated that they either did not have the resources needed to monitor and incorporate user content into technical materials or they did not have a technical mechanism to do so. Note that money is the least important factor in deciding to implement a UGC program, a pattern is reinforced in the responses to other questions. Finding appropriate software may overcome some of these obstacles, particularly since money appears not to be an obstacle.

Figure 3. Reasons for not soliciting user-generated content

Methods for soliciting user-generated content
The organizations in the survey use a variety of resources to gather user-generated content, often centered around the corporate website and the help site or wiki to which the technical content is published. Twenty-three of 29 organizations that are capturing UGC use multiple mechanisms. One-third of respondents also solicit video content from users, which is consistent with contemporary social media practices (e.g. using Vine and YouTube) and may suggest a technically astute user base. However, the majority of content contributed is instructional text and recommendations.

Figure 4. Methods of soliciting UGC

User participation rate is cited as a challenge to gathering UGC and emphasized in the response to question #10 below, which clearly indicates that fewer than 10% of users actively participate. Eighty-six percent of respondents reported fewer than 2% of customers contribute content. However, it is reasonably consistent with the well-known 90-9-1 rule, which postulates that 90% of users on collaborative sites are “lurkers” (non-contributors), 9% of users edit existing content, and 1% actively contribute new content. An active community is an important measure of a social sites’ success but a majority of technical content users are there to read, understand, or find an answer.

Figure 5. Percentage of customers contributing content

Customer motivation to participate
Customers appear to be motivated by altruism or self-interest. Fully a third of the respondents report that customers look for recognition as experts among their peers and among the product developers. Twenty-three percent want to help build a user community that is active in exchanging information. Another 23% hope their contributions will give them special access to the documentation team, or perhaps to the product developers themselves.

A little more than 20% of the respondents report that their UGC sites have a rating system with ratings provided either by the company or by peers. Another small percentage provide monetary rewards or recognition such as Most Valuable Contributor. However, the majority (78%) provide neither rewards nor recognition.

Social media use
Social media plays a part in gathering UGC but is not the most important resource, according to the survey. Thirty organizations identified the social media sites and applications they use to receive technical information from customers. Only 20% of them actively gather content from well-known public tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Feedback and content gathered directly from wikis and community help sites were both more common and considered more useful by the organizations. Email from users was the most widely used, and the second best, resource.

Methods used to review and edit user-generated content
The majority, or 53%, of respondents reported that they incorporate user-generated content into their technical publications. The biggest challenge was generating sufficient interest for continued contributions and ensuring the technical accuracy of the content, although slightly less than half of the responding organizations asked their information developers to monitor user contributions. A follow-up question in the social media study confirmed that few organizations ask their engineers or subject matter experts to monitor user content. Once UGC is collected, a majority of companies conduct a technical review of the content and many perform a substantial edit as part of their internal workflow.

Mitigating spam is not considered a challenge, perhaps due to the nature of the resources used to gather content. Help sites and corporate wikis often require a valid user login and actively monitor user etiquette. Moderating user comments and content is a notable current trend on the Internet, particularly on magazine and news sites.

Methods to measure program effectiveness
Customer satisfaction with technical content is the preferred mechanism for measuring the effectiveness of efforts by 43% of respondents. Increasing brand promotion among potential customers (21%), increasing traffic to the social networks (21%) and reducing the number and cost of support calls (14%) are additional sources of data about the success of programs. Customer happiness with good content is, of course, an important motivator for any content-development effort.

Figure 6. Methods of measuring effectiveness of a UGC initiative

For more details about the findings of the study and our recommendations if you choose to embark on a project to encourage users to contribute content, see the full report on the CIDM User-generated Content Study at on the CIDM website.