The rise of social media has given a new spin to the term user generated content, but the concept itself isn’t new. User generated content is generally defined as content created by unpaid contributors that expresses an opinion, shares an experience, or endorses a product or service. Companies have been using user generated content from the 18th century, back then in the form of ‘letters to the editor’ published in newspapers. The biggest difference with today is that a larger amount of content is uncurated at the moment of publishing, something that we’re still learning how to deal with.

Everyone remembers the impact of Frank Zapruder filming the assassination of John F. Kennedy or George Holliday filming the beating of Rodney King. These were videos generated outside of the normal newscast teams, and today it has almost become the norm. The tsunami in Thailand in 2004 and the London bombings in 2005 started the craze for user generated content in the media, and understandably so. Without user generated content, news organizations couldn’t cover the amount of stories that they’re covering today. It was however only a matter of time before people found the desire to bypass these news organizations and get content straight to other individuals

In the hunt for followers on the various social media channels, people are going further and further to create content, or find it out in the open, sometimes taking it way too far. In April 2017 Steve Stephens uploaded 57 seconds of film to Facebook where he murders someone in cold blood on camera. Facebook removed the video shortly after, but not before it went viral across a number of channels. And it’s not only Facebook that has this issue. In 2015 news site Bloomberg, tech news site The Verge, and Vice removed the ability to comment on their articles. The latter actually replaced it with a weekly ‘letters to the editor’ section. So is the solution to curate everything before it goes online?

According to Hemanshu Nigam, founder of the security advisory firm SSP Blue, there is an army of over 100,000 content moderators that scrub social media and cloud storage sites. They however often still rely on users of the social media platforms flagging content as offensive, so the problem of curation doesn’t completely go away. Cue Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Now I’m not saying that AI will replace the need for human curation. It could however help assist in the fight to keep the content on our social media outlets friendly for all users. Even something as simple as voice recognition could have helped flag the Stephens video as high priority for the moderation team by analyzing both his words and his emotions. Technology like this is actually already being implemented as a part of the voice recognition software in our solution for call centres, Odigo. Combining the power of AI and a good governance system could have helped them remove it in minutes, rather than the roughly two hours it took them to take it down because of the reliance on user based flagging.

So why should we care about user generated content at all? Well, for marketers it is a key part of the marketing process, especially when budget restrictions are in place. Those hashtags at an industry event, product sweepstakes, and design challenges are something that we’re used to in our daily lives. More recent is the product placement by video bloggers on platforms such as YouTube or Twitch. New ways of harnessing user generated content are popping up regularly, and the income streams that come with it are continuing to grow as digital channels diversify.

User generated content won’t go away. Just remember to curate the content if you want to harness the power of it. This will go a long way in preventing the possible business risk that is attached to it.