Saturday, October 4

When User Generated Content Attacks!

Last month United Airlines investors received the hard reminder that people believe everything they read on the Internet. A six year old article about United going bankrupt was accidentally posted to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's website, causing the stock to drop from $12.45 to $3 in 10 minutes. The Internet still has a huge influence on the dissemination of information.

For years the professional news organizations have complained that "amateur" bloggers would cause chaos with their undisciplined and objective posts. But apparently the rise of Journalism 2.0 hasn't been a complete disaster. The number of news organizations opening up their websites to the average Internet user is a growing trend.

First came the addition of user comments to news stories. Then CNN launched an entire site dedicated to video iReports -- basically a YouTube for news. These iReports are promoted and encouraged directly on CNN's homepage and in its news stories. Why have your journalists risk the latest hurricane when the locals are willing to do it for you?

CBS offers similar amateur news reports via its EyeMobile site. ABC has i-CAUGHT. Fox uReport.

For a generation of consumers raised on Web 2.0, this seems like a natural evolution. However, these respected news agencies seem to have quickly forgotten their own warnings. People will post anything they want on the Internet. People believe anything they see on the Internet. The association of your brand with that content, and the implied endorsement it provides, is where things can get really tough.

So it can't be that much of a surprise that a fake iReport posted to CNN Friday whacked Apple with a United Airlines-style roundhouse kick. The report that Steve Jobs suffered a heart attack sank Apple's stock 10% in 10 minutes before it was pulled.

And definitely shouldn't be a shocker that a photoblog service might end up with some NSFW content. (Not Safe For Work for those of you who have never visited Perez Hilton or TMZ.) Risque and downright naked images have been showing up on the CBS Eyemobile site and through its iPhone app. And Google has been serving ads right next to it.

User generated content is the shiny sparkly object right now. Most marketers are standing a few steps back and poking it with a stick, trying to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. Some industries, such as healthcare/pharma, are standing wayyyy back watching the other marketers with binoculars.

Perhaps consumers will become desensitized to the presence of misleading and offensive content, giving brands a break when they step into it. Or perhaps marketers will retreat to more controlled versions, leaving the wild wild west to those who can get away with it.

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