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CNN, ABC (US and AUS) and others herald new era in user engagement

Following the lead of CNN’s iReport, and the announcement of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation big steps into UGC, a number of news organizations are testing YouTube’s new service, YouTube Direct.

Although looking quite clunky in early implementations (see pictures below), the YouTube Direct program is an open source program which allows any organization to editorially manage video submissions from anyone – effectively creating a platform for “citizen journalism” (at least for video content).  It is quite obvious that having user submissions be a part of the offering is becoming nearly a requirement for news organizations and the like. Users want to engage, and they want to be part of the brand experience. Whether driven by the “15 minutes of fame” or simply feeling they can influence what gets reported on, it creates a stronger bond between traditional consumers by turning them into contributors.

CNN’s iReport has been around for a while and seem to have taken off with their iPhone app being the top paid news app in iTunes.  MySpace’s uReport seem to have disappeared. CBS’s Eye Mobile seem to be off to a stumbling start, with only a handful of submissions per day.  So what are some of the keys to success to getting these services off the ground? Here are a few:

1) Complete mobile integration. This is a key component for users to start contributing. If you took a look at iReport before the iPhone app was launched, you would have seen very little content coming in.  Also, limiting your mobile experience to the iPhone is a mistake. You should cover not only smartphones, but also feature phones through a wap site or J2ME app. Ubiquitous mobile coverage will ensure that no users are shut out and that you get true engagement across demographics.
2) Provide a solid revenue model.  While increased engagement surely increases brand loyalty, the initiative needs to generate increased revenue or is sure to be relegated to the basement of any organizations digital initiative. CNN has put a lot of display advertising into their application, which is a tried and trusted model. However, due to the social nature of these types of services, having a revenue initiative that is built on engagement will provide a new more effective source of revenue for a media organization.

3) Be true cross-platform.  Having mobile device access is not enough. You also need to ensure that any content which gets created gets spread across social networks.  You need to provide a reason for creators to involve their friends to at least read their story, thereby hopefully drawing traffic to your brand. Most services today use simple sharing buttons at the end of the article – however, this is sharing post creation.  Ideally, the creator should be able to share and involve friends at the point of creation – and those friends should be allowed to participate on the platform of their choice.

4) Provide incentives. Everyone (well, nearly everyone) wants to be famous. By putting the CNN logo on content used on iReport, and by having a weekly iReport show on TV, CNN appeals to the wannabe journalist in their viewers.  No doubt other incentives can be used and can perhaps be even more effective, especially if done in conjunction with brands and sponsors.

YouTube Direct provides a cheap and simple way for companies to try out creating these services, but to get the components right requires significant investments.  Using YouTube Direct also has another implication: YouTube is the one who makes the money, gets the data, and essentially owns the content.  Brands have to be confined to YouTube’s strict terms for commercialization – which for a lot of brand will probably not make much sense at least in the long term.

Brands looking to create engagement solutions and involve their readers/viewers/fans to create content and involve their friends in a compelling way – while making money at it, should take a look at Storyz LiVE.  Storyz LiVE contains all the key components for building a successful UGC service today – which ensures your company does not need to make the substantial investments required to build such a service.

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