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User-generated Content and the Fear of Losing Control: Lessons from “In the Motherhood”?

April 7, 2009

picture-1User-generated content is a cornerstone of social media. And “UGC” is changing the way we look at media. The very idea of user-generated content often strikes fear into the hearts of many nonprofit advocacy organizations simply because of the supposed loss of control. But it seems that nonprofits are not the only ones with this concern.

Just in case you forgot what TV is, a new show on ABC “In the Motherhood” has shed new light on the tension around user-generated content. It’s also caused some interesting comparisons between between the Web video world and the traditional television industry. Brian Stetler of the New York Times discussed this difference in an interesting article on the series here.

If you haven’t heard of the series, it was originally started as an ad campaign where mothers were invited to send in funny personal stories that could be incorporated into the web series. But when the series moved to ABC Television, it ran afoul of the writers’ union agreements. Turns out that viewers are still invited to send in their stories: there’s just no promise that they’ll be used in any way. But the latest news is that ABC is not ordering any new episodes and may not bode well for the series.

For me, this is an interesting story about New and Old media colliding. In the case of “In the Motherhood”, something about the original conceptpicture-3 made the content interesting and new. But when folks tried to retool it for television and dealt with the realities of producing something in a broadcast medium, something was lost.

For nonprofits, there may be a lesson here. User-generated content is a new and vibrant way to interact with constituents and donors. But it may also change the way you do business… in a good way. After all, aren’t nonprofts accountable to the public, either through their boards or membership? User-generated content should be seen as fostering leadership development; getting members of the public to think through and create something of use to your organization.

Of course, there are still issues about what members of the public possess the technological tools necessary to create user-generated content about the issue you work on (i.e. the “Digital Divide“). This is a real and persistant concern. But if nonprofits could begin small experiments is creating content WITH constituents offline (i.e. video), imagine what this transfusion might mean to our work!

What do you think? Know of any examples where user-generated content augmented (or even compromised) the advocacy of a nonprofit organization?

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