The emergence of Web 2.0 not only changes human communication forms, but also contributes to active participation of Internet users. Thanks to the birth of Web 2.0, social media arises in our Internet world that enables users to communicate with each other on various media platforms such as Social Networking Sites (SNSs). In Social Networking sites, people become active users who are able participating in discussion and forums (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). Hinton and Hjorth (2013) point out that user created content (UCC), followed by social media, is different forms of messages including texts, pictures voices and videos created by users. Also, user generated content (UGC), which refers to sharing other’s messages, shows that people are more engaging with other users (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). In this essay, I will be exploring, the idea of “users as producers” (Hinton and Hjorth 2013, pp. 57), the conception of user created content and the influence of user created content in marketing media as well as social impacts.
“Users as produsers” – a more participatory form of media
Hinton and Hjorth (2013) state that online media allows users to be participants instead of passive audiences since two-way communication dominates on Internet world. Basically, two forms of participation can be found on online media platforms. The first one is responding to mainstream media by commenting on news store or reader-to-editor forum. The second one is the concept of “users as producers” (Hinton and Hjorth 2013, pp. 57-58). In this sense, audiences are able to express ideas and thoughts, create own stories as well as generate significant information. For example, Facebook users can share their daily life experiences by posting photos and captions. There are more and more similar platforms occur where people can disseminate information to peers, family members, lovers, friends and even strangers. The phrase of “participatory web”, which refers to creativity and communication being generated by audiences, is widely used in the academic field (OECD 2007, pp. 17).
User-created content (UCC) – one-way communication no longer dominates in media
Before exploring the effects of UCC, it is essential to give a definition of the term. Generally, OECD (2007) assets that user created content is a crucial part of participative web that contains multiple entities of creativity and communication generated by Internet users. Hinton and Hjorth (2013) share the same view on this point that users desire content to be read, listened or watched by others. An academic research defines three features of user created content including “publication requirement, creative effort and creation outside of professional routines and practices” (OECD 2007, pp. 18). Fundamentally, content created by users is supposed to be published on public or private media platforms, such as Social Networking sites (SNSs). Also, UCC contains the ideas or thoughts of users that can be seen as form of creativity. For instance, user posts a song which is created by himself/ herself in order to express some kind of meanings to others. A music video which is constructed of a pop music sang by Internet user can also be seen as UCC since people intend to present something new. Moreover, it is not created by professionals who have acquired skills in media field. That is, content is not generated because of profit driving.
Crucially, some scholars claim that social networking sites may not be used if no one is creating message and communicating on the sites (Burgess 2007; Mork Petersen 2008, cited in Hinton and Hjorth 2003, pp. 60). Although private conversation is always considered as bound of off-line relationship, it is important to note that some kind of conversation might generate significant interests between a group of people who share same values (Hinton and Hjorth 2003). In this sense, UCC is not only creation or communication developed by users, but also an unalienable element of social media. Imagine that if we are all not able to say or write something on these platforms, would you still use them in daily life?
User created content being used as profit-driving tool
User created content is a participatory form of communication that shows our connection with others on various platforms and SNSs. However, it is increasingly used by organisations or enterprises as a profit-driving strategy on promoting products or services. In the business world, OECD (2007) explains that many brands start employing UCC to attract audience’s attention. Advertisements become more convincing while company combines ideas and UCC into a marketing plan. For example, artists use UCC to gain celebrity and likes. Companies encourage customers to create content for earning prizes. Customer opinions and feedback is also gathered and collected by UCC available online.
In 2015, Microsoft Lumia launched a social media campagin called Make it Happen. The company encouraged users and customers share their own stories and make it to videos. Competitors submitted their UCC works and gained opportunities to win Luxim devices.
Many similar UCC campaigns are launched by different brands and companies in order to attract potential customers. increase popularity, gaining user supports and thus generating profits. Hashtag is usually come with slogan of the campaign that makes users easily to search it on the Internet.
User created content brings social impacts especially on politics
Hinton and Hjorth (2013) explain the idea of citizen journalism which is seen as provocative form of communication generated by users. It means that everyone is journalist even they have not learnt any professional knowledge on media areas. The idea is simple: we can use mobile to record whatever we want to put on online media platforms or write down what we have observed and noticed on blog or SNSs. Crucially, UCC is a kind of democratic product of public ideas (OECD, 2007, pp. 64). Those ideas are used for political campaigns or non-profit goals campaigns. Here is a prominent example of human right campaign which is successful.
The #LoveMustWin campaign is created by a non-profit organisation called Freedom to Marry. The organisation encourages users to post and share different kind of UCC including art, song, selfies, video with hashtag #LoveMustWin. By using people voices, the campaign achieved 54,134 total uses of the hashtag. It can be seen as an emotional way to influence audiences’ opinions since users are asked to share their view on marriage equality.
The #savehkstudents campaign
During this semester, I have been managing the #savehkstudents campaign on three platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. User created content is one of the main idea for gaining more supporters and arising awareness on issue of student suicide. Individual stories of students are created and shared on SNSs with #savehkstudents hashtag. Although news stories made by mainstream media are shared on the SNSs, it is crucial to note that users are able to comment and share ideas on the sites. Apart from UCC, user generated content is also used for gaining public attention. In my campaign, some Twitter users start following and commenting on the page because I share their posts which are related to student suicide issue in Hong Kong in my own page. Both UCC and UGC content are important to attract target audiences as well as connect students who share same values and feelings on particular issue such as study workload or family pressures.
How UCC will be developed in near future?
UCC has been employed in different kind of media campaign that brings influences on economic, cultural, social and even politics aspects. Although many examples illustrate the impacts of UCC, cultural impacts related to UCC are still not well developed in the field except the arts forms. Rather concentrating on marketing values contributed by UCC, further researches on how UCC influences cultural values will be an interesting topic.
Hinton, S. & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media. London: SAGE.
OECD (2007). Participative Web and User-created Content: Web 2.0, Wikis and Social Networking Retrieved April 21, 2016, from www.oecd.org/publishing/corrigenda