Romney Learns About The Pitfalls Of User-Generated Content
from the setting-america-straight dept
In late August, the Romney presidential campaign unveiled a create-your-own-ad contest that gave Mitt Romney supporters the opportunity to create a television ad that the campaign would air in New Hampshire. Well, the winner was announced last week. Unfortunately for the Romney campaign, Bruce Reed, a Democratic strategist turned blogger, submitted his own entry, a hilarious video making fun of Romney. At one point Reed's video had more page views than all the official finalists put together. As a result, the contest wound up mostly giving Romney's critics an opportunity to make fun of him.It's a problem that often crops up when people try to mix the top-down structure of a campaign or a company with the bottom-up ethos of user-generated content. Often, the users don't generate the kind of content you were expecting. Romney's experience demonstrates a couple of important points about the challenges of harnessing user-generated content that we can glean from the open source world. One lesson is that it's a bad idea to pin all your hopes on one big product release. Open source projects have found that it makes more sense to release stuff as it's ready, rather than trying to commit to finishing particular features by a particular date. By the same token, instead of promising to spend tens of thousands of dollars airing a single winning ad, Romney could have made it a weekly contest, with a small cash prize to each week's winner. That probably would have generated just as many entries, created more enthusiasm, and made it a less juicy target for the pranksters of the world. If someone made a really good ad, they could still run it on TV if they wanted to, but they wouldn't be forced spend a lot of money airing an ad that wasn't very good. It would also allow them to
have a sense of humor about critical ads
instead of trying to block them all from the site.
A more fundamental point, which also comes from the open source world, is that good user generated content is almost always the product of an enthusiastic and cohesive online community. Every significant open source project has a tight-knit community of developers, and Wikipedia is run by several hundred volunteer editors. User-generated commercials are no different. The more people there are creating videos, commenting and voting on other peoples' videos, and policing potential vandalism, the more likely the contest will turn out to be a success. Of course, a community of enthusiastic supporters has uses far beyond producing free TV ads. That's why it's silly to do user-generating content as a one-time, high-profile event. Not only is such an effort less likely to succeed on its own terms, but it also misses the opportunity to harness the interest the contest generates into building longer-term relationships. If people participate in a contest and then never come back to the site, that's a huge missed opportunity. Of course, none of this is unique to candidates; the same principles apply to companies: user generated commercials can work brilliantly for companies, but they're best seen as an integral part of a continuing relationship with your most enthusiastic online customers, not as a one-off publicity stunt.