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.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: mitt romney, user generated content

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    nonuser, 2 Oct 2007 @ 8:25pm

    Re: Romney

    Romney is good at making speeches, especially to express outrage on behalf of his fellow voters, even when he bears some responsibility for the problem. The way he handled the Larry Craig incident was a good example - Craig was his Senate campaign chief and presumably was a top campaign aide and confidant, but you never would've known it the way Romney threw him under the bus on TV. He did the same thing as governor of Mass. when a woman was killed while driving through a tunnel because of shoddy construction work performed by Big Dig contractors. He expressed the outrage of the citizenry very well, but I don't recall him admitting that perhaps his administration should have been on the ball checking and double checking the inspections that turned out to have been botched.

    The "straight talk" about Republicans needing to stop spending like Democrats is a recycling of what we heard in the Congressional elections last fall. Several Republican candidates who were on the bubble used variations of that line, but I can't remember whom. Some of the party leadership made similar remarks after the results were in.

    When Romney was governor (I live in Mass.) I thought he was doing a good job, but as far as all the great things he did for us, well... it's hard to think of any. Personally I was hoping he would take on the unions but he probably saw that that would come back to bite him when he ran for President. We see this type of career calculation in the front runner on the Democratic side as well.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.