Customer Generated Media and Forum Policies

I love YouTube…but as a reader of this blog, you already have figured that out.  I’ve been allowing video on the Reel-Time forum for about 4 years now, and each video is generally one of the highest thread views for the day.  In short, everyone stops to check out the videos.

It’s natural; reading about fishing is one thing, but watching someone tie a knot makes it much easier to learn how to do it properly.  The difference between someone writing about an epic battle with a big fish pales in comparison to actually watching them fight the fish on video.

The community has figured this out, and is contributing video at a huge rate.  The problem is that we’ve always had a huge problem policing our “no ads from non-sponsors” policy on the forum.  Let’s face it, good content is good content and I’ll try as hard as I can to bend the rules to keep some content that breaks the rules if I feel it’s something the community needs to see. 

Some of our non-sponsoring contributors are good about how they do it, others are always pushing the envelope.  Some get warnings on a fairly regular basis.  Others have had their heads stuck on pikes as a warning for those who might transgress.

The video revolution has created a huge quandry though:  what do we do with great video content that’s essentially an advertisement for a non-sponsor? Here are my general rules:

  1. I don’t edit video – if it has a link and violates policy, either the user edits it, or it goes elsewhere.
  2. Make sure the community at large is made very aware of the video policy.  Put up a sticky post, and add it to your FAQ, then whenever an offending video is posted, link to it.  Also provide that link in the email notice to the user.
  3. Send an email to the user right away explaining the policy, and noting that adherence to policy is what has made your forum success. Firm but cordial would be the key to good violation notices.
  4. Repeat offenders eventually get voted off the island.  Life is too short to have to tell adults the same thing over and over again.  If I want to explain rules to someone over and over again, I’ll talk with my children.
  5. Provide an easy, immediate and inexpensive means to sponsor your forum.  I have in the past used a special sponsors forum, which uses the vBulletin PayPal integration.  Sponsors purchase a subscription, and it automatically upgrades their user group, giving them the right to add a banner to their signature, a hyperlink, and to have their site url in their video.

The next phase of the Video revolution will see us dealing with the ramifications of YouTube’s revenue sharing model.  I don’t know where that will go, but at some point we’re going to see our top content producers realizing that their content provides great value to our sites, and they will indeed begin to push back, if not entering into direct competition with us.  Check out Pete Blackshaw’s excellent reveiw of the YouTube revenue sharing plan on ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com.

There may indeed be a content revolution underway – call it “Content 2.0” – take a look at http://www.helium.com – they’re set to rock very foundation of how content is generated for sites by applying social networking and ungameable community ratings.  Publishers should be taking a long hard look…and you might also want to have a look at the video of their presentation at Demo 2007 which is available here – five minutes will give you the full gist.

(Disclosure: I have worked with (and consider him a great friend) Jay Cody of Helium in the past, and Paul Kerstein of Helium is close friend of several of my friends.  I was not solicited by Helium for this post.)

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