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Comprehensive study of user-generated content at the BBC

by Robin Hamman

Returning to more familiar territory following last week’s Eurasian Media Conference in Kazakhstan – more on that coming soon – today I’m at an event organised by the BBC, my former employer, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) with my new colleague Anne-Mette Jensen.

BBC Future Media and Technology’s Head of Research and Development, Matthew Postgate, kicked off the event by noting that the BBC is shifting it’s emphasis from programme making to experience creation – it’s “all about creating media experiences, not just consuming pieces of content.” Working with the AHRC has helped the BBC to better understand how well it’s current activities are doing this, leading to improvements in the future.

In Autumn 2007, the BBC/AHRC partnership selected eight projects to go forward. I was, along with Liz Howell and Robin Morley, the primary BBC sponsor for the largest of those projects, the most comprehensive study ever undertaken of User-Generated Content and it’s Impact upon Contributors, Non-Contributors and the BBC.

Claire Wardle from the Department of Journalism at Cardiff University, who completed the ground-breaking research along with colleague Andy Williams, is now giving a presentation on the ground-breaking research which consisted of:

  • 10 weeks in BBC newsrooms
  • 115 journalists
  • 12 senior managers
  • content analysis
  • MORI poll
  • online survey
  • 12 focus groups

The access we were able to provide the researchers with was exceptional – no previous researcher or research group had been given such an opportunity, at least not in so far as any of us was ever aware. The main findings of the research were that:

  • There are 5 main types of “UGC” and they fulfill 6 different roles within the BBC
  • Journalists and audiences display markedly different attitudes towards the five types
  • Technology is changing the volume, ease and speed of gathering news material and sources, but traditional journalism practices still important
  • “UGC” at the local level is particularly interesting
  • Overall there is support from the audience for the ways in which the BBC has been using “UGC”
  • Specific calls to action are most useful for news gathering and when eliciting high-quality relevant comment
  • only a small, select group of people submit “UGC”
  • UGC should never be treated as representative
  • significant barriers to participation: digital divide, social economic background, lack of impetus, and – most interesting for me – negative perceptions held by general audience of contributors
  • contributors want a real world impact for the contributions – eg. “If it was going to be read by Gordon Brown, then of course I’d submit it…”

The study also identified a typology of audience material:

  • audience content
  • audience comments
  • collaborative content
  • networked journalism
  • non-news content (“photos of snowmen”)

The majority of respondents to the MORI poll commissioned had favourable views of user generated content and thought it played a positive roll in reporting yet few have actually contributed.

One of the questions was whether people would take a photo if they saw a fire break out – just 14% said they would, and just 6% of those said they’d send it to a news organisation. Great differences were seen across classes – 16% of higher management would take a photo, with all saying they’d submit it to a news organisation, but in other groups (middle-management to manual laborers) only between 4 – 5% would take a photo.

There’s lots of other interesting findings in the full-version of the study which, so far as I’m aware, hasn’t yet been published publicly although it’s my hope that it will be made available soon.

Everyone who works at Headshift shares a passion not just for social media, but for building on our expertise by conducting our own research and evaluation of current and future trends – which is why we love to attend conferences and events such as this one – but that, of course, isn’t all we do. The services of the Social Media Team at Headshift include providing senior level briefings, consultations, workshops and training events for a growing number of broadcast and print media organisations. We’ve also designed, developed and implemented solutions for the BBC (Every Square Mile [Beta]; BBC Blogs), Channel Four (Medicine Chest), Sky (One&Other) and several print media organisations. Get in touch to learn how our experience can help you…

2 Responses to Comprehensive study of user-generated content at the BBC

  1. By Bram Koopman on May 6, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Hey Robin,
    I’ve read your post with great interest, as I’m currently doing a graduation research on UGC. My name is Bram Koopman, I’m from Utrecht, the Netherlands. I want to ask you: Could you tell me what you found are the 5 main types of UGC?
    Hoping for your reply,

  2. By Harry Mecalfe on May 27, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Hmmm — what are the 5 types and 6 roles?