The Three Scariest Words in Social Media

User-generated content. There, I said it. What is it about those three words that strikes fear in the hearts of communications professionals and C-suite dwellers everywhere?

By Wikipedia definition, user-generated content refers to various kinds of media content, publicly available, that are produced by end-users. Time Magazine highlighted this shift in content generation by declaring “You” to be the person of the year in 2006. This was Time’s explanation for the choice:

It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

I can see why this makes some people nervous. When social media first emerged, many people thought it was only a fad associated with youngsters, but we have since found out that is not true. As Brian Solis said in his book, Engage, nobody can afford not to engage in social media. So why does UGC (everything has an acronym, you know) strike fear into our hearts?

1. We can’t control what other people say about us. This is numero uno. Once you open the door to others who aren’t required to tow the company line, it’s open season. How can we possibly become comfortable with that? Maybe comfort isn’t the issue. Maybe we just embrace the upside–people staking a claim in our product/service by their voice being heard. What empowerment! Giving our fans/stakeholders the mike is scary, but it can mean emancipation for everybody.

I was on a social media panel this summer where one of the audience members asked a question about what to do when somebody says something bad about you. The presenter next to me leaned over and said, “you need to hear that stuff–who thinks they’re doing everything right?” But I get it. It’s kind of like the belief that I can say I’m fat, but nobody else can. But in this new user-generated culture, those revelations come from every corner. Are you willing to let others talk about you? Uncomfortable? Yes. Necessary? I think so. How’s your comfort index with user-generated content?

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