To explain how social media web sites generate content - here are a few examples of user-generated content in no certain order - other than some of the more surprising ones are listed first. After that comes a similarly interesting list of old school user-generated content that requires a bit of labor (the manual variety).
Feeding the engines. In short, a little known fact about search engines is that the results are produced by the people who search for things. In other words, as you type in words and phrases while trying to find exactly what you want - the search engine is recording the information and adding it to a huge database index that further assists other users as it compiles, organizes and prioritizes what everyone is looking for.
"Let your fingers do the walking." The Google AdSense / AdWords advertising combo may not be an exact online replication of the paper phonebook Yellow Pages- but it might as well be. The traditional, paper Yellow Pages directory dates to a printing mistake from the late 1800s (a printer ran out of white paper) - that probably involved a customer sitting a desk filling out a paper form to create the information for the business pages ad. Thus, when a small business owner asks her or his advertising department to fill out the online form to create an AdWords ad - that eventually shows up as AdSense advertisement somewhere on the Internet - someone looks really smart - and worthy of an initial public offering of stock (IPO) - since Google receives a fee every time someone clicks on an ad that they asked a customer to create (their AdWords created much of the revenue required to become a publicly traded company).
Amazon. I'm not sure if Amazon was the very first web entity to leverage online user-generated content, but if you stop to consider that Amazon replaced the physical world bookstore buying experience - by way of asking people to visit their personal computers to look for books - ringing up their own purchases on Amazon's virtual cash register - you can see how it is a great example of asking a customer to shoulder some of the purchase responsibility (there are physical stores that use this concept, too - visit an IKEA and observe which entity - customer or employee - is doing the most manual labor). Amazon also asks readers to write book reviews and create lists - and they opened the first highly successful affiliate marketing advertising program when it asked webmasters to copy and paste Amazon Associate Program web advertisements and additional book reviews all over the Internet - in 1996.
YouTube. Anyone can see that YouTube videos are obviously user-generated content - amateur videographers upload many of the YouTube videos. But not everyone knows that the videos go viral manually - as webmasters and bloggers click on the YouTube embed buttons to copy and paste prepared HTML code into web pages and blog posts - propagating the videos throughout the Internet and blogosphere.
eBay. Just imagine receiving a fee from both buyers and sellers - as they create their own product advertisements - bid against each other to purchase - and, again, ring up their own sales.
What's a "content farm." There is a huge ongoing discussion within social media groups on what the correct definition of a content farm is. However, a content farm is essentially just an expanded version of user-generated content. Generally, any site that asks people on the street to provide their thoughts on a topic could be considered to be a content farm - but the practice is also reminiscent of a reporter posing a question to a citizen standing on the street, specifically to provide the reporter with street cred for a story - so Google's recent algorithmic change to relegate certain web sites to "content farm status" (whatever that is) will probably evolve over time - especially so once everyone figures out that that's exactly what the world is looking for. The Urban Dictionary asks anyone capable of stringing sentences together to provide slang definitions - and is an extremely helpful tool for professional fiction writers.
Something to think about, isn't it?
User-Generated Content in the Form of Manual Labor
Self-service gas stations. A guy pumping gas into his own car while smoking a cigarette is stupid. But the overall concept of a business plan that originally involved an oily dude with a rag in his hip pocket being asked to "fill 'er up" - that was replaced in the 1970s (in the USA, I think) with self-service gas pumps might make a lot of common sense. Granted, it leveled the culture wars somewhat, as people of all varieties were forced to pump gas in their own cars - or run out of gas. There were continued culture wars, but I just drove the entire length of the United States of America a few weeks ago, and did not see one full service gas station (I'm sure there's still a small number left, somewhere). Regardless, the efficiencies associated with the correct manual laborers - the customers - pumping the gasoline - won the war (because there was more profit involved - thanks, customers!).
Car washes. This one involves quite a bit more manual labor, as you can actually break a sweat if you energetically was a car by hand, but is I guess a battle between energetic and not so energetic people with more money in their pockets (or, maybe they were previously more energetic, industrial and entrepreneurial - which is why they have more money in their pockets to pay someone else to wash their car). Said culture war would be between self-service car washes, automatic car washes and employees who wash and details cars, I guess.
Self-service laundry. About the same manual labor trade off as with car washes: Laundromats / launderettes versus dry cleaners, aye.
Business franchises. Complicated if you ever commit to such a project, but a huge money-maker as evidenced by McDonald's leading the pack of fast food restaurants around the globe (didn't know they serve Bier in McDonald's restaurants in Germany,did ya?).
CNN affiliate. Cable News Network uses reporters in locations all over the map to cover stories, which is obviously easier on the overhead. The obvious extension of the concept of affiliated news agencies is the recent addition of e-reporters - which, incidentally, is about the same as the journalist street cred trick of quoting someone who was standing on the street watching something happen. The reporter is trained at verbally describing or writing about an incident or event - but a person who actually saw something go down adds to the plausibility of the news story. Arrangements such as these can be on a fee basis - think: Enquirer paying $500,00 for a photo - or they can simply be a local television network volunteering their reporter for the networking pleasure and free advertising involved with having their reporter viewed on CNN (reporter probably likes it, too, and may place it in on her or his resume: "Reported for CNN as an affiliate").
Back to Amazon - and affiliate marketing. So, now you understand how certain people perform certain work or management functions for a business specifically to increase profit - when it makes sense to do so. Affiliate marketing, one of the original social media advertising venues operates much the same way as the rather successful CNN news network affiliate program - as Amazon.com reduces overhead and increase profits by having webmasters place Amazon Associates Program advertisements on their web sites and blogs.
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