CGM in the News

    April 8, 2006

Consumer Generated Media (CGM) has been in the news the last couple days. Two items in particular caught my attention.

First, blogger Derek Powazek has called for an end to the use of the term “User Generated Content.” I suppose that would be UCG. Funny, that wasn’t one of the many three-letter-words I’ve heard applied to the concept of media created by members of the audience instead of the traditional purveyors of content (ad agencies, marketing firms, etc.). Part of the problem is that we haven’t settled on a single term for this stuff. Joseph Jaffe, for instance, likes “citizen media,” if I recall correclty fromthe first of his two-part Across the Sound podcast with Pete Blackshaw and Jackie Huba.

In any case, what bothered me about Powazek’s post was his articulation of what “User Generated Content” means:

User: One who uses. Like, you know, a junkie.

Generated: Like a generator, engine. Like, you know, a robot.

Content: Something that fills a box. Like, you know, packing peanuts.

So what’s user-generated content? Junkies robotically filling boxes with packing peanuts. Lovely.

Calling the beautiful, amazing, brilliant things people create online “user-generated content” is like sliding up to your lady, putting your arm around her and whispering, “Hey baby, let’s have intercourse.”

So what’s his alternative? “Authentic Media.” Well, now, let’s see. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth Edition), “media” in Powazek’s post refers to “a means of mass communication, such as newpapers, magazines, radio, or television.” The same source defines “authentic” as “conforming to fact and therefore worthy of trust, reliance, or belief.”

So, “authentic media” then, is some kind of mass communication that conforms to fact and is worthy of trust. This defines everything coming out of the CGM space? And all traditional advertising and marketing creative is inauthentic? C’mon. All Powazek has done is add another term to the list that people have announced they hate. These include podcast, blog, blogosphere, Web 2.0, and a host of others. The nice thing about labels, though, is that everyone knows what you mean when you use them. No need for labored explanations. For all the essays condemning “Web 2.0” as marketing hype, I know when it’s used that it’s addressing the combination of social media and read-write web applications like those created using Ajax. (Oh, yeah. Some people don’t like “Ajax.”)

Besides, Derek, it’s just as easy to use these definitions instead of the ones you stretched for:

User: Someone who uses tools someone else has created specifically to be used.

Generated: Produced or created.

Content: Creative material, such as those indexed in a table of contents

So what’s user-generated content? People using tools to produce creative material.

None of which helps answer this question: What should a company do when UCG or CGM or CM is used in a way that is most definitely contrary to the images the company wants to project? This question surfaced several months ago when somebody produced a TV-like commercial promoting Volkswagen’s durability by showing a terrorist blow himself up in the car; the car contained the blast and those nearby remained blissfully unaware that anything had happened. (At least, I believe it’s CGM; I can’t imagine a real ad agency producing something like this, but I could be wrong. It’s not like advertisers have never produced anything inappropriate or offensive before.) Volkswagen, one expects, wouldn’t have been too pleased having its cars associated with terrorism.

Now comes a CGM TV commercial for the iPod. If you haven’t seen it, be warned: It’s about as far from family-friendly as it gets. Definitely not safe for work.

CGM (or whatever we end up agreeing to call it) is wonderful, and it’s not going anywhere. When it crosses the line, though, companies are going to have to figure what to do-or not do-in response. To be honest, I’m not sure what my counsel to Apple would be. I’m leaning toward ignoring it for fear of being branded prudish, but I’m just not 100% certain. What do you think?

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Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.