Why user-generated medical content works

When people think of user-generated content they often think of the media or publishing. Videos on YouTube, spoofing TV shows or films, and content responding to and expanding upon journalistic or editorial articles abound. But UGC is certainly not limited to these areas. In fact it can work best on any topic where some individuals will have developed a specific interest in or knowledge of the area.

The medical industry is one that sees a lot of UGC. A search on YouTube finds thousands of videos of people talking about their illnesses, from cancer sufferers to people with bullemia. Support groups are flourishing and people are finding that sharing experiences and content online is sometimes easier than face-to-face. Talking about your experiences to video and uploading this to YouTube for others to respond to and comment on is probably easier than discussing it in real life. The internet and social networks probably offer access to a greater number of fellow-sufferers than even a local support group might offer.

Beyond support, people can use social media and user-generated content to help understand their illnesses. The supposed danger here is that people will self-diagnose and that this may be incorrect. At the same time, you’d expect that privacy issues would prevent any meaningful and useful exchange of ideas. But in fact, user-generated medical content is a vibrant example of how the social networking and online communities can be powerful for exchanging information.

A report by Jupiter Research in 2007 showed that 20% of Americans turn to others online for information about medical issues. They are clearly not shy of seeking or giving advice, even on more personal issues. They use sites such as OrganizedWisdom, a Wiki-style community, to share information they have and get information they need.

The concern over the accuracy of this information still stands, with worries about non-medical professionals sharing information that people use to self-diagnose. But research by the British Medical Journal in 2004 found that in the online support communities it studied only 6% of content was incorrect. If this replicated across all medical content online then it would probably be among some of the more accurate user-generated content on the internet.

User-generated medical content shows that people are willing to share and are accurate when they do so. Even in a more niche and potentially risky area such as medical advice and disgnosis, the quality and usefulness of user-generated content is high.

User-generated content to build loyalty - some thoughts from publishing

This afternoon I was facilitating a session at an e-Publishing conference in London. A nice group of people for my session on combining UGC with professional content in the publishing industry and how this can help to generate loyalty. I was quite impressed with the levels of enthusiasm and experience in the group from a range of publishing firms about doing something different online.

The concerns they have about using user generated content are similar to those raised by any industry - how to ensure a quality of contributions, how to know how trustworthy people are, concerns over litigation and a significant concern about how to get people to contribute. Many had commenting facilities on their sites that were little used. This is a situation we see a lot - people create ways for people to comment on their site or add content and they just don’t. One solution came from the group itself today. One of the delegates reported having about 50 people who commented regularly on parts of their site (ten of whom were particularly vociferous).

People like this, ones who are enthusiastic about your site and content, are the best to help you manage and encourage contributions. Let them know that they are your most passionate contributors (they probably don’t know), ask them what they think about the site - what works and what doesn’t, develop some house rules with them and then get them to help enforce them for you. Make the most of their enthusiasm and you’ll be surprised by the results. I’ve seen forums where unpaid contributors actually moderate or respond to hundreds and hundreds of threads a month.

Another interesting discussion during the session was about how to use ratings. People were broadly keen on the idea of rating content - although they would want to display number of ratings as well as the score, and prefer the concept of scoring ‘relevance’ than a simple rating of how good the content is. One particularly interesting story from a delegate at a large B2B publisher was how they used these rankings to produce a league table of journalists. The more relevant users voted their content, the higher they were ranked. An interesting application of UGC - perhaps it would be good to link journalist bonuses to such ranking too…!