Is there a place for editors in user-generated content (UGC) online? If so, how can they effectively ensure quality?
Social media platforms have started to address the issue of quality in user-generated content (UGC) with interesting results. One such site with UGC is Epinions.com, a site where users post reviews of products, and select users known as Advisors act as amateur editors. Advisors serve as mentors and content gatekeepers to other users. In her article “Motivating Quality: The Impact of Amateur Editors’ Suggestions on User-Generated Content on Epinions.com,” Jo Mackiewicz (2014) examines this UGC situation using empirical data to identify the Epinions.com model’s effectiveness and shortcomings.
Mackiewicz aims both to identify what kind of editing tactics amateurs use as well as the effectiveness of these methods. In a study of 105 product reviews with 142 Advisor comments on Epinions.com, Mackiewicz found that Advisors overwhelmingly tended to make substantive critiques on user-generated reviews. She also found that the presence of editorial comments were not significantly linked to writers revising their reviews. Out of the sample, only 46% of the reviews that received editing related comments were updated by writers. Including compliments with these editing comments also had little influence overall. However, suggestions with specific compliments were more likely to prompt revision than those with generic compliments (such as “good job”).
Epinions.com’s Advisors are encouraged to help other users improve the quality of their reviews and promote adherence to community standards, but they have no authority to directly enforce these practices. Advisors do not approve reviews to be published and cannot take down posts that violate community guidelines. This restriction leaves them with limited editorial authority, and based on the results of the research, the average user disregards their suggestions accordingly.
As many sites rely increasingly on UGC, they must face the daunting task of maintaining quality. It appears that the Epinions.com model could be more effective. Future research could investigate many questions, including whether user editors are ignored because they lack perceived intellectual authority or because they lack institutional power.
While not all editors work in UGC, they may find themselves in situations where they authority or authors are unreceptive. According to Mackiewicz’s research the tactic that is most effective in these cases is to employ specific compliments in addition to suggestions. Highlighting the author’s strengths and potential in their ideas may be persuasive in difficult situations.
To learn more about the role of editors on UGC platforms, read the full article:
Mackiewicz, Jo. 2014. “Motivating Quality: The Impact of Amateur Editors’ Suggestions on User-Generated Content at Epinions.Com.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 28 (4): 419–46. https://doi.org/10.1177/1050651914535930.
—Madeline Jones, Editing Research
FEATURE IMAGE BY JOHN SCHNOBRICH