In the rush to engage audiences, distribute workflow, lower headcount and fill the content supply chain, many organizations have turned to user-generated content.

Users can be a great source of all kinds of content from testimonials to video demos, from how-to articles to great photos, from live-blogging events to guest posting. But there’s definitely a downside: quality. If you want to get users involved in content creation--and get high-quality output--set and enforce some standards.

Quality standards for user-generated content

Content standards should include technical requirements (length, style, how to treat links), of course. But that will only get you part of the way there. You also need to set some qualitative standards relating to voice, ideas/details, organization, word choice and sentence fluency. That may feel like a slippery slope, but if you rely on models to illustrate the traits you want the content to have, content creators will have a pretty clear road map of how to get there. They can use these standards to revise their own content before filing, and you can you it to give feedback or make decisions about keeping content creators on board.

Examples of content standards

Here are some excerpts from content standards we created for clients:

Use subheads to aid skimming and scanning.
Subheads are helpful structural signposts for people who prefer to skim or scan. They also signal a change of idea or concept. Keep subheads brief but informative.

  • Long:  Legislation Enacted to Transfer Policyholders Quickly and Effectively
  • Brief: Legislation Enacted to Transfer Policyholders

Use the fewest words possible.
We’re most successful as communicators when we rely not on using the right number of words but on using the right words—those that convey ideas in the most precise, straightforward and understandable way. Most of us over-write by at least 20 percent. We can improve our writing simply by removing unneeded detail to tighten our content and improve quality.

It’s also helpful if you have an entire piece of content that hits all the right notes. Here’s how one of my former editors did it, noting what worked about a particular story and sharing that with the entire community of contributors: Gold Standards for SpadeWork.

Download tips on how to create your own set of content standards.

So if you’re looking for better user-generated content, create technical and qualitative traits content creators can use to submit high-quality work. We call them Gold Standards, but whatever you call them, they'll help your users create the kind of content you really want.

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