Loser-generated content

7 Dec

I have to admit that when I read Charlie Brooker’s article, I cheered “so true” at this description, before realising that I probably shouldn’t be…

TV advertising used to work like this: you sat on your sofa while creatives were paid to throw a bucket of shit in your face. Today you’re expected to sit on the bucket, fill it with your own shit, and tip it over your head while filming yourself on your mobile. Then you upload the video to the creatives. You do the work; they still get paid.

While looking for creative ways to promote our resources, websites and events, a suggestion which often comes up is to run a ‘competition’ for students to submit a video or image promo for us. It seems like fun, it seems like a great way to get students more involved. And yet I am not entirely comfortable with it.

Loser-generated content does not save time

Computer cat works on our next social media marketing campaign

Like herding cats

When looking at blogging, one proposal to save time writing is to get others to do the writing for you – to ask a team of students to contribute to a blog about their experiences job-hunting. I have come to the conclusion that creating the blog, chivvy-ing people to contribute more regularly, trying to gently suggest that some write shorter entries or stay on safer topics, while others should write more or stick to a sensible style, means that managing such an arrangement is more work than just writing the thing yourself.

Generating loser-generated content is actually quite a lot of work – the marketer still has to define the scheme, promote it, perhaps generate some initial content for mash-ups, then encourage, judge, promote the winner. And it can be a thankless task, with poor responses, unless you can generate a decent prize…

Loser-generated content is like an unfair, unpaid internship

Generally, we can’t offer cash-prizes or substantial rewards, we just can’t afford it. So instead it takes either more time to hustle up a ‘work-experience’ prize, or simply claim the ‘exposure’ is reward in itself, which starts to head toward murkier waters.

In the careers service we are very aware of the unfairness of unpaid internships, and the negative impact the internship culture has on diversity in certain career sectors. It is the last thing we want to promote, and we do try to vet all our job ads on minimum wage criteria. But if we offer a competition without a financial reward, are we ourselves committing this sin?

I do actually believe that making a video, poster or article can be a very good skills development opportunity. It is fun, and once you have invested the time to learn to do it once, it puts you a step ahead of many candidates in media and marketing. But it can be a lot of work to do for free – again it means only those students with the means to have a good computer with the right software and have that free time, can participate. And you perpetuate the myth that ‘exposure’ on the web is a great reward in itself. Many early-career web designers and freelance writers are led up the garden path on such promises, so why should we introduce students to this as if it is not problematic?


I wouldn’t want to bin the idea of loser-generated content altogether, as I think it can still build a sense of community involvement. I am also a sucker for getting excited about how others get creative on a proposal. So as a work-around, how about low-effort competitions?

  • Ask students to send in a photo ‘summarising the event in an image’ from their phones.
  • Caption competition
  • Add a doodle-space on event feedback forms – suggest they draw their favourite bit or point from the event, for us to scan and put in a Flickr/Facebook gallery

Hopefully it would increase participation as well? Though you can’t beat a good prize really.


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