The Ultimate Real Official Cheatsheet for Running Your User Generated Content Site.

Here is a cheatsheet/scorecard/checklist/whatever that list tactics, policies and mindsets you should use on any User Generated Content site (review site, forum, help site, hobby, etc…).

This is how you get more participation (aka more content) written by users.

Make all classes, user numbers, date joined, badges, titles, post history as visible as possible without forfeiting user experience.

* Classes – identifiers of user’s value to the site. For example, pion, warrior, knight, king/queen or idiot, noob, sophomore, senior, master, guru.

* User number – the lower the number the earlier in the sites history the user joined. Low users numbers have cachet.

* Badges – identifiers to show the level of commitment of the user. Give these out for the user consistently adding value. Examples: “30 consecutive days of signing up badge,” “best comment of the day badge,” “50 more comment thumbs up badge,” etc… See

Have a blog discussion and announcing every time you add a new badge to the list of possible badges. Have a badges run down page listing what they are and how to get them.

Have posts giving a rundown of users who get the most badges, the first badges, etc… Have some badges which other users can give, they will be most treasured.

Give badges for as many “firsts” as possible, first comment, first blog post, first picture, etc…

Badges for getting new users.

At least one but less than five “Mystery” badges which don’t reveal how you get them. It will stir up the sub-culture aka “the common but unique language” of the site.

* Titles – similar to rankings, but which give some “power” on the site. “Moderator” “Admin” “Producer” etc…

Give gold stars for donations or for anything that supports the site, but DO NOT let them alter the users power on the site. You never want to give the impression that power can be bought, it must be earned by contributing to the site.

Have a set of rankings which offer the user cachet and possibly sparingly give additional befits (avoid giving too many benefits as this will result in “karma point whoring” and creating content JUST to get more power).

Allow everything to be voted on, thumbs up, thumbs down, stars, whatever.

Dealing with Email

Email users about updates to the site. Do not have a simple binary “do you want email yes/no” have 5 or more (preferably around 8 ) possible things a user could get updated for and have a check-box next to each saying if they want emails for such updates. For example

– [ ] Email me when someone replys to my comment
– [ ] Email me when someone comments on my profile page
– [ ] Email me when I receive a new badge
– [ ] Email me when I have a top rated answer
– [ ] Email me when there is a new blog post
– [ ] Email me when I need to update my profile
– etc…

Have a _reasonable_ set of default options checked, don’t be sending 20 emails a day. Then again, don’t email only once a month with just your spammy blog update, a certain number of your emails really should be ego boosting. “Congratulations Alice You are The Top Commenter of the Day.”

Do NOT abuse the users inbox.

Have a Progress Bar

Have a “percent done” or “progress bar” for all multi-step content creating processes. i.e. 10% for adding a title, 30% for having a post over 500 characters, %50 for adding tags, 80% for mailing to a friend, 100% for replying to 3 or more comments. Similarly for profiles, 10% for adding job history, 20% for adding picture, 30% for completing X, Y, and Z quizzes, 40% for adding us on twitter/facebook/niche-site, etc…

Avoid The Wall

Avoid pay/sign-up “walls” but instead give as much value as you possibly can without user commitment.

Allow users to get a feel for the site and other user content BEFORE they have to give out their email address.

Use Form Analytics

Use form analytics (see where the users drop off) and a/b test the hell out of your forms (multi-pages, don’t ask for email yet, ask for email first, etc…).


Monetize EARLY. Monetize MUCH earlier than you think you can or should. Monetize NOW.

Train your users

Teach your users what good content is, show examples, encourage proper English. Have lead in questions, dont’ expect users to fill out a profile unless it has “essay” style questions that they can fill out. “How did you get into NicheX,” “What is most fun you have had while doing X” don’t make them fill them all out, just the ones they wish to.

On there profile page, don’t show the titles to questions they did not answer. Always put an upper and lower bound to the number characters. Increment the progress bar every time they fill out an essay.

Reduce the exposure to ads for signed up members to something more than zero but less than if they were not signed in.

Onsite Reminders

Use “Flash” boxes at the top of pages (like the red box in wordpress after you install a new plugin) that tells the user what the next step is ALWAYS HAVE A NEXT STEP. Don’t constantly pester the user to fill out the next step with flash boxes either, there is a balance. Progress bars should also display what the next step is.

Tribes within Tribes

Don’t be afraid to gently fraction your users. Encourage “tribes” on your site. For example if your site was for runners, you would have sprinter, marathoners, trail runners, etc…. This will organize your content and help new users find the most like minded people faster.

Don’t unnaturally or too quickly fracture your users, don’t start a forum with thirty different topics. Let the sections of your site manifest themselves organically. When a new path of discussion is being formed, pave it.

Listen to your productive users. Ignore the haters. If you don’t have any haters you don’t have a UGC site.

Do Like Paris Does

Do the “Paris Hilton” and help promote bloggers, producers, etc… in your niche, don’t irrationally hoard your user base, be better than the rest and the flock will not stray. Also the more time they spend adding content, the more they will return.

Brilliant Update

Make some noticeable indicator on the users page (like a different color “inbox” link) whenever their content gets replied to, when they get a pm, etc.

The Sunlight, it Burns!

Encourage extra-internet contact i.e. “meetups,” “parties” and “who’s going to X” type announcements.

Seed Content

Seed content. Generate your own content to start.

In the beginning you will have to do a lot of leg work on your site, so make sure that it has enough content and adds enough value that you would not mind sending the link to friends, family and fools. Email out invitations to join your site directly to key members of existing communities, write in a very one-on-one tone.

Have multiple backup plans on how you will create enough seed content.

Thread comments

Have your comments threaded in such a way that encourages long, long discussions. Use lots of whitespace.

Make it easy and fun to link to you

Have “site badges” ready as soon as you start so that users can pretty link to your site. These are not the same as the “user badges” above, these are little bits of html code that users can but on their own blogs to link to you and say that they are members.

If possible create widgets that people in your niche can put on their site, don’t force this, but if possible do it. One possible widget could be simply to list all their user badges.

Useful auto-posting APIs are something to consider.

Search Box

Have a search function on your site and for the sake of all things holy RECORD FAILED SEARCHES. Use the failed searches to generate more content.

With Great Power

Be a kind and gentle Admin, don’t wave your power around, avoid banning at all costs, don’t have very strict rules, use automation to catch spam (the abstraction will make you look like a gentle deity), don’t call undo attention to yourself. Warn before banning, temporary band before perma band, perma band as a last resort. Have a rule book and follow it with as few exceptions as possible.

Know a lot about your niche, and read, read, read everything you can about it, the history, the future whats in vogue, etc… Go to the library and look over years worth of literature on the subject. If you are not interested enough in the subject to read up on it everyday, what makes you think your users are interested enough to come and post on your site everyday?

Pick a subject people are already talking about, don’t pick something so esoteric that nobody gives two craps about or there isn’t much to talk about.

Have “their” user-base on ice

Have all the important social media sites on ice, i.e. have twitter/facebook/whatever pages up and running before you start promoting.

**IMPORTANT and often Overlooked** Become an appreciated and highly visible member of existing UGC site before you start your own if at all possible. Many users will follow you. And you will learn a lot from this. If you can’t get any love on other peoples sites, chances are you will have a really hard time getting your own site up. You can start joining other sites before you start creating your own, by the time you are done with your site and have all the promotion stuff handy, you will be ready on both fronts.

The site is for users, not you

THE SITE IS FOR THE USERS, NOT YOU! Create the site THEY want, not the site YOU want. To catch fish, think like a fish not like a fisherman (i.e. bait with worms not with cake).

I Hope you enjoyed this howto or that how-to? on fostering user generated content.

If i missed anything leave a comment and if its good I will update this list and add a link to your site in the post.

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