Recently we gave an extensive report about our co-operation with UNICEF Germany for the “Living Schools” project in Malawi. This scheme allows donors in Germany to get a direct and authentic look, on their own platform, at the progress and development of a local project and the people behind it. Our project was presented at this year’s UNICEF Skillshare meeting in the Netherlands. At the event those responsible in worldwide projects as well as donor countries meet together in order to exchange experiences, ideas and projects.
Other countries showed a lot of interest in our project, which naturally made us quite proud. However, what we have learned by implementing it goes beyond the use of our platform for a donor financed NGO. Many of the project’s components would also be of interest for agencies and companies in regards to staff apps or other content driven platforms for closed as well as open user groups. We have already put our experiences with the UNICEF project to good use in commercial applications and a lot of our findings have been integrated in new features. Below you can find a summary of the most important conclusions.
- The simplicity of today’s mobile technology knows no bounds: we commonly underestimate the ability of users to produce attractive content, especially images and videos, on a smartphone. One reason users can do what they do is the growing hardware quality, but also the fact that an iPhone or Android smartphone works in an identical way all over the world. This unites billions of people across borders. In Malawi children who had never held a smartphone before could, after a few minutes (and initial amazement) produce their first images and videos by themselves and forward them, after getting a short tutorial.
- Sometimes authenticity beats „classical“ editorial quality, meaning images or videos should give a genuine impression especially when we deal with emotions and „human interest stories“. In the age of smartphones and social media users do not expect perfect image or audio quality. Content produced the easy way on a smartphone creates a kind of closeness and a sense of participation.
- Setting fixed content formats makes creating “user generated content“ a lot easier, because non-professional content producers have less difficulties when they can concentrate on a certain task or question (for example for „Living Schools“ we had the format „When I am grown up…“; children were asked what they wanted to be as a grown-up).
- Users who add content will also gain something by contributing. They feel as part of a community, they feel a link with people who might be thousands of miles away. The fact that they can reach others with their content brings a feeling of success, which in return gives them confidence and makes them want more of the same. It was an incredible sense of achievement for the readers and children in Malawi to see their own content on a German UNICEF website.
- Responsibilities and processes are critical for success: the local organisation depends on a clear assignment of tasks. However, even though handling and providing content is as easy as sharing via Facebook, Instagram or Whats App – for aiming to have content in a certain frequency and form, and for certain issues, a minimum of organisation is extremely important, particularly at the start. Therefore special attention should be given to the technical framework (e.g. network quality and availability, rights clearance).
- Images and videos are key when we talk about mobile media use: They attract a large part of usage, they are often easier to produce than longer text pieces and they best reflect the common practices of today in the age of Instagram as the leading social network. The younger generation in particular prefers this „emotional storytelling”. Visual content is „snackable“ and enables a quick frequency that classical articles can rarely guarantee, or at least can rarely guarantee on their own. Still, don’t forget: It is a question of the right mixture!
- The binding, written clearance of the necessary rights (especially the declaration of consent by contributors) is manageable, but also requires a clear organisation and predefined processes. In our case UNICEF applied especially high standards for the protection of minors. Many things get easier when it comes to internal communication. Even so, we recommend approaching this part early on with corresponding rules and templates.
- Editorial refinement and processing is important, but with our platform as a basis it can be done in a very simple and efficient way: Often it is neither advisable nor desirable that all users can publish „unchecked“ content. So the key factor here is the possibility to easily comment on images and videos and to add headlines or to put them in the right context. This does not demand a large team, „only” one digitally smart „curator“ with decent text abilities. This role can – but must not necessarily – be fulfilled by a professional editor.
Of course there are more exciting deductions and details. But we hope that the above points can serve as a first inspiration for your staff app or any upcoming projects which demand new, innovative, collaborative ways of content creation and production. We are happy to share further experiences from other projects where possible. Please do not hesitate to ask us.