Expert view: Take advantage of co-creation

Statistically, if you give a million typewriters to a million monkeys, one of those monkeys will write something decent.

If you apply a similar approach to people and give them websites, you get YouTube, which is 99.9 per cent total rubbish but does contain the odd gem. User-generated content, or co-creation, has taken off on the web in an unparalleled way, and now everyone wants to get on the bandwagon. 

The public no longer wants to be told what to do; people want to contribute and be listened to. This has led to open access to message boards and blogs on a wide range of websites, as well as contribution sites, such as Metacafe, MySpace, Wikipedia, Facebook and, of course, YouTube.

Co-creation is not new and is not unique to the web. TV has long exploited it to make cheap programmes such as You've Been Framed. Even back in the 1840s, Charles Dickens championed consumer-generated content when he edited The Daily News newspaper.

The greatest value of co-creation for charities is that it presents a way of engaging and involving consumers. People love to be given the freedom to create and contribute. Knowing that their ideas and views will be listened to and exposed to a big audience is a great incentive for individuals to get involved. What is more, it grows trust.

Co-creation also enables organisations to listen to people and learn. Having an open door to the consumer allows you to gain greater insight and obtain feedback and views quickly so you can rely less on assumptions.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' recent Save the Albatross campaign used children's drawings of the endangered bird to great effect. Greenpeace's Green My Apple campaign has used co-creation to help supporters protest: the charity supplies logos and footage, which individuals can use to make T-shirts, posters and viral videos; they can then post their designs back to Greenpeace or put them on YouTube. Protesting has never been easier or more fun.

Many charity websites have areas that invite readers to co-create. Locating them, however, is often like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I suggest that 'co-create' (or 'your input' or 'we're listening') should become a standard title on website menus.

As a creative director, I don't feel threatened by others being creative; I embrace co-creation. I'm currently working on a campaign site that will allow viewers to write their own headlines to add to the client's campaign. Why should I have all the fun?

- Chris Arnold, executive creative director of the ethical marketing agency Feel 

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